Adoption of customer-facing restaurant technology skyrocketed in during covid, as you’d expect given the unique circumstances. The legacy is that consumers are more willing than ever to engage in restaurant technology – but only if it is seamless and unintrusive, on the one hand, and more convenient or adds value to their experience on the other. It’s clear that many businesses rushed to implement technologies quickly across their estate to support the continuation of trading, with the result for some being a clunky experience that didn’t dovetail into the customer journey or was at odds with the expectations of customers.
The best hospitality brands have gone back to the drawing board with these learnings and are considering technology as an enabler, not the solution. They focus on designing their ideal customer journey and operational model, then mapping how technology can support this. We heard that when this was successful, it required brilliant change management to ensure teams bought into it, often an incentivisation or education of customers, and at times, a rethink of operating models and trading format.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen considerable changes to how businesses operate when considering the omnichannel opportunity presented through delivery, takeout, virtual brands and dine-at-home retail packs. The results can be complete store layout design changes, larger kitchens for multiple kitchen teams, one kitchen serving multiple store fronts, additional space for kiosks and venues within a venue, to name just a few.
Examples shared on stage included BrewDog’s gargantuan new site at Waterloo, which has everything from a bottle shop and ice cream van to a coffee shop and even a podcast studio. Meanwhile, Azzurri Group has scaled Coco di Mama through partnerships and its wider estate, leveraging the dark kitchen model and virtual brands. Adding to the in-store experience, the reduction in cost of hardware makes more audacious projects more accessible, as is demonstrated with a fantastic activation by Marugame Udon, with large format screens transporting customers to Japan.
As ever with technology, downtime at the worst time can be crippling for businesses when fully reliant on technology, which is increasingly the case, with a worst-case scenario cited by a contract caterer that saw the payment solution go down before the interval of a major concert at a stadium. The message was loud and clear that working with the right suppliers that provide the best product and service is paramount.
Leaving the best example to last, we were in for a treat when introduced to the story of the Mini Chef restaurant at Lego House in Billund, Denmark, where it has most certainly been proved that robots and restaurants can work seamlessly together to create the most incredible concept. Be sure to go search it out online, or even better, book a flight, as I’ve done for later this year!