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I was in a local coffee shop recently and overheard a rep from a well-known POS company trying to sell his product to the shop’s manager. But for every feature he offered up (“It’ll manage payroll!” “It makes tipping easier!”), the cafe manager had more or less the same rebuttal: more tech would make more work for her staff.

I suspect this conversation is happening all over the world. Tech’s march on the restaurant industry is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily making life easier for restaurants. In a growing number of cases, too many digital tools actually make it harder to get work done, particularly as demands for delivery and mobile orders ramp up and those functions have to be integrated into an already chaotic workflow.

But this week, we got a different glimpse into the future of the digital restaurant — namely, one where disparate tech solutions are replaced by a single digital platform that can manage every corner of the restaurant, from the kitchen system in the back to the kiosk out front to the off-premises order on its way out for delivery.

At least, that’s what Brightloom hopes to launch to restaurants this fall. The newly rebranded company, formerly known as Eatsa, announced yesterday that it’s revamped its existing end-to-end restaurant tech platform, into which it’s also integrating Starbucks’ famed mobile technology.

This is a big deal because, while many products claim to be “all-in-one” restaurant management software packs that make it easier for restaurant owners and operators to manage the entire business, no one’s yet managed to seamlessly integrate the mobile aspect of business into their system.

And nobody does mobile like Starbucks. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s hard to deny the mega-chain’s dominance when it comes to offering fast, highly personalized order and pickup functions for customers. Brightloom’s soon-to-be-unveiled system will integrate the Starbucks mobile order, pay, and customer loyalty tech into its own system. We don’t yet know exactly what that will look like, but it will undoubtedly raise everyone’s standards around what restaurant-tech systems should be able to do and put pressure on others to make their offerings just as useful and less of a burden for restaurants to implement.

Good-bye, Crackly Speakerphone. Hello Digital Drive-Thru
Will all these digital developments render the crackly speaker at the drive-thru null and void? Probably, and sooner than we think.

While major QSRs like Dunkin’ and Starbucks have been implementing digital and mobile ordering into the drive-thru experience little by little over the last couple years, KFC took things a step further recently by announcing its first-ever drive-thru-only concept store.

The store, which is slated to open in November, will feature multiple drive-thru lanes dedicated to customers who have ordered their food via the KFC website or mobile app. The idea is to streamline the order process and cut down on how long it takes customers — or delivery drivers — to get their food. But again, it’s all about the implementation. KFC’s concept store could raise the bar on what QSRs are expected to deliver in terms of speed and quality. Or it could just be introducing another digital process that stresses workers out. We’ll know more when the pilot launches in November, in Australia.

Delivery Bots on the Rise
Or you could just let the restaurant come to you in the form of a roving bot. There’s a growing number of these devices delivering food from restaurant to customer, often on college campuses, which hold a lot of people in a relatively small geographic area.

But as my colleague Chris Albrecht pointed out this week, Kiwi announced it will test its semi-autonomous delivery bots on the streets of Sacramento, CA this fall, which suggests we’re coming to a point where these li’l roving machines will start to become a more common sight on regular city sidewalks. Who needs drive-thru when you can have your meal brought to you by a cute little box on wheels? As Chris said, “it was pretty amazing to whip out my phone, order a burrito, have a robot fetch my lunch and bring it to my location.”

For now, roving delivery bots are probably not a priority for most restaurants’ overall digital solutions. But as all-in-one offerings like the Brightloom-Starbucks tech get more commonplace and digital ordering becomes routine for customers and workers alike, there may be room for most restaurants to accommodate a bot or two in their tech stack.

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