In-Person Experience

by Katie Lee

— By Russ Spencer —

Why restaurant technology doesn’t have to come at the cost of guest experience.

The restaurant industry has slowly been shifting its business model over the past decade but was drastically accelerated in 2020, with the culprit being none other than the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants were forced to change how they operate and interact with customers due to social distancing requirements surrounding the virus, with some forced to close their doors for good. Now, 3 years on, restaurants are open with little to no restrictions, but some diners still aren’t happy with where the industry is going.

According to The New York Times, customers are losing patience with the dine-in experience at restaurants and are opting instead for takeout more often. Sources interviewed for the article claim that the restaurant industry is not the welcoming, warm place they remember, as now they are bombarded with QR codes instead of paper menus and little to no face time with waiters. As the technology industry continues to boom, specifically for hospitality, where do operators draw the line? How can restaurant technology be utilized to streamline operations without losing the human touch diners are seeking? 

Keep Technology Behind The Scenes

Using technology in the hospitality industry is an efficient way to streamline back-of-house operations such as inventory, payroll and purchasing. These tasks are time-consuming and prone to human error, and spending time here will give managers and employees less time to spend with guests. Embracing restaurant technology is beneficial for streamlining back-of-house operations, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to bombard guests with it in the front-of-house.

Diners will create emotional connections to their experience, more often than not, coming from the interactions they have with the staff and owners. The diners will remember more about how they felt in the moment, over what they tasted. When diners think about the last amazing experience they had in a restaurant, it was probably due to the service. The food might have been amazing, but recommendations from the server and the one-on-one conversations made it better. The same can be said about the last poor experience — it likely had to do with the service as well. As operators, it is important to capitalize on that emotional connection. Remember the motto from the ‘80s sitcom Cheers, “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” It all starts with people. There’s a time and place for ordering screens and QR codes, but there must be a proper investment in employee training to provide top-notch customer service. Human engagement is key to building relationships with customers. That experience starts the minute they engage with the brand, as they walk through the door, or as they find the establishment online. Set the tone of the experience with a warm, friendly greeting, and they will never feel the interference of technology. Remember that customers dine in for that human connection. They crave engagement with staff, such as hearing about their favorite entrees or the history behind the restaurant. Create that emotional connection.

Beneficial Restaurant Technology

This is not to say that restaurants should not use technology at all. Technology is beneficial to restaurants’ success. A restaurant is only as efficient as its team. These teams are handicapped without the support of the correct technology used the right way in order to execute on all cylinders and be as successful as they can be.

For starters, our lives are managed through our cell phones and computers, so stop taking inventory with pen and paper. Stop guessing what to order, when to order it, what was sold, what is profitable and what was wasted. Stop guessing when to schedule, who to schedule and when to cut them. Operators should start managing their business accounts like they manage their personal finance accounts, using technology to make efficient and educated life decisions. There are countless profit management systems out there to track inventory levels and sales. These solutions also provide options to order supplies, set a shopping list, track which menu items are most profitable, which servers drive those profitable menu items and which servers need extra support. Use these platforms to help make decisions such as scheduling according to historical guest traffic flow and more. 

There are many moving parts in the day-to-day operations. Operators are managing their inventory each day, including the products that are close to expiring and could lead to potential waste, or the products that are too low in inventory and, therefore, might run out before the next delivery. Restaurant technology will also help identify what menu items might need their portion sizes reevaluated or their prices increased. Managing these opportunities in real time will help reduce waste and increase efficiencies so the operator can focus their efforts on the customer experience.

Most operations are faced with a staffing crisis and are running understaffed. They just simply do not have the time to keep up with multiple spreadsheets or all the notes written on the back of napkins and then stuffed in their pockets for weeks. Using the data technology provides in real time, operators can replace old-school habits with modern restaurant tech that will allow them to identify opportunities and react according to business needs quickly.  

Another beneficial use of restaurant technology is its ability to help engineer a menu for maximum profits. Can operators craft the perfect menu by analyzing each item’s contribution to the profit against how often it is purchased, to increase the profitability of the menu? Of course, but keep in mind that the cost of goods fluctuates constantly, and operators often do not have the time to sit down multiple times a week and change the order and pricing of their menu accordingly. But why should they have to when they have technology that can manage that for them? Then it becomes as simple as operators being able to review their business at their fingertips, just like managing personal finance accounts from a mobile phone. 

When the profit margins were higher, the old-school method was to wait until the P&L was available to adjust as needed. If the numbers were bad, operators knew that sales would fix all. However, in a post-COVID world, with the margins smaller than ever, operators can no longer wait to react and fix their sales. The use of newer restaurant technology systems can run the data and provide operators with everything needed to make educated business decisions on the fly and adjust as needed.  

There has been a surge in the possibilities artificial intelligence (AI) has to help bars and restaurants succeed. Many operators are using it to track the last time customers came to their establishment and what they ordered. AI platforms can utilize this data to send a targeted SMS message to the guest, asking them to make a future reservation at the establishment or reminding them of their favorite menu item. Even though AI is a newer phenomenon in the industry, operators are starting to implement it quickly, seeing its use for ROI.

We are not in the technology business or the food business as much as we are in the people business. We sell food but manage people and their experiences with our brand by creating an emotional connection. We need the use of restaurant technology to help us efficiently balance restaurant operations with guest experience. Technology has advantages and disadvantages for every industry, including restaurants and bars. The important decision to be made is where technology will be most beneficial to the restaurant’s success without sacrificing the guest experience. Give diners the human interaction they crave while leveraging technology behind the scenes to streamline operations and keep guests coming back.

— Russ Spencer is the senior director of restaurant success at Craftable, a cutting-edge technology company that empowers restaurants, bars, hotels and hospitality businesses, both big and small. Bringing over 30 years of experience as an accomplished multi-unit operator working in day-to-day hospitality operations, Spencer has a strong understanding of the benchmarks needed for a restaurant’s financial success. Visit

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