Restaurant Technology

Restaurants have been historically slow to adopt technologies (we’re looking at you, state-of-the-art-2002 legacy point of sale systems), but increasing cost pressures across all major line items are going to force operators to make upgrades or be left behind by both their competition and their consumers.

While other sectors have seen significant increases in productivity historically, improvements in the foodservice industry have been minimal over the last 30 years. With the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions not having much of an impact on restaurant technology and operations (consumer and electronics products led growth), the sector is now in a prime position to make modernization efforts and — in doing so — becomes a target for investment.

The rising cost of labor can be a good thing for foodservice in the longer term. The result will be not only greater emphasis on training, engineering more efficient unit economic models, labor models, and productivity improvements — these efforts will also be benefited by a wide variety of exciting new tools that have not yet been adapted to or adopted by the industry.

Restaurant technology presents a tremendous opportunity for investors, technologists, and future-looking operators focusing on bold bets to transform adversity into advantage.

What’s happening (and is required) of organizations and leaders, both shaping and being shaped by these new and dynamic forces, is a necessary transformation and transition from what was to what will, can, and should be. In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (so long as your intent is thriving, not stepping — avoidably — into an oncoming truck in busy traffic).

Reinvention is requisite for established companies to avoid disruption.

For those who have really good forecasts about where the market is headed — and are looking for more than just quarter-to-quarter returns — now is the best time to leapfrog forward and ahead of competitors of today and tomorrow. The following articles on restaurant technology and innovation are a starting point for championing technological change.

Champions of Change: Leaders Who Made Bold Bets on Restaurant Tech

Restaurant companies who have most successfully harnessed technology started their transformations while facing significant threats and went on to restore relevance and build incredible value.

Disruption and Restaurant Innovation

What will happen in the next 5 years will be as significant and transformative for a multi-trillion dollar global industry as was the inventions and evolutions of the last 50 years. But not everyone is moving with the same sense of urgency (and strategic planning wherewithal).

The Food Delivery Industry

With the ever-increasing pace of change, it can be hard to believe that just a few years ago we were limited to either pizza or Chinese food when it came to delivery options. And with the number of headlines that all-things-delivery have been making, it can be easy to become desensitized to (or overwhelmed by) what it all really means for the industry as a whole and operators, individually.

The Future of the Restaurant Delivery Industry

Tech-enabled delivery has already shifted billions of dollars to new platforms and channels. Companies that innovated in this field are still seeing incredible revenue growth: Grubhub is expected to grow at a 33% rate in 2019 and 25% in 2020 (based on consensus estimates) while the median growth for U.S. foodservice companies is only projected to be 4% in both years.

Restaurant Delivery Technology

Food and restaurant delivery tech is a hot industry. According to our estimates, some $3.2 billion in funding has poured into the restaurant delivery space — to put this in perspective, that’s just shy of the $3.79 billion that’s been earned by ALL restaurant IPOs in the last 10 years.

Restaurant Automation

Many may have gotten to the point of being desensitized to what the potential of automation really means —for restaurants and for industries across sectors.

Pizza Technology

We published a post about how tech was killing off independent pizzerias back in 2016. It hit roughly 600,000 views — setting off global industry discussion and debate that continues to this day. More on pizza technology here.

Domino’s Pizza Technology

As one of the leaders to implement technological change across its operations, Domino’s top 10 innovations were key to drive the company’s stock from $60 per share back in 2013 to $250 in 2018.

Restaurant Technologies

We cover a handful of restaurant technologies leveraged mostly by QSR and fast-casual chains that are making a difference in guest loyalty and traffic.

Restaurant Industry Innovation Lessons Learned from a Famous Failure

Failure to modernize hurts sales, and further clinging to the stale status quo could result in a final curtain call. Some of the biggest lessons restaurants can take from the once-Greatest Show on Earth.

The Future of Foodservice

We’ve all seen the headlines about robots, digital ordering kiosks, and drones. Recent technological advances aren’t just making it easier to do business — they’re completely changing the way consumers interact with brands, the way people eat, and how guests interact with a restaurant.

