9 restaurant technology trends for 2020

Restaurants embrace technology with rising speed and the number of entrepreneurs who strive to digitize their business operations is growing. Forced by the current restaurant industry challenges, big chains introduce tech solutions to overcome labor shortages and solve problems eating into their margins. Competing with each other, they set up new standards of service to capture the attention of tech-savvy customers.

Independent restaurants have to catch up with the restaurant technology trends if they want to stay competitive and meet the rising expectations of both employees and customers. Restaurant owners, who want to run their business smartly, now are willing to invest not only in new guest-facing tech solutions but also in technologies that can optimize their back-of-the-house operations. 

From robots through alternative ordering & payment solutions to AI-powered customer management and marketing software, let’s look at the top restaurant technology trends that will change the restaurant industry in 2020.

1. Food delivery robots and drones

The implementation of autonomous vehicles in food delivery is one of the most attention-grabbing technology trends in restaurants. This technology can solve problems for both operators and customers as it lowers labor costs and removes the burden of tipping delivery drivers. Domino has already successfully tested self-driving cars in Miami and Las Vegas. It means that the use of driverless cars for delivering food in the nearest future is no longer in doubt. 

Google, Amazon, and Uber are already testing drone delivery. The utilization of drones for delivering food promises to cut down customers’ waiting time substantially. Because drones are expected to complete about 15 deliveries per hour compared to three per hour via car, restaurants can potentially win from increasing sales volumes.

Although robot and drone delivery technologies are promising, they should be officially regulated first. There are also some logistics and weather challenges to overcome. It’s unclear who should bear responsibility for the road accidents with self-driving cars involved. As for the delivery drones, they will always require a safe place to land and won’t fly in harsh weather.

2. Prep lines automation

Automation amplified with machine learning is among new technology trends in restaurant industry that will scale next year. It extends its presence in the back-of-the-house helping restaurants raise their kitchen capacity and increase operations efficiency. By automating the food preparation processes that require cooks to do predictable physical actions, restaurant owners can overcome labor shortage and free people from long hours of boring and repetitive work.

While quite a few restaurant brands already employ different models of robot cooks in their kitchens, some robochefs are hyping on tech shows:

  • Automated kitchen, created by Moley Robotics, is equipped with robotic arms that can mimic human movements. They can stir, mix, adjust cooking temperature, etc. 

  • Cooki, the cooking robot created by Sereneti Kitchen, has an arm that can prepare meals from pre-portioned ingredients.

  • Chef Cui, the Chinese 3-foot-tall toy-like robot, can slice a ball of dough into strips of noodles of a consistent length and size.

The obvious pros of employing robochefs include their ability to produce unlimited volumes of food at a high speed, consistency of the food in taste and quality, cleanliness, and safety. As soon as robot cooks technology becomes more affordable, most of the restaurant owners would invest in those solutions to take advantage of an effective combination of human skills and automation. This trend also influences kitchen equipment vendors a lot.

3. POS and inventory management systems 

In the last five years, cloud technology revolutionized the market of restaurant POS systems. Thanks to this restaurant owners got a great operational benefit from more convenient workflows for taking orders and handling payments. The POS systems became connected to other technologies used in restaurants: online ordering platforms, guest-facing technology, and even kitchen through kitchen display systems that can substitute kitchen printers in restaurants

Speaking of the latest innovations in the POS industry, cloud POS software vendors are now striving to make their systems even more mobile than they already are. Not only they strive to cover all operating systems but also to widen the range of hardware their apps can run on. 

Now you can find systems that work on computers, tablets, laptops, smartphones, tabletop ordering systems and new types of handheld order-taking devices. 

Another trend is in turning cloud POS apps into single software solutions covering all restaurant functions. Now they not only record sales transactions but include features addressing the needs of the front-of-the-house, back-of-the-house, marketing, and administration teams. POS vendors continually add new out-of-the-box features as well as integrate with other apps striving to cover every possible need food service operators may have. For example, Poster POS hosts a Restaurant Technology Hackathon once a year. This event connects restaurant owners with software developers who can originate solutions addressing real-life needs of their businesses.


4. Digital ordering

The fans of off-premise dining now have a variety of options for online ordering. One way or another, almost every restaurant operator wants to capitalize on this trend and invest in the online side of their business to make their food available for ordering online in multiple ways:

  • Marketplaces and food delivery apps. The market leaders, Uber Eats and Deliveroo, enhance the food ordering experience for people and remain popular although partnering with them is not that profitable for food service operators.

  • Restaurant review sites. By claiming their listing on Yelp, Tripadvisor, OpenTable, and the like, restaurant owners reach millions of potential customers. However, this brings additional challenges to managing restaurants’ online reputation because reviews and ratings are difficult to manage but they influence sales a lot.

  • Brands-owned platforms and apps. Restaurants are developing their own platforms for taking digital orders as they strive to keep customer data in their own hands and protect their profit margins.

  • Search platforms. Now people can not only find dining options with Google but order food and book tables at restaurants right in their search results or with the help of the Google Assistant. 

