In the restaurants of yesterday, the words: “Can we split the bill?” meant one giant nightmare.
Inevitably, this seemingly simple request would lead to a case of: “I’m with her, she’s with him, he’s with him, the three of them are together and she’s alone, but we’ll take the nachos.”
Moving fast because other tables were waiting, that poor server would return to the computer and painstakingly move item by item, seat by seat, into the new arrangement. They’d return the bill to the table only to learn that an appetizer slipped onto the wrong seat and two drinks were swapped. Again, the server would be banished back to the computer where they’d start all over again. All the while, time was ticking and the guests at other tables would be left neglected, tapping their forks impatiently against their menu, getting hungrier and hangrier by the minute.
While this scenario was a nightly debacle only a few years ago, the restaurant experience has changed greatly for servers, patrons and operations since then. Hanger is no match for today’s technological developments. Automation and apps have revolutionized the restaurant experience for both customers and staff.
Here are 15 restaurant technologies (in seven categories) that are no longer the exception to the dining experience, but are now the rule.
Gone are the days of the overflowing host binder, marked with the unintelligible scribbles of busy servers. Gone are the days of customers calling in during peak hours only to be directed to an answering machine or an unrelenting dial tone. Now we welcome automated reservations with open arms.
The best reservation apps allow restaurants to manage bookings and communicate seamlessly with guests. Information is power and with guest management tools, servers and hosts alike can provide a better dining experience to new and repeat customers. While reservation technology makes the pre-dining experience a breeze, through including your restaurant on well-known reservation app sites you also tap into the app as a marketing device. By listing your restaurant within a reservation app’s directory, a new market comes available; these apps filter hungry and nearby guests to you.
The best reservation apps allow customers to search for restaurants and make reservations based on date, time, cuisine, and price range- anywhere and at any time. After choosing a restaurant, customers are given a list of reservation times available and can then fill out a simple form to confirm their reservation.
The waitlist – every restaurant manager’s dream, every host’s worst nightmare. This might go without saying, but hanger is at its worst when customers are stuck standing by the front door without a beverage or when wait times go beyond the time quoted. Waitlist apps to the rescue!
The best waitlist apps give hosts essential customer information and are extremely simple to use. Hosts add the customer to a waitlist and text the customer when their table is up. Some apps even have custom analytics so management can track and trend wait times to gauge busy times, which assists bigger decisions like scheduling and food prep in the long term.
The benefit is pretty simple; instead of standing aimlessly and uncomfortably in a packed lobby, the customer is at liberty to visit neighboring shops, sit at the bar, or go elsewhere while they wait for their table to be ready. The wait doesn’t feel like a wait at all when guests can come and go as they please while knowing they won’t lose their table or be forgotten.
Hosting is arguably the most underrated role in the restaurant chain of command. They make the first impression. They balance who gets what table and take flack from servers when sections aren’t distributed evenly. They have to estimate wait times, call up customers, clean tables, and ensure reservations have a spot when they arrive. Part therapist, part seating-police, part table-allocation-god – the role of a host is complex. Now technology has evolved to help them out.
Sometimes combined with waitlist technology and reservation apps, the best hosting apps include automated server rotations, the floor plan, and table status. This takes the pressure off busy hosts, ensures their estimated wait times are more accurate and allows them to better gauge when to set up reservations. Hosting apps also ensure that servers are seated fairly.
Guests receive more accurate wait estimations and for those with second sitting reservations, there’s less chance that they’ll have to wait for their table to be ready, even on the busiest nights.
Try: Yelp’s Waitlist app
Netflix and chill … and takeout – there’s no better Friday night. More and more restaurants are opting to provide delivery services and more and more customers are opting to order food beyond pizza.
Delivery apps provide a whole new sales channel for restaurants that deliver. Delivery apps reduce the chance of error associated with over-the-phone orders and the best apps provide confirmation and accurate order records to both restaurants and customers.
Quick, easy, often available on smartphone, tablet, and the internet, customers can order from a greater range of delivery choices, potentially even from their favorite restaurants, without having to leave the house…or their couch for that matter.
Forget champagne tastes on beer wages; we’ve got long-lunch tastes on fast food time. For the busy professional, sitting down for lunch is less a promise and more a luxury. Now food pick-up technology has evolved beyond options like the dirty bird, or McD’s to allow customers to order from their favorite restaurants. With food pick up apps, customers can take food out or dine in, without the time lag after ordering and before payment.
Pick-up apps consume fewer resources at peak meal times. Since they don’t have to take orders or process payments as that is all done through the app, your staff gets off the phone and can spend more time serving customers in-house. As well, guests who are picking up get the same level of service and the same food, without the wait. An added bonus of being listed on pick-up apps is increased exposure. Whether you appear to an app-user based on proximity, food type, or rating- it’s a great way to get noticed and drive more business.
Customers can order and pay directly from their smartphones, avoiding lineups and wait times. There’s no waiting on busy staff to take orders during lunch or dinner times. They can simply grab their order and go. Some apps, even allow you to order ahead of time and dine-in, cutting out the order and payment time, but preserving the table dining experience.
Once upon a time, after taking an order, servers would stand in line for a POS, trying to keep track of an order in their head, deciphering scribbles on their notepad, all while making a mental note to remember to deliver that glass of water. Now, POS has gone mobile. No more notebooks. No more mistakes. No more communication errors. Using tablets, the notepad middleman has been eliminated, as well as the fight for computers and the time lag between appetizer and the main course. Mobile POS systems can now be taken tableside, placing the dining experience directly in the hands of the server for automated and instantaneous ordering and a smoother process from drink order to payment. On top of that, the modern POS acts as an ecosystem for your restaurant, connecting everything from loyalty programs, to reservations, to menu management, all on one device.
With a mobile POS, your servers will never be in the weeds. Smooth operations make for better, faster service, happier staff and typically higher tips. The best mobile POS systems allow servers to take and modify orders tableside. When servers can sort orders by seat, accommodate shared items, and take special requests, there’s less time wasted going back and forth with the kitchen. The chance of communication errors between guest-server-kitchen-bar is almost eliminated. When it comes to payment, servers can split the bill with ease and allow customers to pay while they’re seated at the table. Win-win-win.
When servers are at ease, customers are too. Their needs are met, their orders are correct, and the service is prompt. Creating an experience is half the battle. Master that and you’ll have a regular for life.
Cash is the way of the past. Plastic has been our preferred method of payment for decades, but there’s a new payment player in town. More and more of us are now paying with our phones. While wallets are still padding back pockets and weighing down purses everywhere, mobile pay is gaining momentum and increasing in popularity. Digital wallets work by linking your credit and debit cards to your smartphone. While still on the burgeoning front line of technology adoption, mobile payments are prevailing amongst the top POS systems and payment options.
They allow quick, tableside payments, a chance to recover marketing information, paperless payments, and better tracking.
Just another way to pay quickly and efficiently. Customer’s already do everything on their smartphones, why not pay for their meal too?
For restaurants, time is everything. For customers, it’s all about the convenience. And when convenience and time are married, the results is a great experience all around. The faster and smoother logistics and operations are taken care of, the more attentive servers can be and the more romanced a guest will feel. Restaurant tech is indeed a changin’ – for the better! Don’t let the latest trends overwhelm you – embrace it, one app at a time. Your guests will thank you and your staff will too.