Monday, September 22, 2014

Smart Dining & Dining Smart: Technology in the Restaurant Industry

An area that we have been doing some amazing things in, and winning some sweet awards, has been the restaurant industry. Like the majority of the people reading this I spend quite a bit of time sitting on the other side of the table of this industry. From coffee shops and ice cream parlors, to white table cloths, I'm always doing a little bit more than looking at the menu and trying to figure out what to eat.

As a nerd to every extent possible, I am constantly trying to figure out how to use technology to make things better, easier, more efficient, less complicated, and able to fit into my life, while providing a product or service that has some cool factor to it. Every once in a while a few products come along to do that. I want to talk about some of the capabilities, but first, here's what spurred this:

"Restaurants will need to wholeheartedly embrace smart dining or risk their brands quickly becoming stale."
- Hospitality Technology Magazine, Sept. 17 2014. (Sorry, couldn't find the author)  

Smart Dining. That's definitely a way to look at it. From Yelp reviews that encourage users to game the system, to scrolling through a bourbon selection last week at CUT, technology is not only feeding restaurants in the most creative ways possible, but it's allowing a level of relevant interaction that is unprecedented, in a space that celebrates personalization. We're on the cusp of some amazing things, my favorite being those that require very little human interaction to fuel, but provide an atmosphere that is truly unique. This all hits pretty close to home for me and the team at Scrape with what we've been working on, but its one of those things that I never get tired of dreaming about. (The next trick up our sleeves is using location awareness to change the color on Philips HUE bulbs to highlight empty seats in a restaurant so that people can get seated and start spending .. ahem, eating, quickly.)

ApplePay coming along with the OpenTable integration is definitely going to change things in the space, but if you haven't heard of or seen TabbedOut in action, there is so much more that can be done that just paying your ticket. Granted, in Texas we're pretty proud of our locals, but this is one of those services that has the capability to increase efficiency, provide better customer service, and put me in more control of my dining (or bar hopping) experience everywhere.



So now that the problem of paying tabs and booking reservations is easy, what about when someone shows up at the restaurant or a busy streak is hit? One of my personal faves that I have seen is NoWait. It seems pretty simple to get in the hands of the restaurant, and it gives them incredible amounts of data.



What I see here though, is a huge open opportunity. Using things like social profiles, why not take this a step further for customization? Why not already know who is coming into the restaurant before they come in the front door, assuming they're a return visitor to the location or chain? By combining different technologies, I see that there is a huge opportunity. The thought that you could know who's coming in, what their food preferences are, what they are celebrating, what they might be interested in eating based on past history, where they like to sit, what the day for a living, etc, to me, is amazing.

I guess I don't see the future of the industry as merely a Smart Dining experience, I see it as an opportunity to do more than just provide a great restaurant visit. By leveraging data, location, transactional simplicity, customized visits, etc., I see this as a way to create a unique experience for each venue that allows technology to assist. From having a crowd-sourced playlist to being able to walk out with an automated tab, the times they are a changin'.

Let me put this out there: what I would love to see is data driven customization and personalization in the restaurant industry. I am not talking about a dining room full of robots. There HAS to be human interaction, I'm not at all saying replace the staff. I'm saying give them data and tools to create a better experience. I want, I crave, being able to have a great recommendation on appetizers, beer, wine, or a main course. I can't even imagine how great it would be to know that every time I sit down something is presented to me that will give me a great dining experience. I want the best of the restaurant all the time, any time. With technology, we can do that..and naturally, I'll be more than happy to help. :)




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