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How new restaurant technology can improve the customer experience

Justin Guinn of the Toast Content Team

Justin leads thought leadership and data storytelling at Toast. The content is dedicated to providing restaurants with insights and best practices to help their operations thrive—just as Toast's platform is built to help restaurants of all types succeed now and into the future. Toast and Uber Eats integrate seamlessly, allowing Toast users to onboard to Uber Eats efficiently and manage food deliveries directly from their existing POS system.

It’s no longer enough to offer great food that brings customers back.

Customers now demand great food that’s served how, where, and when they want it. Against this backdrop, new restaurant technology is needed to navigate emerging customer demands and support the different service models they require.

As restaurant operators begin to blend service models—from traditional sit-down to delivery—it’s important to be strategic and intentional with technology use, ensuring that it streamlines operations and adds value to the customer experience.

Read on to learn about new service models customers are seeking and how restaurant technology can help operators meet these expectations.

Restaurants need a modernized, customer-centric approach to service

In a more traditional restaurant setting, servers are given a central role—from greeting customers at the door to physically handing them a check at the end of a meal. This server-centric model is by no means wrong. Rather, it’s primed for an evolution that gives customers more control.

This is important for restaurants to keep in mind because customers are increasingly seeking out a more digitized, hands-on role during their dining experience.

Data from a 2021 Deloitte report highlights the growing importance of digital ordering for customers, both off- and on-premises:

  • 64% of customers prefer to order digitally on-premises at a quick-service restaurant
  • 57% of customers prefer to use a digital app to order food for off-premises dining

A 2022 study from Popmenu on consumer dining trends reinforces this point, with 71% of those surveyed indicating that restaurant technology online and on-premises makes their guest experience better.

To cater to these changing preferences, restaurants will need to make sure they’re using technology that meets the moment.

New restaurant technology trends point to a blended service model

With customers seeking more control over their dining experience, restaurants are beginning to offer multiple service models that can flex to different demands.

Toast’s 2023 Restaurant Industry Outlook Report finds that 77% of restaurants currently offer 4 or more order channels, with 63% employing at least 7 service models. And 60% of restaurants offer an approach that blends elements of traditional quick-service and full-service operations.

Simply put, operators are adapting to evolving customer demands by using multiple restaurant service models. In practice, this could look like a restaurant offering counter-service ordering for customers, while still keeping a handful of staff on the floor for refills and second orders. Or a traditional sit-down establishment propping up a street-facing window for takeout orders.

No matter the specific combination a restaurant employs, these new service models are an exciting frontier for modern dining experiences and workflows. The trick is to make sure your restaurant is using technology in a way that streamlines your operations. Below, we’ll explore different tools and practices that can be used on- and off-premises to help your restaurant rise to the occasion.

More with less: on-premises restaurant technology is all about efficiency

Toast’s 2023 Restaurant Industry Outlook Report shows that 44% of restaurants plan to place greater importance on on-premises dining over the next 12 months—with a blended service model being critical to success.

Combining traditional restaurant POS systems with self-service technology can bring this blended approach to life in a way that satisfies customers and streamlines operations. Here is a quick snapshot of tools that can enhance your on-premises dining experience:

  • Stationary POS terminal: Placed at counters or tucked away behind server stations, POS terminals enable counter service, traditional dine-in, and takeout.

  • Handheld POS system: These portable POS systems fit in servers’ pockets and enable more efficient table service with fewer servers managing the floor. They also encourage staff to stay nimble, jumping from behind the counter, if needed, to log orders from an ever-growing queue.

  • QR codes: Placed at each table, at bar seats, or strategically throughout the restaurant, QR codes enable customers to choose their own journey by ordering, continuing to order, and paying when they want directly from their phones.

  • Self-service kiosks: Placed together near the entrance, self-service kiosks let customers fully customize their order to their exact specifications.

Any or all of these restaurant technologies can enable efficient service models that flex to meet customer preferences.

Off-premises restaurant tech must be easy for staff and customers to operate

While customers are placing more importance on the on-premises experience, demand for delivery is by no means declining. In fact, Popmenu’s 2022 study on consumer dining trends found that 69% of people order takeout or delivery as often as or more often than they did in 2021.

And restaurants are preparing for this reality. According to Toast’s 2023 Restaurant Industry Outlook Report, 42% of restaurants plan to place greater importance on delivery and 41% on off-premises dining over the next 12 months.

With that in mind, there are a few features and relevant questions that operators should consider when choosing any restaurant technology that supports their off-premises operations:

  • Front-end usability. Will customers and your staff members find this technology intuitive and easy to interact with?
  • Discoverability. Can customers discover you easily—either through your own channels, a third-party delivery platform, or both? Will this technology help improve your visibility?
  • Customization. Does this technology enable ordering and customization? Will customers have the ability to choose how they pay?
  • Back-end usability. How do delivery orders flow into your kitchen? What does the management portal look like for your staff? If you’re working with a third-party delivery platform, do they offer POS integration?

While there is no one-size-fits-all system, the benefit of having a digital surface in the kitchen is that it can help staff determine when to prepare an order, especially if estimated arrival times for delivery people are displayed. And upon order fulfillment, these systems may also be able to help aggregate feedback on the customer’s experience, providing you with input to understand what’s working and what isn’t.

Employing the right mix of new restaurant technologies can help you expand the channels where you accept off-premises orders—from your website and other online channels to third-party apps or the phone—while keeping your kitchen running smoothly.

With new restaurant technology, the sum is greater than the parts

The combination of new restaurant technology with well-defined and well-executed workflows can unlock consistent and delightful customer experiences, both in-store and virtually.

Regardless of restaurant type, it’s important for operators to be strategic when adopting any new technology. Not all systems are created equal. And not all systems play nice or integrate with one another.

When it comes to managing a restaurant tech stack, it’s critical that operators prioritize a strong foundation in dynamic, reporting-rich POS systems. From there, it’s important to ensure that any additional system integrates successfully, aligns with existing operation workflows, and enables a consistent, high-standard experience for customers and staff members.

Uber Eats and Toast are a great example of how you can evolve your restaurant tech stack. The 2 platforms integrate seamlessly, allowing Toast users to accept and manage Uber Eats orders directly within the POS system—meaning no more tablet farms.

And US-based Toast users can now onboard to Uber Eats directly from their POS, unlocking untold delivery and takeout orders in just a few clicks.

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