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35 Restaurant Technology Trends You Need to Know

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Jordan Hollander in Food & Beverage

Last updated January 26, 2024

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What’s new in the restaurant world? What will tomorrow’s restaurant customers expect from your restaurant? The restaurant industry continues to evolve, especially in the wake of the pandemic, and it can be challenging to keep up with the ever-changing trends and innovations. You certainly don’t want to be left behind as your competition adds technology that can increase demand, boost revenue, and reduce costs. Plus, customer expectations are quite different than they were five years ago, especially when it comes to ordering preferences, sustainability, and payment methods. In this article, we’ll share 35 restaurant technology trends you need to know to stay relevant, competitive, and profitable. Let’s get started!

Menus and ordering

Embracing digital innovation has become a necessity rather than an option. As the culinary world adapts to shifting consumer preferences and the ever-growing demand for convenience, technology has emerged as a powerful ally. One area where this transformation is particularly evident is in the realm of ordering systems. Restaurants, both large and small, have embarked on a digital journey, leveraging a diverse array of tools and strategies to enhance customer experiences and operational efficiency.

Online ordering systems: Whether to bring takeout and delivery in-house or just eliminate friction in the ordering process, many restaurants have adopted digital ordering systems that allow customers to browse menus and place orders from their smartphones. One advantage these systems bring to restaurants: no need to reprint paper menus anytime you want to change a dish or a price.

Tabletop tablets: Along with online ordering, some restaurants have gone a step further and put digital ordering right on the table with a tabletop tablet that allows diners to place their orders at their leisure. A tablet is a great avenue to show photos of your menu items, merchandise promotions, and even better serve international guests with translation features.

Ordering kiosks: Like tablets, kiosks allow guests to place their own orders, and kiosks might be the solution of choice for counter-serve and fast-casual restaurants where diners place their orders before sitting down. Hesitant to adopt kiosks? Burger chain Shake Shack reports that kiosks are their most profitable ordering channel, and they decrease labor costs.

 

Digital menu boards: If kiosks or tablets don’t align with your restaurant’s operations or brand, perhaps digital menu boards do, which display your menu on a large screen inside or outside your restaurant for diners to peruse. Compared to posting paper menus, a digital system allows you to instantly make changes to menu items, formatting, pricing, and branding without having to hit “print” again.

Voice ordering: According to Doordash, one in five customers prefers to call in their takeaway order, but half of those calls aren’t answered by the restaurant. Doordash’s solution? A voice ordering system that incorporates AI to pick up the slack when a restaurant doesn’t answer.

AI-powered chatbots: When a customer has a question when browsing your website, reading your digital menu, or placing an order on a kiosk, who do they ask if they have a question? Even easier than picking up the phone, an AI-powered chatbot can answer most customer questions with no staff interaction before escalating only the most complicated inquiries to a human.

QR codes: If there was one winner to come out of the pandemic, it was the humble QR code. QR usage has skyrocketed in the last few years (upwards of 750%, according to Bitly!), and now you’ll see restaurants using them for quick access to menus, payment portals, and social media profiles.

 

Dynamic pricing: Are you selling the same dish for the same price during lunch and dinner service? What about weekdays vs. weekends? Restaurants are perhaps the last sector of the hospitality industry to adopt dynamic pricing, in which menu prices fluctuate with time of day, seasonality, and demand. And when you use digital menus, it’s easier than ever to implement a dynamic pricing strategy.

Price increases: With a potential recession looming, 29% of restaurants say they’re considering raising prices to compensate for rising costs and supply chain challenges. But the good news is that 55% of customers say they would understand a restaurant’s rationale when increasing prices, according to a survey conducted by Square.

Payments and fintech

In an era where convenience and speed are paramount, the way we handle payments in restaurants has undergone a significant transformation. Gone are the days of fumbling for cash or waiting for a credit card transaction to be processed. Today, as technology continues to redefine the dining experience, restaurants must adapt to meet the evolving preferences of their customers. In this section, we'll explore a variety of innovative payment methods that are reshaping the restaurant industry and enhancing the overall dining experience for both patrons and businesses.

Contactless payment has surged in popularity, with over 50% of American adults now embracing this convenient method, whether through tap-to-pay credit cards or smartwatches. In fact, recent surveys reveal that 41% of respondents would actively avoid a retailer that does not offer contactless payment options. To cater to this growing demand, it's essential for restaurants to ensure their credit card terminals are equipped to accept contactless payments with a simple tap.

Mobile wallets, like Apple Pay and Google Pay, have also gained traction among consumers, leading to an uptick in mobile wallet transactions in restaurants. Keeping pace with these shifting preferences means upgrading your credit card terminal to accept mobile wallets and integrating mobile wallet payment options into your online ordering system. By doing so, you not only streamline the payment process but also align your restaurant with the preferences of modern customers.

Contactless payment: Over 50% of American adults use contactless payment methods, from tap-to-pay credit cards to smartwatches. In fact, 41% of survey respondents said they would avoid a retailer that does not accept contactless payment options. To meet this growing cohort of contactless payment fans, ensure your credit card terminal can accept payments via tap.