Restaurant Technology in Menus

We cover how menu merchandising can benefit from digital menus, mobile app ordering, kiosks, interface design and other restaurant technologies.

Restaurant Technology Trends

Delivery, mobile ordering, reward programs, and bill-splitting are some of the technological trends changing every customer touchpoint in the restaurant.

Panera Tech Investments

Panera technological investments saved customers 10 lifetimes’ worth of waiting, improving the guest experience and fueling sales and foot traffic.

Restaurant Inventory Management Software

The more money a restaurant chain has tied up in inventory, the harder it is to get a handle on lowering food costs. Lately, though, a slew of restaurant inventory management software companies are improving the way to track food costs, budget menu items, and optimize inventory.

Restaurant POS Systems

Restaurant point of sale systems are becoming management platforms extending their capacity from POS systems to include digital orders and performance dashboards.

Additional Insights on Restaurant Technology from our Library

Restaurant Delivery

With the ever-increasing pace of change, it can be hard to believe that just a few years ago we were limited to either pizza or Chinese food when it came to delivery options. And with the number of headlines that all-things-delivery have been making, it can be easy to become desensitized to (or overwhelmed by) what it all really means for the food and beverage industry as a whole and operators, individually.

Unlike in restaurants — where, in the U.S. and other mature markets, the industry has reached a point of saturation such that any one company’s growth is coming at the expense of another — the delivery sector has not been a zero-sum growth game over the last few years. The entire industry is accelerating, and many restaurant operators are still battling with both the ups and downs of delivery.

On the one hand, there’s the low-hanging fruit of incremental sales (particularly for the casual dining sector, which has net neutral on same-store sales growth over the last decade). On the other, there are the added operational logistics that many operators feel underprepared or ill-equipped for.

Restaurant Technology - Food Delivery

Restaurant Tech Set to Improve Productivity

While other sectors have seen significant increases in productivity historically, many of which are attributable to the adoption of technology, productivity growth in the foodservice industry has been minimal over the last 30 years. 

Restaurant Technology to Start Improving Productivity

With the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions not having much of an impact on restaurant operations, the sector is now in a prime position to make modernization efforts and, in doing so, becoming ideal investment targets.

Investment Flowing to Foodservice Technology

Automated kitchens are attracting a lot of investment, from Miso Robotics, creator of Flippy, to Spyce, where robots cooks the entire meal (though they still employ humans to help customers figure out the system). For many restaurant businesses the pace of adoption is slow, so consumers shouldn’t expect that their next meal will come from a robot.

Restaurant Technology Trends

Foodservice Technology Mergers and Acquisitions

Pointing out that technology is revolutionizing the foodservice industry is now about as prescient as predicting that the sun will rise in the morning. Knowing that restaurant technologies matter is less useful than knowing which technologies can improve customer experience and loyalty while also increasing efficiency and building the bottom line.

M&A activity for foodservice-related tech companies continues to intensify, and the buy-side team is tasked not only with going through the due diligence checklist (and finding and quantifying hidden risks and opportunities), but also post-merger integration. How well a particular technology can be integrated to a larger platform is often what makes a big difference in how successful the transaction is. When the right components are combined within a platform, the whole can be much greater than the sum of its parts (and this is reflected in valuations).

Restaurant Tech Mergers and Acquisitions

Alternative Foodservice Formats Incorporating Technology Rapidly 

Ecommerce giant Amazon is converging several weapons it has built or acquired into something that’s more deadly than any one component (Amazon Go, Amazon Restaurants, Amazon Basics, Amazon Fresh, Prime Now, one-click ordering, voice ordering, Whole Foods) is, independently.

Convenience Stores Technology Amazon Go

And though the unit models for grocery stores or C-stores are different than those for restaurants — though we see these categories as competitors for share of stomach and wallet of the same consumer; only a handful of restaurant chains surpass Amazon Go and Whole Foods in sales per square foot. The convenience and customer experience implemented in Amazon Go will influence restaurant technology trends.

