Restaurant owners are bombarded with new technologies, but are often left asking, what's worth the time and money? A panel of representatives from New York City establishments spoke on the final day of the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show of New York, sponsored by the New York State Restaurant Association, to discuss the good, the bad, and the not-quite-there-yet when it comes to technology for restaurants.
The panel was sponsored by the transaction technology company NCR, and Mark Buonagurio, the Director of Sales, started off the conversation by talking about one of the oldest and most well-used technologies that restaurants use: the cash register. Many of them are made by NCR, and they've come a long way since the model was introduced in the late 1800s. NCR registers now perform 500 million transactions a day in 180 countries and have software to see what customers are buying and when, and can email users with regular updates. The panelist all used NCR's equipment and found the POS systems to be worth the cost, they said.
"The worst possible thing to happen on a Friday night is not that people didn't show up; it's that your POS system goes down," said Michael Chernow, owner of the Meatball Shop Co.
From the most traditional of technologies to the most state-of-the-art, the next topic the panel discussed was data. Restaurant operators are increasingly using data to increase sales and understand customers' needs. Todd Matlovsky, Director of Franchisee Operations at Magnolia Bakery, might use data to see what cupcakes are selling and when. Giancarlo Fiorarancio, Director of Information Systems at Shake Shack, might analyze data to see where pain points in the ordering processes are.
But "nothing replaces people," said Matlovsky. "Tech can't solve everything."
Technology isn't bussing tables at the Jack's Wife Freda, joked the restaurant's owner Dean Jankelowitz.
It's about finding a balance between customer and server interaction, which is vital for upselling a dinner order, and eliminating pain points, like a customer waiting too long to order another round, said Chernow. Maybe one day customers will have the ability to order a beer at the Meatball Shop on their iPhone, but "the experience [of the Meatball Shop] comes with engagement. It's a huge piece of the puzzle."
Diners will be able to play app games specially created by the restaurants while they wait for a table or a cupcake. Representatives for both the Meatball Shop and Magnolia said apps were in the works.
Mobile payment is also generating a lot of buzz in the industry. Apps like Cover and Dash offer diners the ability to pay on their phones as opposed to waiting for the check. All the panelists have been approached by representatives for these apps and some have signed on. But the overall impression of mobile payment was one of cautious optimism. These apps are developing fast. "Wait a year," said Chernow. Next years' show should bring more technologies to discuss.