Randy Landers, left, senior director, Retail Solutions, Earthlink; Laura Rea Dickey, CIO, Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants; Alex Glaser, director of Development, Harbor Research; and Jeff Dinnard, CIO, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.
Everyone seems to be talking about the "Internet of Things," or IOT, but what does that have to do with restaurants? The official definition of the IOT is a "Scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction."
In a nutshell, it's a fancy way of describing how we use technology, and there are a variety of exciting ways in which to embrace the IOT in your franchises. Today's restaurant customers are increasingly mobile savvy and digitally connected, and it's critical for operators to stay ahead of the latest technological enhancements. Resaturant execs and techy experts discussed these issues March 30 at the inaugural Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit at the Highlands Dallas Hotel in Dallas.
Randy Landers, senior director of Retail Solutions for Earthlink, moderated the session and posed to the panel the question: "What changes and shifts do you foresee in keeping up with the latest in technology?"
"Technology changes daily," said Laura Rea Dickey, CIO of Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants. "We're looking at today, tomorrow and two years down the road. It's truly being holistic."
One of a restaurant's most important possessions for its success is its brand.
"Information technology is critical to the success of your brand," said Jeff Dinnard , CIO of On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina. "It's also critical that your brand is communicated in an educated voice."
Dinnard went on to talk about the importance of a franchises information technology team.
"Make sure your people in IT roles really care about what they do because things change so much so quickly," he said. "It's also important that they don't have an ego. Sometimes they can feel like they're the smartest person in the room because they know the latest technology."
The adoption of technology into the IT is crucial as well.
"Technology is great, but if no one adopts it and adapts it for its best use, it's just technology," said Alex Glaser, director of Development of Harbor Research. "Google Glass is an example. It's great technology, but it's just not right for the average person to use."
Technology = restaurant performance
Whether it's a restaurant's point-of-sale system, loyalty program or kitchen equipment, technology drives its success.
"It's critical to have great Internet connectivity," Dinnard said. "Today's customers expect that. It's also important to have the same level of technology in your tablet and other restaurant devices."
For Dickey's Barbecue, customer data is essential.
"Being able to get the data you need is key," Dickey said. "You also have to have a place to put it where it's meaningful and actionable."
Improving ecustomer-staff interaction
Any restaurant operator will say that great customer service is a must. The front-line staff has to be at the top of its game when a customer walks through the door.
"Reducing as much friction as possible in the ordering process allows servers to spend more time engaging with customers," Dinnard said. "Having the right technology upfront helps make this possible."
Personalization of a customer's visit to your restaurant is also important.
"A restaurant needs technology that will make seamless transactions for customers," Dinnard said. "Do anything you can to personalize their visit."
At the same time, technology has created an arena in which some customers may not want a great deal of interaction.
"I'm a Millennial and I want to click and customize my visit," Glaser said. "The smartphone has created a user interface that's right in front of you."
The IOT will only continue to advance as technology improves and becomes more sophisticated by the day — sometimes the hour. The Internet itself is now an important element of many peoples' daily lives, either for work or communicating with friends and family. With all of the advances in the IOT for restaurants, what's coming next?
"The industry is shifting," Dinnard said. "For example, due to technology, vendors are now pressured to provide more service at less cost to the restaurant."
Cutting cost, however, isn't enough.
"Cost-cutting alone doesn't justify a large investment in technology," Dickey said. "You have to balance it with driving revenue and increasing your restaurant's market share."
The use of technology in Internet security will also continue to increase in importance. Landers gave some statistics from his experience at Earthlink:
"There are two critical touchpoints," Dickey said. "The food we serve to our customers and the data that they entrust us with. You have to do both well."