The idea of being able to take a device out of our pocket and use it to do just about anything was science fiction just a few decades ago.
Today, it's not just reality, it's come to be expected, even indispensable in our lives.
Like many other examples, the miracle of modern mobile technology has become so ingrained in our daily routines, it's only natural that we've come to expect businesses we frequent to be fully up to speed technologically.
In many industries, the average company lags far behind the general public when it comes to adoption of consumer technology, but one industry is leading the way and is boosting the quality of their customers' experiences. As a result, as reported by marketing research firm, Technomic, in their recent white paper, The Tech Tide has Turned: Consumer Perceptions of Technology at Restaurants.
Let's take a look at how restaurants are employing modern technology to make their customer's experience better.
Speed and convenience
Whether you're actually buying fast food or a formal, sit-down restaurant meal, a relative level of speed and convenience is important. With our busy schedules, no one wants to be kept waiting an inordinate amount of time for food they're paying good money to enjoy.
Restaurants know this about us, and they're employing technology to create efficiency and speed up the process in many ways:
Online and mobile ordering
Domino's Pizza is an excellent example of an industry leader that has fully embraced online and mobile ordering.
With the ability to order a Domino's pizza from essentially anywhere at any time using any device - including Amazon Echo and vehicle-integrated Ford Sync - the speed and ease with which a customer can get their hands on a fresh, hot pizza is simply amazing.
According to Technomic, mobile and online ordering is deemed "very important" by over 30% of consumers and nearly 50% of millennials.
With our devices always by our sides, it's become expected that free Wi-Fi will be available at public locations, and it's always a disappointment when we find ourselves in a dead spot.
Restaurants like Starbuck's and Barnes and Noble's Cafe' led the way in this area, but many more restaurants now offer free Wi-Fi knowing that customers will be Instagramming their food, checking in on Facebook or Foursquare, and (hopefully) writing glowing reviews about the location on Yelp and similar apps.
Studies have connected free Wi-Fi to an increase in returning customers as early as 2012.
Independence and access
While speed and convenience are important, today's restaurant customer also expects to have more control over the ordering process and more ready access to details such as nutritional or allergy information, substitution options, and menus for specific dietary requirements.
By combining robust online resources, social media, and advanced POS systems, restaurants are meeting those demands:
The restaurant's website
It's expected today that a restaurant's website will have - at a minimum - a full and accurate menu, access to a locations search, and some means of connecting with the restaurant either to contact them directly or to learn more about them via social media.
Forward-thinking restaurants have built out their websites to incorporate detailed nutrition and allergy information, online ordering (as described above), and plenty of background information that can add to the experience of eating out.
Enhanced POS Systems
While point-of-service (POS) systems have long been a technological mainstay in many restaurants, the cutting edge options available today lean heavily toward tablet-based menus at the table, ordering kiosks, and mobile apps that put the entire selection and ordering process at the customer's fingertips.
While waitstaff are still available in most restaurant environments, they are becoming more focused on customer service and less on the mechanics of taking and fulfilling an order.
Mobile devices for wait staff
A very recent addition to the enhanced POS technology available to restaurants includes wait staff equipped with tablets or smartphone apps that allow them to place orders instantly at the table, search ingredients, enter special instructions, and much more, making the ordering process that much faster, more accurate, more efficient, and more helpful.
While the desire to read reviews about a restaurant before trying it out certainly isn't a new phenomenon, the sheer volume and accessibility of available reviews necessitates that restaurants pay close attention to this powerful aspect of modern technology.
There are literally thousands of mobile apps dedicated to food or drink, many of which offer searchable databases of restaurants segmented by geography, price point, type of food, and many other factors.
Access to customer reviews is nearly a ubiquitous feature of these popular food apps.
Both Google and Facebook have location reviews built in as popular features of their flagship search and social networking apps, as do popular location-tracking apps like Foursquare. Sites dedicated primarily to reviews - like Yelp - and travel - like TripAdvisor - are also frequently referenced when customers are selecting a good place to eat.
Tech usage by restaurants continues to grow
While many restaurants are investing heavily in these and other technological means of improving customer service, there's still a long way to go to bridge the gap between expectation and reality.
As concluded by the Technomic study, "just 13% of consumers across segments agree that the (restaurant) brand they recently visited excels in" their use of technology to improve the customer experience.
If you're considering buying a restaurant, be sure to include a strategic investment in technology as part of your business plan. Your customers will appreciate it, and they'll reward you for it.