In case you hadn’t heard (but you totally heard), restaurant dining rooms are closing up shop again. Whether it’s states mandating the closures (California), chains delaying their openings (McDonald’s), or some combination of those things, dining rooms are once again in peril.
Since we’re all things food tech at The Spoon, the first question that came to my mind was, What happens to the restaurant tech companies, many of which have moved quickly in the wake of the pandemic to offer things like contactless order and pay systems, digital menus, and other ways to keep diners socially distanced?
I figured the best way to answer that question was to ask restaurant tech companies themselves and round up their answers below. Note that, though extensive and informative, these answers form just one side of the conversation, and we’ll be following up with the restaurants themselves over the next couple weeks, too. In the meantime, here’s what the tech companies are saying:
Dimitri Nikulin, CEO of Allset:
“Companies that help and support restaurants during the pandemic, like online food ordering platforms, will continue to work and benefit in this new reality. However, others like reservation services or marketing platforms will face a new round of struggle. We believe that tech companies will benefit in the long run, as the post-pandemic world will be more digitized and there will be a greater appreciation of on-demand convenience.”
John Miller, CEO of PopID and chairman of The Cali Group:
“For tech companies like ours that have developed solutions to help restaurateurs enhance the safety of their employees and customers, the renewed state restrictions only make our work more vital and in-demand.”
Andrew Robbins, president and co-founder of Paytronix Systems, Inc.:
“The question is not just what it means for us as tech companies, but what it means for the restaurants themselves. Many of the restaurants that made it through the first phase of this pandemic have brought in some kind of tech to help manage the change. Moving forward it’s going to be about learning how to use and expand the capabilities of that technology, whether that’s loyalty programs, order and delivery software or sophisticated POS systems.
Our customers found that their loyalty programs helped them stay afloat by enabling them to communicate with their best customers. As an example, as the worst of the downturn hit, one of our clients saw their non-loyalty member-related sales drop 75%, while their loyalty member sales were only down 20%, and many of those were spending about 80% of pre-COVID levels. It was this core group of customers who helped them survive and even thrive. We saw this across the board.
Solutions like loyalty, order and delivery platforms or those for contactless dining are only tools for our clients to use. The creative ways they use them will be what sets them apart from their competition.”
Steve Simoni, CEO of Bbot:
“In the first wave of closings, we saw hospitality operators quickly adapt and look for new technology to implement. Broadly, we expect that trend to continue. Therefore, we think that restaurant tech companies continue to have a huge opportunity to help restaurateurs with support and the ability to safely operate during these difficult times.
At Bbot, our entire team is working around the clock to build new features and onboard customers to make sure we are helping as many hospitality operators as possible navigate through the pandemic. Whether a business is open to customers or only offering curbside pickup, operators have pivoted to investing in software that can personalize and better the guest experience, while still allowing their staff to follow social distancing orders. Adding technology solutions to daily operations doesn’t mean sacrificing service. In fact, tech companies like Bbot are focused on assisting staff with efficiency so that they have more time to be hospitable.”
Bart Shuldman, Chairman and CEO of TransAct Technologies Inc. (BOHA):
“The virus crisis has accelerated the adoption of technology by restaurants to digital and cloud-based solutions as they grapple with openings, mandated maximum level of customers allowed in restaurants and temporary closings. The use of technology lowers their cost while also providing specific solutions to provide their customers a level of confidence. Further, not unlike how restaurant operators have had to get creative with ways to drive business like selling grocery staples and cocktails to-go, restaurant technology companies have had to pivot to find ways to meet the needs of operators and their consumer.
It is incumbent upon those of us who serve the industry to find new solutions to help restaurants keep employees and guests safe, all while trying to keep their doors open. For example, we have built upon our existing automated back of house management technology to now allow operators to easily record employee temperatures and health checks in advance of shifts, and created a labeling tool so that staff can mark bathrooms and tables as to when they were last cleaned. We imagine there will continue to be mandates to re-close restaurants as we all contend with how to combat COVID-19, and we will all need to find ways to pivot accordingly.”