The Future of Restaurant Technology

It’s a fascinating time for restaurants around the world. The $3.1 trillion global industry is relatively predictable in terms of growth, but what was already one of the most complex businesses in the world is becoming even more so following the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Future of Restaurant Technology

The evolution of the marketing technology landscape sets a precedent for the evolution of technological forces in the restaurant industry. The number and complexity of the subsectors (either for Front of House or Back of House tech), as well as the competition among players in each of them (especially for cloud-based technology), will likely continue to increase exponentially, until reaching a point of saturation where consolidation will take over. The sector is now in a prime position to make modernization efforts and identifying partners becomes essential to incorporating cost-effective, brand-centric, and even proprietary technology suites.

Restaurant Drive-Thrus

Between 2016 and 2017, Quick Service restaurants McDonald’s, KFC, Arby’s, and Taco Bell increased the number of items in their menus, and all but Taco Bell experienced longer wait times in drive-thrus. McDonald’s, the most extreme case, grew its menu by 34%, and drive-thru speed of service for restaurant customers deteriorated by 15%.

Restaurant Drive Thrus

Though menu complexity is not the only factor affecting speed of service, it’s a major influence. Menu engineering needs to take a holistic approach, weighing the balance of offering guests more options and making transactions quick and convenient.

HOW TO LEAD: RESTAURANT TECH CHANGE

In today’s day and age, there can be a tendency to be dismissive of the forces actively reshaping the industry — things that once sounded like science fiction (neuromarketing, machine learning, automation, and so on) are becoming more and more part of the conversation, and part of the actuality of disrupting many chained restaurants in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

While most foodservice executives recognize the need for innovation to keep pace with evolving consumer demands and behavior, many resist creating these new ideas on their own: they’d rather someone else take the risk than stake their capital. Not only does this leave them with pale imitations of strategy tailormade for a competitor, but it also means they miss out on the incredible valuations that come from being a leader in the field. The moment to act is now.

Glossary of Terms

Ecommerce (or E-commerce): Buying or selling services or products over the internet. Food delivery services would enter this category.

Inventory Management System: These systems allow inventory control by centralizing and controlling the flow of goods (mostly food ingredients), reducing food waste (by comparing theoretical food costs with actual ones and evaluating the variances), and facilitating kitchen operations.

Mobile POS: Many companies have developed applications that serve as mobile point-of-sale (from the ordering process to accepting payments) and are also being leveraged to enhance customer loyalty.

Mobile Payment: When payment takes place with a mobile device rather than cash, check, or credit card.  Examples are ApplePay and Samsung Pay.

Point of Sale System: Restaurant point-of-sale (POS) systems are computerized programs that allow recording transactions and payments (credit and debit, cash, even paying via phone or online). Nowadays, POS software is capable of integrating sales data, customer information, inventory tracking, payroll, cash flows, and consumer sentiment all in one.

Contactless Technology: Contactless transactions take place when two devices are close to each other, but don’t need to touch to process the transaction. In restaurants, it is widely used for payment, though the term has been introduced to food delivery (“contactless delivery”) as well. 

Online Ordering:  When customers can purchase using the internet, visiting the restaurant website, or using an app, selecting food items, arranging for pickup or delivery, and making the payment. Loyalty programs have leveraged online ordering to make purchases easier and faster and increase frequency as well as average check size.

Kitchen Display Systems (KDS): Usually presented in digital screens, systems that connect to the point of sale (POS) in commercial kitchens, ultimately streamlining communication between front- and back-of-house, monitoring preparation times, and reducing order preparation mistakes.

ABOUT AARON ALLEN & ASSOCIATES

Aaron Allen & Associates works alongside senior executives of the world’s leading foodservice and hospitality companies to help them solve their most complex challenges and achieve their most ambitious aims, specializing in brand strategy, turnarounds, commercial due diligence and value enhancement for leading hospitality companies and private equity firms.

Our clients span six continents and 100+ countries, collectively posting more than $200b in revenue. Across 2,000+ engagements, we’ve worked in nearly every geography, category, cuisine, segment, operating model, ownership type, and phase of the business life cycle.