At this point it pretty much goes without saying that restaurants will be more digitized in the future as businesses look to minimize human-to-human contact between guests and staff. That means more tech in general when it comes to the restaurant experience. But how does this latest round of dining room closures affect that growth? Will, for example, all the contactless dining room software packages released over the last few months be worth nil now that coronnavirus cases are up and dining room visits are down? Can delivery save us all? (No.)
On a quest to find out more, I rounded up some thoughts from restaurant tech companies themselves about the future of their industry. Here, I’ve listed some common threads to come out of the replies, and you can read the full responses over at The Spoon. In the meantime:
- Certain types of restaurant tech will prove more valuable than others. Online ordering platforms, yes. Reservations systems . . . maybe not so much at the moment, unless they can be tied into a larger offering.
- The future of restaurant tech will also be about learning to use the tech. Restaurants will have to decide which tools make the most sense for their individual business, and how those tools can be used most effectively.
- Restaurant tech must also play a role in keeping customers and employees safe. Health-checking features and those that promote social distancing will start to get built into back-of-house systems.
- Service can’t be sacrificed in the name of tech. Just because more parts of the restaurant operation are going to be automated doesn’t mean businesses can be any less attentive to guests.
- Restaurant tech platforms need to address multiple formats. The new “restaurant experience” means more than just the dining room. Tech platforms need to function not just on-premises but also at the drive-thru, in a curbside setting, and with delivery.
Bear in mind that this is just one side of the restaurant tech conversation. By that I mean restaurant tech companies are quite naturally going to be enthusiastic about tech in the dining room because it’s in their best interest. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll also hear from restaurants themselves on the matter, so stay tuned. And drop us a line if you’re a restaurant tech company and have thoughts about the future of your industry.
To Go Is Here to Stay
Chipotle hit a milestone this week: the chain opened its 100th spot with a drive-thru lane, known as the “Chipotlane” in Chipotland. More importantly, the chain said 60 percent of new stores it opens will focus on drive-thru.
Chipotle’s shift in focus from dining rooms to drive-thrus is the latest in a trend that, in retrospect, was inevitable from the start of the pandemic: major chains reformatting their store concepts to meet the demands of a socially distanced, to-go-centric restaurant industry.
This was already happening in 2019 (see KFC’s drive-thru of the future), but the pandemic has accelerated the rate at which restaurant chains are making this pivot. Starbucks has already said it will reformat many of its traditional cafe-style locations to cater to drive-thru and pickup. And with brands like McDonald’s and KFC voluntarily re-closing dining rooms or halting reopening plans, it seems only a matter of time before these companies just decide to forgo the front-of-house altogether at many locations.
Don’t expect this trend to reverse, either. We may not know exactly how the rest of the overall pandemic story plays out, but one narrative already cemented in place is that to go is here to stay. By the time a coronavirus vaccine is found, consumer behavior will have already adjusted to treating off-premises as the norm for quick-service dining. Expect a lot more drive-thrus and pickup windows, and a lot fewer tables.
Here’s What Else Happened in Restaurant Tech This Week
Chopt, Dos Toros Piloting CLEAR’s Biometric Platform to Screen Restaurant Employees – Founders Table, a restaurant group that includes Chopt and Dos Toros Taqueria, announced today it has teamed up with the CLEAR platform to test a health screening process on employees. The success of this pilot could mean a new form of employee health management is on its way to the restaurant biz.
KFC Bringing Beyond Meat Plant-Based Chicken to SoCal, 3D Printed Chicken to Russia – KFC announced a partnership with Beyond Meat today to bring plant-based chicken sandwiches to 50 KFC locations across Southern California. Starting on July 20, the Beyond Meat Chicken will be available for a limited time in select KFCs in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
Miso Robotics Expands Equity Crowdfunding Efforts to the UK – Miso Robotics, maker of Flippy the robot cook, announced yesterday that it has launched an equity crowdfunding campaign in the UK on the CrowdCube platform.
Bbot Raises $3M for Its Contactless Restaurant Tech Solution – NYC-based restaurant tech company Bbot today announced a $3 million seed funding round led by Craft Ventures. The company says it will use the new funds to hire up and expand its reach and product capabilities, according to a press release sent to The Spoon.
Fireside Chat: Building a Direct-to-Consumer Business
We’ll address that question at our next virtual fireside chat, Building a Direct to Consumer Food Business In a Post-Pandemic World, on July 23 at 10 a.m. PT.
Spoon Founder Mike Wolf will be chatting with Jeremiah Kreisberg, CEO of Slow Up, and Vanessa Pham, CEO of Omsom. All three will be discussing:
- What are the key company building blocks for creating a direct to consumer business
- Who are the key hires/personnel/outside partners needed to go DTC
- What is the DTC tech stack?
- Marketing and community building
- Pricing and product strategies vs distribution and retail channels
- and lots more!
This fireside chat is for Spoon Plus Members only, which is good because as a member you also get access to our premium reports, deep dive interviews and more!
Reserve your spot now.
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