During FS/TECH, the foodservice technology expo held in Long Beach, Calif., in November, multiple speakers discussed technological advances in the restaurant industry. Among them was Jim Melvin, founder of SIVA Corporation, a Delray, Fla., software developer for the restaurant industry. When it comes to restaurant technology, Melvin is regarded as a leading visionary, and that's likely why POS giant PAR Technologies acquired SIVA late last year. He is now that company's chief strategy officer.
Following is Melvin's vision for foodservice technology, a future full of fascinating and revenue-generating surprises.
Prediction: Customers and operators want interactive restaurant technologies.
Many (operators) are eager to use handheld technologies and pay-at-the-table technologies to provide the customer a much better, streamlined solution in the order-taking and food-delivery process. And customers want to use them as soon as they come through the door. We're looking forward to using technologies like kiosks and pay at the table a lot more in the future.
Prediction: Expect substantial changes in ordering and payment systems.
What we see coming in the future is a dramatic fragmentation at the order points and payment points in restaurants. Consumers already want to take and pay for the order at the table or in the car or over the Web. (And the Web) allows customers to make very tight branded relationships with their favorite restaurants. They allow customer preferences to be created so they can place an order on a cell phone or the Web.
Prediction: Restaurants will know their customers better than ever.
At the drive-thru or an (in-store) kiosk, the restaurant will know who you are and what your favorites are. It'll know what my most favorite thing to order is.
For example, when I pull up at the drive-thru with a car full of my kids, I could say, "Give me my number one," and (based on my preset preferences) it could place an order for all five people. Now I don't have to go through the 45-second process I'd normally go through to order.
This literally is being able to say, "I want the last order I had at the drive-thru," even if you're in Columbus, Ohio, today and were in San Diego yesterday. That happens through an enterprise system that extracts real-time data that's deployed (system-wide) and is accessible at any of that brand's stores. (Melvin later added that customers will be recognized by RFID cards, GSM signals from cell phones, key fobs, gift cards or I.D. numbers they could punch in at a kiosk.)
Prediction: Customers will like such instant recognition because they're already seeking that level of convenience.
These are opt-in technologies, not Big Brother. The customer — you — decided you wanted to be loyal to Taco Bell, and they have permission, when they see your GSM signal coming from your cell phone, to identify you and do what's appropriate. (With digital signage), they could reconfigure the order confirmation board to automatically display what's your number one, your last order, what's your favorite or what you're allergic to, or nutritional information for that restaurant's food. There are lots of those what we call "portable preferences" that come into play in this technology.
Prediction: Cell phones will play increasingly larger roles as customer order platforms.
More and more consumers have cell phones, and we want to use that technology. ... Once you've opted into the brand, that brand will want to push advertising to the cell phone so (customers) can order from it.
We also want customers to be able to get directions to the nearest brand outlet. The customer needs to be able say, "I want to know where my nearest Taco Bell is, my nearest Wendy's is," and have that pop up in the phone and give directions
Prediction: Customers will use cell phones to "bid" on food orders.
You can say, "I want a salad from a drive-thru," and then put that out for bid (to the restaurants you've opted in to.) And any of those restaurants that are listening to that bid will be able to push to your cell phone, "I have a drive thru and I serve salads. These are my hours of operation and here are directions." Those are the kinds of things we're working on.
Fact: Making such technology work requires a full understanding of what's going on in the store in real time.
For this to succeed, you have to understand capacity levels at the store, what's already in the kitchen, how many people are in the restaurant, how many orders have already been taken ... to be able to quote the customer a delivery time or to be able to take the customer's order at all. You have to know how many drivers are in the store, such as in a pizza situation. You have to know how many are already out and whether it'll take 45 minutes for a delivery.
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We also have technology that reaches into the kitchen with a very expansive kitchen management system we call Intellikitchen. We have several different technologies that display statistics to employees in the store. Then they can understand what the operational efficiencies are in the store, what the guest experience is and how each guest has gone through their cycle in the restaurant.
(That information includes) how long (the customer) waited to be seated, and whether the estimate they were given was accurate. How long they waited to get their food, how long they waited to get the check and how long they waited for the check to be picked up once it was delivered.
Prediction: New technologies will pay for themselves many times over.
We're seeing tremendous savings for our customers when they combine these together. (With pay-at-the-table technologies) they're seeing better table turns, better tips for servers because tables are more capably managed. And (operators) have reduced labor cost.
With pay at the table, we've seen enough time savings in the table turns to get another seating in a night at a fine-dining restaurant. That's substantial.
With pay-at-the-table, the consumer can dictate when they want to leave the table. That 10-minute wait while somebody brings your check is the time servers lose the biggest percentage of their tips, regardless of how good the service has been. And once the guest understands pay-at-the-table is for their convenience and security, they really enjoy that.
Prediction: Handheld POS devices will generate revenue, too.
(Operators) will also sell gift cards on those hand-held devices. You can take a one of them and put it at the hostess counter with some cards below the counter. It's a much more cost-effective methodology for today — and probably for a long time to come — than to have a full-blown kiosk with a card dispenser.
(Kiosks have other potential.) You can self-order, self-seat, use it to sell merchandise and have it shipped off premise. We try to take a vehicle like a kiosk and have it run as many operations as possible to make it more cost-effective for the operation.
Prediction: A major foodservice technology cycle is beginning. Hold onto your hats.
The end of a technology cycle is when you're looking for (technology to give you) that last thousandth of a basis point on your food cost or labor. But the beginning of a cycle is when you're trying to drive your revenue, and that's where we are today.
If you look at the '60s and '70s, when drive-thru was changing the industry, PAR was delivering solutions that were different than anyone else. Now a different (technology) lifecycle is just starting. Whether it's Web ordering, cell-phone ordering or curbside pickup, those things are taking off, and most of our customers like it.