“The future of food is not chefs, it's technology,” asserted Jon Taffer, business mogul, executive producer and host of “Bar Rescue.” He stressed the point in his keynote address at MURTEC 2022, the restaurant industry’s top technology conference that took place in Las Vegas in early March. And he’s right. Technology has taken hold in the restaurant industry in unexpected ways.
In 2020, restaurants were forced to embrace technology within their entire operations just to stay in business. They had to quickly implement new IT initiatives to support delivery, curbside pickup, and touch free transactions. Now, two years later and with the right infrastructure in place, they are ready to maximize these investments. Across three jam-packed days at MURTEC, it was clear that all sizes of franchises, from large multi-national to small start-ups, are eager to explore how to take high-tech based capabilities to the next level.
Here are my top takeaways from MURTEC.
Technology impacts every aspect of restaurant operations. Gone are the days when technology was acquired primarily to support point of sale (POS) and back-office transactions. Technology touches marketing and social media, guest experiences, sales and revenue results, sanitation, employee engagement, entertainment and financial management. Whether using smart appliances for food storage, prep and cooking or integrating third-party delivery services, today’s restaurants are highly connected and dependent on their networks.
Data-driven insights can drive investments and decisions. As Mr. Taffer noted, it’s best not to just look at technology, but to scrutinize how Return on Investment (ROI) calculations can improve business. For example, metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) can be used to assess and optimize everything from food order accuracy in the kitchen to drive-thru wait and response times. With data driven insights, restaurants can make decisions designed to improve profits and the guest experience.
Opportunities are expanding for digital signage. While restaurants have upgraded their infrastructure, many are striving to integrate and network their many applications. One example is digital signage, which has typically been deployed as a stand-alone solution at individual sites, requiring content management by multiple people and processes. This approach may appear to be cheaper, but it can be a management nightmare. Managed digital signage solutions, however, can be networked across single sites and an entire franchise. Cloud-based content management systems make it easy to create, target, update, and deliver content by audience, screen location and time of day. Especially for restaurants, networked digital menu boards —even in the drive-thru — can improve service, efficiencies and sales opportunities.
Start-ups offer new possibilities. MURTEC featured its Restaurant Technology Network (RTN) Start-up Alley, where 15 technology start-ups competed for a chance to take the Main Stage to deliver “Shark Tank” like presentations before a panel of judges. This year’s winner, Hellometer, enables restaurants to become more efficient and easier to manage by measuring each guest's experience. Hellometer’s camera-based drive-thru timer and dining room surveillance capabilities provide a complete and accurate story of every guest’s experience, from the moment they pull into the lot. Here too, data driven insights provide businesses the chance to improve speed and service and better meet guests’ needs. Watch Hellometer’s winning presentation here.
Discussions throughout the three days at MURTEC focused not just on applying technology, but on bringing in new technologies to run operations, enhance the guest experience and make businesses more profitable. While threads of this strategy emerged during last year’s event, it certainly looks as if restaurants are now firmly committed to investing more in technology to further enhance the way they do business.