Virtual reality. Robots. Creating food on a computer printer. It all sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s coming to a franchise restaurant near you. Maybe even to your store. And while some of it might sound terrifying, being willing to embrace it may increasingly be what separates successful franchise restaurant owners from their struggling neighbors. That’s why it’s critical to not only pay attention to new technologies, but to have a financial plan for investing in them when they become practical and affordable.
While some franchise owners may be reluctant to adopt these new technologies, most have been developed to address needs and situations that frustrate owners and customers. We’ll detail some of the more intriguing concepts and systems we’ve seen in this post.
Better POS systems. Customers want faster and more accurate service with more options, and POS technology has grown to include functions such as mobile ordering support and more payment options. But enhanced POS systems will do more than streamline processes. They’ll be able to provide data you can use to make business decisions. Which add-on items are more profitable? Which employees do the best job of upselling? Do most of the people who order sandwich A order side dish B? Did lowering the price of soft drinks by a nickel have an impact on sales? As systems evolve, they’ll generate useful information to help you make more informed decisions.
Temperature monitoring. Are there any tasks that are more monotonous — yet vitally important — than measuring and tracking food-temperature information? Systems that use the same Bluetooth technology that lets you talk hands-free in your car can monitor temperatures for you, record all the data to keep the health inspector happy, and alert you if a particular item heats or cools beyond the safe range. That means less employee time, more accuracy, and less food waste.
Robots on the prep line. People tend to assign human characteristics to robots, so when they’re mentioned as restaurant technology, owners can be forgiven for envisioning a C3PO clone interacting with customers. Where robots will really come in handy is back on the prep line, where they can assemble items using the exact weights and proportions. At one industry show, a company demonstrated a robotic salad maker that could whip up a thousand types of salads in about a minute, using just 21 ingredients.
Training. Hiring is only half the problem. Once someone is on the payroll and has the right apparel, you have to train them before they can generate revenue. Training can be disruptive and inconsistent, with negative results showing up weeks later. That’s why some owners are excited at the prospect of interactive virtual reality training for onboarding. Instead of reading a manual or watching a video, new employees wear a headset and step right into realistic simulations that can test their knowledge levels.
3D printing. Innovators have developed small-scale 3D printers that create food items instead of art objects or machine parts. The technology is in its infancy, but as it improves, it may offer an easy way to expand your menu or dramatically increase customization to match customer tastes.
Better scheduling. Scheduling the old-fashioned way is nothing short of painful. New systems automate much of the process and can use historical data to match staffing to forecasted sales levels. The result is a more optimized workforce and fewer employees standing around looking for something to do.
Blockchain tracking. While relatively new, the technology that protects the accuracy of bitcoin transactions could also be applied to food production. You could know exactly where each leaf of lettuce on your chicken sandwich was grown, streamlining the supply chain and improving overall safety by being able to pinpoint sources of problems more quickly.
Business intelligence. Some franchisees already take advantage of systems that make it easy to access customer information so customers can be treated like “regulars,” such as “And Jim, last time you ordered that with extra sauce. Would you like extra sauce again?” Now imagine an even bigger system that integrates marketing data from the customer’s life and predicts the item a customer is most likely to try. It’s bigger than “would you like fries with that?” It’s knowing that the customer recently joined a health club and has started an aggressive fitness plan, so you can call attention to healthier options. Think of how well Facebook® knows you, and imagine what knowing your own customers that well could do for your bottom line.
While these new technologies could come at a high implementation cost, it may be the ticket to what separates you from your competition and provides incremental sales volume to your stores. Technology is the way of the future, so embracing it when the opportunity makes sense for your operations will be vital.