Where is Restaurant Technology Headed in the Next Five Years?
The digital transformation is bringing about significant changes in the restaurant industry, with customers now leading the customer journey. Consequently, restaurant chains have had to adjust their marketing, loyalty programs, and operations to meet customer demands. It's important to note that the impact of digital transformation is not just limited to the front of the house, but it's also affecting the back of the house. To delve deeper into these issues and predict what restaurants might look like in the next five years, the Microsoft Restaurant CIO Council hosted a panel discussion featuring Bruce Hoffmeister from Cracker Barrel and Colin McGuire from Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Ira Gleser, Director, Retail & Consumer Goods at Microsoft commenced the session by emphasizing that the current technology landscape in the restaurant industry is both exciting and challenging. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for digital transformation, resulting in customers assuming greater control over their guest experience, and restaurants adjusting to cater to their needs - with many already having done so. Ira further highlighted the importance of expanding the technology perspective to include the back of the house, as operators should contemplate the ways in which technology can augment productivity, reduce obstacles in the roles of frontline employees, and equip team members with enhanced capabilities.
Bruce Hoffmeister, Chief Information Officer of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store noted, "While dine in traffic has returned delivery remains sticky. Until recently, technology investments have predominantly focused on front-of-house operations to ensure quick-service brands offer guests more control over when, where, and how they want to be served. Technology is playing a critical role in the guest journey from online waitlists to paying at the table. However, many are now making a shift and look to double-down on tech spend for operational gains and bottom-line savings. Technology is impacting the employee experience from hiring, onboarding, and training to back-of-the house automation. AI is even being used in forecasting demand which helps restaurants with food ordering and labor scheduling."
Colin McGuire, Vice President, Corporate Systems at Chipotle said, "At Chipotle, we are constantly exploring advanced technologies to reduce friction and drive efficiencies in our restaurants while simultaneously improving our employee experience. In addition to restaurant tech trends, we consider workforce trends and shifts to determine which solutions will significantly impact our employee and guest experience and fuel an increasingly tech-savvy labor pool. Over the next few years, offering the right tech solutions will be critical to support annual unit volume growth and to maintain a stable labor pool."
Chipotle, the fast-casual restaurant chain, has launched a contextual restaurant experience that enables the company to anticipate customers' intentions and then send personalized messages. Additionally, Chipotle has piloted a cook-to-needs kitchen management system that employs camera technology to measure ingredients on hand and cooking temperatures. "The intent is to always have availability of food and forecast sales that are coming so that we can tell the person on the grill they need to drop two pans of chicken because you are going to sell it in the next 45 minutes," Colin explained.