How technology is transforming franchises and why you can’t afford to ignore it

As technology plays a growing role in the design and operation of restaurants, some of those operators are hesitant to change or resistant to replacing the familiar with something new. But the changes reflect broader developments in customer expectations and the economy, and the operator who fails to keep pace is likely to pay a hefty price.

Operators who are concerned about changes should remember that technology enhancements are nothing new. Comparing a typical quick-serve franchise with its counterpart from three decades ago reveals a long list of innovations – from electronic cash registers that send order information to food-prep areas, to drink machines that dispense the exact amount for each cup, to automatic greetings and wireless headsets for drive-through orders – innovation has been a constant since the industry began.

Customers hungry for change

It may seem that a desire for lower operating costs is driving the changes, but the reality is that many of the innovations are the result of new expectations from the hungry people who walk through the doors. Today’s internet-savvy consumer is accustomed to a level of service and speed that didn’t exist a decade ago. When they want something, they want to be able to order and get it immediately, evidenced by the growth of retail programs such as Amazon Prime®. It’s an expectation that’s close to instant gratification.

No more human employees?

The technology that’s being deployed by chains has been less about eliminating labor and more about helping franchise operators staff their stores in different ways. It’s even improved the hiring process for some operators. Just as today’s customers expect to be able to order and pay online, today’s prospective employee doesn’t want to be bothered with going from store to store to inquire about openings and complete paper applications.

Highly targeted marketing

Other tools are helping franchises sharpen their sales efforts. Digital menu boards are one example. While costly, the boards use videos and colorful photography to draw customer attention. Operators can develop and promote specials or adjust prices to match competitor deals in moments. A surprising hot spring day? Promote ice-cold beverages. The local team just won a key game? Reward the fans with a special offer.

What’s ahead?

When quick service restaurants began to accept credit and debit cards, it was seen as a tremendous convenience for customers, and merchant fees were considered to be a small price to pay for bigger sales. Now, credit and debit cards seem to be slow and old-fashioned. Newer payment systems such as contactless payment using smartphones or special fobs make transactions faster and easier, with no need for a PIN, a signature, or even a printed receipt.

It’s probably only a matter of time until franchises adopt technology that Amazon® is currently testing in its physical store locations. Cameras and sensors track the items customers choose and automatically charge them when they walk out the door, with no need for a cash register. Imagine a lunch rush in which customers help themselves to the items they want and walk out the door with no interaction with your employees. (Francis, Chris. “How Payments Technologies Are Changing Fast Food.”, 22 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 July 2017.)