Mobile wallet acceptance: With an increasing number of consumers using mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, restaurants are seeing growth in the number of mobile wallet transactions. Switching to a credit card terminal that accepts mobile wallets and allowing mobile wallet payments on your online ordering system are two great ways to keep up with today’s customer preferences.

 

Digital tipping: Consumers seem to have swapped their cash for their Apple Wallet, and your restaurant’s tip jar is probably a bit emptier than it was a few years ago. Digital tipping apps allow customers to leave cashless gratuity for your staff, and these apps allow you to manage tipping out so that staff get the tips they’re owed.

Alternative payment methods: While most restaurants already accept credit cards, some smaller food outlets, such as food trucks or farmers market stands, are pivoting away from cash-only toward accepting digital cash payments through apps like Venmo, PayPal, and Cash App.

Reservation deposits: It’s not uncommon for a customer to book a restaurant reservation only to no-show because their plans changed, leaving your restaurant with an empty table during prime time. To reduce no-show rates and last-minute cancellations, some restaurants are now charging small reservation fees ($2-$5 per person or per table) or collecting a reservation deposit at the time of booking which is either refunded upon seating or applied to the final bill. 

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Back-of-house operations

Technology is playing a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency and the overall customer experience. This article section explores innovative solutions such as handheld POS systems, inventory management systems, kitchen display systems, IoT devices, automation tools, and generative AI. These technologies are reshaping various aspects of restaurant operations, from order processing and inventory control to kitchen efficiency and content creation. Embracing these innovations enables restaurants to streamline processes, reduce manual tasks, and stay competitive in a constantly changing landscape.

Handheld POS systems: Your servers can forget about pens, paper, and credit card folios with convenient POS systems that fit in the palm of their hand from vendors like Toast. These tablet-smartphone hybrids let servers instantly enter orders in real-time, and, at the end of the meal, they can collect contactless payment from the customer – no waiting to run a credit card at a terminal somewhere else in the restaurant.

 

Inventory management systems: Never wonder when you’re going to run out of something – an inventory management system tracks inventory levels, monitors usage, and predicts when you’ll need to place another order. Plus, an inventory management system helps you understand how much of each ingredient and item your restaurant uses, often giving insight into potential cost-saving opportunities.

Kitchen display systems: You can throw your paper tickets in the trash because technology is coming to digitize your kitchens operations. With a modern KDS, orders taken on your point-of-sale system automatically appear on screens in the kitchen, perfectly coursed out so the kitchen knows what to fire and when.

 

Internet of things: Is your kitchen team still manually temping your cold storage or items on the salad station? Wifi-enabled devices like probes and sensors can continually monitor temperature, humidity, and other factors that affect food safety and quality, helping you eliminate waste and save your kitchen staff’s time.

Automation: It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is facing a staff shortage, so outlets need to leverage technology, especially automation, to accomplish more with fewer staff members. Tools that help you automate tasks like ordering, reports, admin tasks, communication can save time and increase your staff’s bandwidth to serve customers and solve problems.

Generative AI: Why write your menu descriptions and website content when AI can do it for you? Leveraging generative AI to fill in the blanks in your content can save time and give your collateral an overdue refresh without needing to hire a copywriter.

Delivery

One thing is abundantly clear: it's not slowing down. Despite the initial surge during the pandemic, food delivery continues to thrive in 2023, with over one-third of consumers ordering more frequently than they did in the previous year, according to Doordash. However, it's not just the frequency of orders that's evolving; the very methods and trends in food delivery are undergoing a transformation. From groundbreaking experiments in drone delivery by giants like Amazon to Domino's innovative electric vehicle fleet, the future of food delivery promises to be an exciting one, redefining how meals make their way from restaurants to homes. Additionally, the realm of breakfast delivery is on the rise, with significant growth in early morning and breakfast orders, highlighting a shift in customer preferences. Finally, in a world where aesthetics matter as much as taste, creative and customized packaging is becoming increasingly essential to delight customers and leave a lasting impression that goes beyond functionality. In this section, we explore these dynamic trends in the world of food delivery, offering insights into how they are reshaping the industry.

Food delivery: If you thought food delivery peaked during the pandemic, think again. Doordash reported that over one-third of consumers are ordering more delivery in 2023 than they did in 2022, so delivery is still going strong.

Next-gen delivery methods: Even if people are ordering just as much delivery as they did in the past few years, the way the food gets from your restaurant to their home will certainly change in the near future. From Amazon’s experiments with drone delivery testing to Domino’s rollout of an electric vehicle fleet, food delivery might look quite different tomorrow. 

 

Breakfast delivery: While lunch and dinner are the most popular delivery meals, Doordash has seen 36% growth in early morning orders and 31% growth in breakfast orders compared to 2022. It’s clear that customers are thinking of delivery not only for sandwiches and salads, but also for coffee and breakfast burritos.

Creative packaging: A plain takeout container is functional, but it’s not memorable, and it’s certainly not Instagrammable. Delight your customers and keep them coming back by using creative, customized packaging that reflects your brand image.

