Coca Cola Trends

Photo courtesy of Miso Robotics

“Customers today interact with restaurants more and more often outside the four walls of the actual restaurant,” said Focus Brands’ Michael Verdesca, executive vice president and chief information officer, during a panel at FSTEC 2019 in Dallas. It’s imperative that you have a presence everywhere your customers are likely to connect with you, via your app, third-party delivery apps, your website, through social channels and on rating sites.

Billy Koehler, digital director at The Coca-Cola Company, agrees. “The relationship with the restaurant patron, which used to be in-person and purely transactional, is evolving. There’s a generational paradigm shift: Consumers are willing to engage more with restaurants and brands in general – via technology – to enjoy increased convenience,” he says. They are willing to share information digitally, but restaurants have to be transparent about how they use that information (to customize and personalize the relationship through technology), and they have to deliver on that trust.

Technology in the restaurant business is evolving so quickly that the hospitality landscape of today could look antiquated even five to seven years from now. Here are a few tech developments to watch.

AI: Artificial intelligence will impact the front- and back-of-the-house profoundly. In front, AI’s ability to curate data will deeply personalize customers’ orders, effortlessly accommodating preferences, payment, dietary restrictions, loyalty rewards and more. Behind the scenes, the rote “back-office” tasks and reporting required of management will be automated, leaving managers with more time to engage employees and enhance customer service.

Voice activation: AI assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa, as well as proprietary systems, could be used throughout the restaurant industry. Customers will order delivery or pickup through devices; eventually, the assistants will even recommend where to eat. In the restaurant, trainees could get answers to questions mid-task just by asking. Customers can interact with a voice-activated drive-thru, leaving employees free to fill orders with complete accuracy. The potential for voice activation is huge.

Wearables: Customers can push a button on their table and call their server who’s alerted through a Fitbit-style wristband. Through some of these systems’ apps, managers can track servers’ response times, flag service lapses and redistribute servers’ stations all in real time. Amazon recently introduced Echo wearables including rings, watches, wireless earbuds and eye glasses that are Alexa-enabled. Both customers and restaurant employees can have voice-activation services on them at all times.

Cashless payment: Although 100% cashless operations may not become the standard (some jurisdictions are already legislating against this, believing it’s discriminatory), an increasing number of customers will likely expect to pay through their phones or by tapping cards, and operators will likely have to accommodate this convenience.

Integrated menu management: A single menu management system is the holy grail of restaurants everywhere, as they juggle up to 20 or even more menus that need to adjust for on-site ordering, franchisee and geographic preferences, catering, in-house delivery, third-party delivery, self-order kiosks and more. Menu management systems of the future will need to adjust, track and calculate sales, and generate reports based on menu items sold, dayparts, locations, staffing, type of order, taxes … it’s a daunting matrix. But solutions are coming.

“At The Coca-Cola Company, we found that many of our foodservice customers were experiencing issues with syndicating and synchronizing their menu items across multiple third-party platforms,” Koehler says. As a solution, the company partnered with POS middleware company Omnivore to build a menu management system that serves third-party technology partners with up-to-date menu data drawn directly from the restaurant POS.

Robotics: Kitchen robots that flip burgers, dump fry baskets, top pizzas and put them on a conveyor, deliver orders to tables (and clear them after) and make salads are all on the market. Their purpose is not to replace humans but to free them for higher-skill tasks and more focused customer care.

Self-driving cars and driverless cars are down the road (pun intended), but they’ll impact everything from delivery to what customers will be able to eat in cars, to alcohol consumption. With so much new tech coming onto the scene, operators will face ongoing challenges integrating all the options in a meaningful and cost-effective way, say experts – especially if the tech players continue with proprietary approaches rather than open platforms. The upside: As sophisticated tech eases more of the rote tasks, team members have more time to engage in the business of hospitality.

This article brought to you in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company.