There’s nothing more old-fashioned than sharing food with the people you love. But technology is changing the restaurants industry, and the way people eat out, making food businesses more efficient, and improving how they market themselves. It’s long overdue. Hospitality firms are notoriously slow to adopt new technological developments. One in five still doesn’t accept card payments, operating only in cash, research by Chip & Pin Solutions shows.
SMEs in the hospitality sector are learning people expect more. Customers want to know about a venue before making a booking, or choosing a fast-food option, which means businesses must equip themselves with the latest gadgets, and be up-to-date with online communication. New Boost Capital research reveals some fascinating insights into what the tech-savvy look for when searching for somewhere to dine. And, increasingly it’s more than what’s on the plate.
How technology affects restaurant choice
When it comes to choosing where to eat, people might like a new restaurant concept, a certain chef, or how fashionable a venue is. But getting an idea of what to expect from the kitchen is still the most important factor for many, with 91 per cent caring most about the quality of food. But technology is increasingly important.
- More than half – 55 per cent – of diners want to browse a restaurant’s menu online, read reviews, and check out its location remotely, the Boost report found.
- One in three punters regularly reads online restaurant reviews, and about a third wish more places offered comments on their website, or gave similar information via an app.
Younger customers are more likely to use digital searches, and people living in the capital also put more emphasis on such innovations than their rural peers.
- Almost a third of those aged between 18 and 34 think it’s very important a restaurant has a mobile app, compared with just 19 per cent across all age groups.
- Half of London diners say a free Wifi connection in a restaurant is desirable.
Tech in your pocket
With about 35 million people in the UK now using a smartphone, according to research by Deloitte, it’s no wonder so many turn to their handset when considering where to go.
- About 45 per cent of restaurant-goers make bookings online, or wish more places offered this option.
- Four out of ten favour places offering digital vouchers and coupons, while a quarter is in favour of smartphone apps giving details of restaurant offers.
- Almost one in five checks companies’ social media content, be it Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and wants more restaurants to offer this.
This shows business owners must embrace the platforms where their customers are to be found. We’ve talked before about how restaurants can revamp their business using social media. Whether social sites show the kitchen’s offerings, advertise up-to-the-minute deals, or make reservations easy, smart restaurateurs will have acquainted themselves with social channels.
Use of technology at the table
Technological innovation doesn’t stop at an eatery’s door – more customers want to see it inside premises, too. The Boost Capital data indicates many people expect technical wizardry to be part of the dining experience.
- One in four restaurant-goers would like dining rooms to have screens indicating the wait for food.
- A fifth would like to choose their food on the way to the restaurant via an app to ensure it was ready on arrival.
- About 20 per cent wish more places allowed food ordering on an iPad or tablet for speed and convenience.
- WiFi hotspots in restaurants are important for 30 per cent of customers, increasing to 32 per cent in fast-food places.
- A fifth of diners wants to settle up using contactless payment, PayPal or Apple Pay.
Contactless payment is increasingly mainstream, and it can speed up bill-paying considerably, allowing businesses to turn tables more quickly. It’s evolving into payment by mobile phone, which is more secure than contactless cards. And businesses can no longer blame the cost of hardware – cheaper forms of technology are available, such as card readers from iZettle that plug into business owners’ tablet or smartphone, and come free of charge.
There are some things technology can never improve – namely human nature, and error. Respondents to the Boost Capital survey were asked what they found most annoying when eating out.
- The most common gripe – for 46 per cent – was a waiter forgetting a food or drink order, or getting it wrong.
- Almost four out of ten complained about waiting to order, while a third were frustrated by delays in paying the bill.
- Other diners were a potential source of irritation, with three out of ten objecting to people talking on their mobile phones, and a quarter disliking seeing other customers drunk.
These are all timeless concerns, as is the desire by one in three customers for a restaurant reward scheme. So, while restaurateurs must embrace the digital age, and invest in the latest technology to avoid being left behind, don’t forget the basics. Train staff well, create the right ambience, serve great food, and reward regular custom to keep people coming back for more. Technology may evolve rapidly, but some aspects of hospitality never go out of fashion.