Restaurateurs today are bombarded with technology solutions. In a USHG Talks panel hosted by Union Square Hospitality Group group on Monday, the group’s Director of Marketing Lauren Hobbs joked, “You walk into some restaurants and it could be an Apple store with all of the iPads.” How does a busy operator navigate the proliferation of tech tools and drill down to what’s really important?
That was the crux of the conversation, titled “Today’s Technology for Tomorrow’s Business,” featuring Kelly Seeman, Industry Manager for Restaurants at Facebook; Damian Mogavero, author of The Underground Culinary Tour and founder of Avero; and Catherine Porter, OpenTable’s SVP of Strategy and Business Development. Over the course of the discussion, they explored the evolution of restaurant technology and how restaurants can leverage tools for business success — here are a few takeaways.
The restaurant discovery process has been revolutionized.
Over the past five to 10 years, one of the biggest thing that’s changed in restaurant technology is discovery. As Catherine put it: “Global happened, and social media happened.” The ability for consumers to discover new restaurants has been accelerated via the growth of Facebook and Instagram, and so many diners have an app like OpenTable in their pocket ready to act as a concierge no matter where they are. “That’s been extraordinary for growing that connection from users to restaurants in a global market.”
As Damian pointed out, more opportunities for discovery can also breed what he calls “urban disloyalty,” an environment in which people don’t have their go-to restaurants but visit new ones all the time. “That’s a huge challenge for the industry.” But it’s one we’re all eager to solve: At OpenTable, Catherine noted, we’re focused on serving restaurants data about their guests that can help create that beautiful “welcome back” moment that everyone craves. Kelly said that at Facebook, her team can help businesses target the right customers that might not be on their radar just yet: “Who’s your next set of loyal customers?”
Your competitors aren’t who you think they are.
It’s no secret that competition in the industry is fierce. But in today’s “golden age of food,” as Kelly dubbed it, technology has brought so many more choices into the fold for diners: grocery, subscription kits, Chipotle-style formats, and the like. “As a consumer you have a lot of options at your fingertips. The real opportunity for restaurants is, what do you do on a daily basis so you stay top of mind and people fall in love with your brand?”
There’s a sweet spot where profitable meets magical.
The promise of Damian’s book The Underground Culinary Tour is that restaurants can be both highly profitable and deliver incredible experiences that bring people back again and again. He called for optimizing revenue on high profit margin items like coffee and orange juice, which many restaurants don’t even charge for. “Given that there’s so much choice, you can’t put your head in the sand.”
At Avero, Damian used data to identify patterns in service and find opportunities for generating more revenue. Before beginning a training session, he’d ask a GM to write down their top and bottom servers on a slip of paper. Then they’d look at the data. As it turned out, 80% of GMs answered incorrectly. It’s not uncommon for managers to evaluate a server because of the cleanliness of their uniform, or how they do side work, but “there are thousands of data points out there that you’re ignoring,” he said. At one restaurant he found that a server was selling 80% fewer wines by the bottle than her peers, and after digging in learned that she had stage fright about opening a bottle of wine. They identified the problem, trained her on steps of service, and sales skyrocketed. “The guest wins with a better wine experience, the server gets more tips, and the restaurant makes more money.”
We have new, creative ways to connect diners and restaurants.
OpenTable and Facebook just formed a partnership around Facebook Messenger, which allows users to book reservations directly through Facebook’s chat platform. “It’s a megaphone,” said Catherine, adding: “It gives our diners more options to discover more restaurants, which creates a virtuous marketing cycle.” Kelly added that making reservations typically involves plenty of back and forth via email, so this new partnership is a way to make that process frictionless and drive more business to restaurants. And since Facebook has 1.9 billion people using their platform, why not “fish where the fish are?”
Additionally, Facebook is working with Delivery.com so consumers can order directly from Messenger, and OpenTable has formalized partnerships with a number of POS providers to integrate spending data with our GuestCenter software. Catherine remembered a quote that hung in her mom’s kitchen: “A host must be like the duck, gracious and beautiful on the water and paddling like hell underneath.” She added, “There’s a lot of that going on with the restaurateur — there’s this need to make their lives really easy.”
Don’t be distracted by all of the bright, shiny, sleek systems.
Damian encouraged the crowd to ask a few questions before adopting a new piece of technology. First, does it integrate with any other things you currently use? Second, who is actually using this successfully to solve which business problem? (Speak to them!) And finally, What does that service organization look like? Additionally, he advised, always pilot a new system in one location before rolling it out across all of your other ones.