  • Social media. Instagram and Facebook allow diners to make direct reservations through restaurants’ business pages. Restaurants can add reservation widgets across their social channels to ensure their customers can order food right after scrolling their online feed. 

Although sometimes partnerships with third-party services appear not profitable, the digital ordering trend is here to stay. Food service businesses should keep trying different partnerships to find what works for them or launch and optimize their own online ordering platforms.

5. Virtual restaurants 

The availability of the web toolset for creating a virtual restaurant provides restaurateurs a good opportunity to support the food delivery boom, experiment with new concepts, and try out ideas. By partnering with commissary kitchens they can avoid the expenditures connected with opening a physical location and reduce risks. 

The delivery-only business model has already proved its efficiency: customers place their orders online, the chefs in ‘dark’ or ‘ghost’ kitchens cook the food and the delivery services arrive at the kitchens to pick up and deliver the orders. 

The challenge that virtual restaurant owners should solve is in building a strong online presence. An engaging website, active social media, and partnerships with food delivery apps and restaurant recommendations platforms are still a lot of work to do.

Even existing brick-and-mortar restaurants can take advantage of this new trend and launch virtual restaurants to test out new menu items, attract new clientele, check potential demand in a new location. The only thing they should care about is to differentiate their virtual restaurant from their brick-and-mortar location by registering a separate business name for it to avoid market cannibalization.

6. Self-order kiosks

Self-order kiosks drew the most customer’s attention last year compared to other types of technology used in a restaurant. The generation of digital-savvy customers already gives preference to self-order kiosks at McDonald’s. Apart from meeting the preferences of young consumers native to digital screens, quick-service restaurants that have introduced these technology benefit from:

  • Automatic upselling. All available add-ons for each menu item are displayed as well as combo deals and promotions. 

  • Shorter lines at the counter. By splitting the line into two parts you reduce both your employees' workload during the rush hours and customers’ wait times.

  • Better order accuracy. Eliminating miscommunication because customers see what they’re ordering.

Using self-order kiosks quick service restaurants get an incremental sales lift and make customers feel more comfortable. The benefits of using self-order devices are getting more visible as more consumers get used to this new technology in restaurants.

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7. Restaurant marketing automation

Restaurants communicate with their customers not only in their dining room but in a variety of touchpoints: brand-owned websites and apps, emails, messengers, phone calls, socials, chatbots, third-party online ordering and restaurant review platforms. On the one hand, this gives plenty of opportunities to collect data about their customers that can help improve their experience. On the other hand, the amount of data is overwhelming and it becomes impossible to manage those multichannel communications without automation. 

Cutting-edge restaurant marketing automation platforms offer triggered campaigns that can run across multiple communication channels. They use AI technology to allow restaurants to personalize their message to every customer based on the customer’s preferences and behavior. To improve the relevance and timeliness of your marketing message now you can leverage:

  • Hyper-segmented marketing lists.

  • Personalized content and offers.

  • Automatically triggered messages.

  • Detailed reports on click, open, bounce, and delivery rates available in real-time.

  • AI-powered predictions.

For example, you can set up triggered messaging to automatically send messages and offers every time a customer reaches a particular milestone, meets predefined criteria, or even breaks their regular behavior pattern.

Although marketing automation can be a real time-saver, it requires hiring a knowledgeable marketer who would be able to set everything up and make the most out of it. The amount and nature of data that becomes available for collection and analysis raises make it more and more difficult to meet data security standards that are getting stricter.

8. Chatbots for restaurants

Chatbots are a new restaurant technology that has become quite widespread. Chatbots can be created fast, don’t require much investment, and integrate with different communication channels. Existing restaurant chatbots provide a personalized experience to customers who place orders online, reserve tables, or need replies to FAQs, round the clock. When interacting with customers, your chatbot may:

  • Recommend dishes.

  • Suggest food & drink pairing options.

  • Process payments.

  • Ask for feedback.

  • Share trivia games.

  • Announce events.

  • Offer promotions.

  • And even crack jokes.

For example, your customers working in the building across the street may want to book a table and order their lunch through your chatbot when they are about to leave their office. In this case, they’ll get their food served upon their arrival, which saves their time and allows you to improve your table turnover rate during peak hours.

Chatbots can free up restaurant employees’ time and improve the guest experience. However, for launching a successful chatbot, it’s important to understand whether your customers are eager to use this technology and what messaging platforms they use.

9. Voice technology for restaurants 

Voice technologies are changing the ways restaurants and consumers connect. While more and more people use their voice-activated devices at home and while they drive for ordering food and finding restaurants, big operators start implementing this technology on their side. 

Being aware of the popularity of voice search and consumers’ inclination to use it for finding dining options, restaurants are under pressure to introduce in-app voice-activated ordering or integrate their services with major virtual assistants to meet consumers’ expectations. 

Although Chipotle already has AI voice assistants that take phone orders, voice technology should still overcome some hurdles before it becomes widespread. The main problems on its way are: processing customers’ distinct voices or dialects, letting customers conveniently review their orders, and making rewards and loyalty programs accessible to the customers using voice commands for placing orders.


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