David Rusenko, Weebly founder and Square’s head of eCommerce:
“Times are difficult and uncertain, but Main Street is nothing if not resilient. We’re seeing restaurants increasingly turn to technology to stay ahead of the curve and continue thriving in this rapidly evolving business environment – one use case that’s risen to the top is the prevalence of eCommerce. Obviously restaurants have been leaning heavily into features like curbside-pickup and delivery, but the future may offer even more changes.
For example, traditional distinctions separating food, retail, services, and nonprofits are disappearing. As businesses adapt, many have invented new ways of doing business in industries (like the restaurant business) that haven’t seen significant change in decades.
Consider a restaurant that now sells groceries and merchandise (retail), hosts a live video cooking class (service), and offers meal donations to front line workers (nonprofit). A robust eCommerce platform will help businesses manage across all of the various ways that they do business, rather than just one.
To survive in this environment, it’s imperative that restaurants remain flexible, leverage the tools at their disposal, and stay in tune to changes in consumer behavior – like preferences for contactless delivery, use of new technologies like QR codes, and more.”
David Peña, Founder and CEO of remotekitchen:
“The reclosings are a huge hit to restaurants, many of which had already been shuttered for months. “The hammer and the dance” cycle is not sustainable, especially for many independent restaurants — remotekitchen’s target audience in Mexico City. To be blunt, it’s vital that restaurant tech companies work with restaurants to help them generate the dire sales they need to stay open versus pickpocketing from them.”
Ray Reddy, Ritual Co-Founder and CEO:
“Restaurants are an important part of communities and the fabric of society. They are going through a hard time and tech companies and the broader ecosystem need to support them through it.
We can’t speak for other tech companies, but we believe in order to support local, we need to help restaurants go digital and support contactless pickup while keeping a larger share of sales. This means building tools & strategies for restaurants that shift customer demand from expensive 3rd party platforms (that take 20-30%) to first-party products like Ritual ONE that are commission-free. With the uncertainty in dining restrictions, we want to enable restaurants to safely convert sales from every medium possible. This is why we recently rolled out Instagram order buttons along with tableside & storefront QR code ordering for all of our partners.
Our philosophy has always been that restaurants should only pay commissions for new customers and not on their own regulars and Ritual ONE is our way of doubling down on this.”
Joel Montaniel, CEO of Sevenrooms:
“As restaurants close their doors once again due to surging COVID-19 rates, it highlights how important hospitality technology is in helping operators generate revenue and profit in the short and long term. From the early days of COVID-19-related closures, tech companies had to reexamine their value proposition to help operators drive more revenue and profit in a sustainable manner while offering platforms that provided solutions to new operational challenges that popped up overnight. Those that rose to the challenge, offering online ordering and contactless ordering solutions, continue to see success by providing value to their clients whether a dining room is open or closed.
What became apparent in mid-March is that restaurants cannot solely rely on one aspect of their business to bring in revenue nor can they just do what they have done in the past. Over the past few months, operators have started to look more holistically at their businesses, creating more awareness of the importance of tech, guest data, and owning their guest relationships in helping achieve their goals. These technology solutions are now mainstays in restaurant operations, and will not be going away anytime soon.
Restaurants cannot focus exclusively on one stream of revenue (e.g. outdoor dining which is subject to unpredictable weather conditions and city legislation) for their businesses. Instead, they need to examine all of their available channels, including pickup and delivery. Success in this area will come through working with tech companies that offer the tools restaurants need to build direct relationships with their guests. Best-in-class hospitality tech platforms do this by enabling operators to offer experiences that meet changed guest expectations around health and safety, while helping them market to guests in a personalized manner to drive repeated visits and orders.
To be successful, restaurant tech products need to address every aspect of the guest experience, especially as expectations rapidly change. Now, more than ever, technology companies have a big opportunity to create innovative solutions that address these new challenges, helping to carry our industry into the future.”
Are you a restaurant tech company with thoughts about the future of the industry? Drop us a line to share your thoughts.