Technological Innovations Front and Center at 2016 National Restaurant Association Show
Technological Innovations Front and Center at 2016 National Restaurant Association Show

At this year’s National Restaurant Association Show, new advancements in technology promoting flexibility and customization stole the show room floor.

At the 2016 National Restaurant Association (NRA), one of the event’s key messages in particular was seen and heard across the sprawling floor of vendors, manufacturers and distributors: delivery, digital ordering, and tracking customer behavior are hot issues among restaurant operators—and a growing number of technology providers have the right solutions.

Here are a few highlights of what’s new in technology that 1851 Franchise noticed while roaming the NRA Show floor.

The Blending of Digital and Physical

Driven by shifting consumer profiles, the need for enhanced connected experiences, and the introduction of many disruptive players to the market, Shane O’Flaherty, the director of hospitality for Microsoft, explained how the future of the restaurant industry is changing thanks to a new platform called VMOB—a blending of digital and physical that uses intelligent personalization to deliver the best dining experience possible.

By collecting and analyzing millions of customer data points, restaurants will be able to make smart, customized decisions at every stage of the customer journey.

“To create a legion of loyal, happy and frequently-returning customers, you need to know where each individual is in their relationship with your brand and how you can best meet their needs at any given moment? Knowing what your customers are doing—or what they’re intending to do—is key to knowing how to best reach them with something that matters,” O’Flaherty told a crowd at a NRA Show TechTalk.

But analysis for the sake of generating numbers and charts isn’t the end goal here. Restaurant operators don’t want to just know the numbers, they want to find ways to connect with their customers that result in some form of value—more visits, more purchases and more referrals. According to O’Flaherty, VMOB works by leveraging real-time information from live and historic sources, such as location, local weather, traffic activity, purchase history and more to personalize customer experiences. Then, by using the VMOB platform, restaurants are able to promote items that match their customer buying behaviors and interests in order to boost engagement and improve loyalty. So when a customer scans in a loyalty card, for example, a digital menu will appear that’s tailored specifically to their tastes.

“This helps restaurants gives customers exactly what they want, when they want it.”

Grubhub Announces GrubCentral

GrubCentral is a new in-restaurant technology platform designed to simplify the management of online orders. Through a Grubhub-provided tablet or a web browser on their own laptop, restaurant operators can create and modify their menu on Grubhub’s marketplace in real time, listing specials or taking off items that run out. They can also manage the financials and cash in money owed on demand rather than waiting for weekly payments.

GrubCentral also features integrated delivery. Real-time driver location status updates combine with map tracking to allow managers to make decisions about when to fire up their kitchens or contact drivers.

Identifying Customer Behavior to Drive Marketing

Customer engagement specialist Paytronix Systems Inc., and digital ordering platform Olo have joined forces to enable restaurant operators to identify customer behavior to allow for more targeted marketing. With a single log-on, customers can maintain and access a single account for online ordering or a rewards program. Meanwhile, restaurant operators will capture ordering data that will allow them to develop relevant offers for that guest without having to motivate them with discounts.

Integrating Restaurant Operations

For the first time ever, restaurant solutions vendor Sysco showcased its new start-up CAKE, which offers a comprehensive technology platform that integrates front- and back-of-house operations by connecting a table management system with the point of sale. Designed for small chains and independent restaurants, CAKE allows restaurants to develop a digital profile of guests linked to their phone number when they make a reservation. The system allows for more accurate wait time predictions, texting guests when tables are ready, server-held tableside ordering and payment and improved table turn time.

Managing Staffing Needs

Sling, a scheduling software provider, debuted a new labor cost analysis functionality that will give restaurant operators more control over their staffing needs. As managers build their staffing schedules, the software gives information about the sales required to cover the cost of putting each employee on shift. The data helps managers make better predictions about when more or fewer are needed to more efficiently manage costs.