Sustainability

In today's ever-changing landscape, the restaurant industry is embracing sustainable practices and eco-conscious solutions as part of a broader commitment to environmental responsibility. As consumers increasingly prioritize sustainability, the need for eco-friendly initiatives in restaurants has become more pronounced. This section delves into key sustainability trends, such as sustainable packaging, water conservation, energy efficiency, and air purification. From recyclable and compostable takeout packaging to water-saving technologies and energy-efficient measures, restaurants are finding innovative ways to reduce their environmental footprint while catering to the preferences of eco-minded customers. Furthermore, with concerns about air quality on the rise, the integration of advanced air purification systems has become essential not only for safety but also for ensuring a healthy and comfortable dining environment. In the following segments, we explore each of these sustainable practices in detail, offering insights into their benefits and practical implementation.

Sustainable packaging: In addition to creativity, today’s consumers appreciate – and expect – sustainability. Takeout packaging that’s recyclable, compostable, or reusable can help your brand build affinity with eco-minded customers.

Water conservation: Restaurants use a lot of water, as your utility bill can surely tell you, so using less water is good for your bottom line and for your reputation among green guests. Some ways you can conserve water include installing automatic faucets in your bathrooms, energy-efficient dishwashers, and filtered water taps for diners to self-serve.

 

Energy efficiency: Water isn’t the only resource your restaurant uses; you can reduce your environmental footprint by reducing your electricity use. Switching to LED lightbulbs, motion-sensor lights, and smart climate control can all reduce your energy consumption.

Air purification: The pandemic jump-started an interest in air purification in restaurants and hotels, but environmental concerns like pollution and wildfires have made air purification a necessity in many parts of the country. Installing a high-tech air purifier system in your restaurant can help guests feel safe and healthy while they’re dining with you.

Driving demand and loyalty

The pursuit of innovative revenue streams and marketing strategies has become paramount. While food and beverage remain the core offerings for many establishments, the quest to boost revenue and engage customers between mealtimes has led to the emergence of new opportunities. From subscriptions and grocery items to branded merchandise, restaurants are diversifying their income streams, with over 40% of customers exploring options beyond standard meals in 2022. Moreover, the power of social media is undeniable, with TikTok taking center stage for connecting with younger audiences. Harnessing TikTok's visual appeal and leveraging foodie influencers can amplify your restaurant's online presence. Additionally, the landscape of online reservations is evolving, with platforms like Tock, Resy, SevenRooms, and Yelp gaining traction among diners. Special access reservation programs offer exclusivity, while email marketing and personalized experiences have proven to be effective in retaining customers and driving revenue. In this section, we delve into these transformative trends, offering insights into how they can reshape the restaurant industry and enhance your business strategy.

New revenue streams: For many restaurants, food and beverage is the bread and butter of your business. But seeking to fill the gaps between mealtimes and boost revenue, some restaurants are opening new revenue streams like subscriptions, grocery items,  and branded merchandise – and customers are buying, with over 40% of customers purchasing something beyond standard meals in 2022.

TikTok-worthy marketing: If your restaurant appeals to customers under the age of 30, TikTok is where you’re going to connect with them, since nearly half of TikTok’s user base is in their teens and twenties. Setting up a TikTok account is free, but you’ll want to invest in high-quality video content that shows off your food, drinks, vibe, and brand.

Foodie influencers: One highly effective way to create content for your social media pages is to collaborate with influencers who can create content for you. These people are content experts; in exchange for a free meal, they’ll shoot creative photos and videos that you can reuse on your profile in addition to getting exposure to their followers.

 

Online reservations: Letting customers book reservations for your restaurant online is nothing new, but the online reservation system landscape is changing. While OpenTable was the market leader for many years, new (or new-ish) entrants like Tock, Resy, SevenRooms, and Yelp are quickly gaining market share. If you’re already using one of these systems, make sure it aligns with your target audience; for example, younger foodies are turning to Resy in lieu of OpenTable these days.

Special access reservations: To build a reputation of exclusivity, some restaurants where it’s notoriously hard to score reservations are offering special access to tables booked through programs like American Express Global Access. These programs give restaurants access to diners who are likely to have a high average check.

Email marketing: 60% of consumers say email is their preferred method to keep in touch with restaurants, so if you’re not making good use of your email database, now’s the time to start. Sending personalized, relevant offers via email can boost retention and revenue with relatively little marketing spend.

Personalization: 80% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a business that personalizes their experience, so how can your restaurant personalize the experience you deliver to loyal guests? Through email marketing, loyalty perks, or digital ordering, you can recognize customer preferences, suggest relevant offers, and even save personal info for a smoother ordering process.

 

Which trends resonate with your restaurant business? Which new things will you try in the months ahead? For more restaurant technology advice, check out reviews about the top restaurant management systems.

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Jordan Hollander
Jordan is the co-founder of Hotel Tech Report, the hotel industry's app store where millions of professionals discover tech tools to transform their businesses. He was previously on the Global Partnerships team at Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Prior to his work with SPG, Jordan was Director of Business Development at MWT Hospitality and an equity analyst at Wells Capital Management. Jordan received his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management where he was a Zell Global Entrepreneurship Scholar and a Pritzker Group Venture Fellow.