by: Christopher Kane (4 min)
The human population’s demand for food is insatiable. Thus, it wouldn’t have been an outlandish prediction to think that the restaurant industry would have been one of first places that user-facing technology would infiltrate and positively alter our daily lives.
Yet from the iPhone release in 2007 the narrative between restaurants and apps has leaned more toward the likeness of a tragedy than a happily ever after tale. Sure, there has been some cheerful moments with the creation of GrubHub, Seamless and those like it. However, when compared to other areas of our lives, that technology has completely transformed, the effects of restaurant technology have yet to reach a similar degree. Why? As explained here:
“The problem lies in interacting with the brick and mortar stores themselves. Primarily, distributing a technology to the numerous mom and pop restaurants is almost un-scalable. This coupled with the fact that overall mom and pop restaurants have a lower risk tolerance because this is their sole livelihood. In addition, they have been late adopters of technology in the past.”
It is extremely difficult to get vast amounts of small restaurants, spread across diverse geographical areas, to adopt something that requires a distinct change from how they are accustomed to operating. To use these technologies, the replacement of many antiquated software systems is necessary. Thus, any hardware or software cost they need to incur to use the new technologies only further inhibits progress. Moreover, when smartphones took-off, having an app for your business became the “in” thing to do. People wanted to join the newest tech revolution and get ahead of the curve, but unfortunately, many of their apps became no more than menu surrogates. Some later included versions of a digital punch-card loyalty program, which again, didn’t take the necessary strides in advancement. To an extent, that behavior has continued to today and advancements in the restaurant tech field have been slow or stagnant.
Currently, new challenges have developed that the market needs to address. Now more than ever people see their phone screens as valuable real estate. Only the apps that provide a user with the most value get to take up that space and continuously escape deletion. For this reason, the era of individual apps for every business is swiftly coming to an end. In this high-stakes game for creating value, white-label and low-capability apps are beginning to become derisory.
Finally, it seems that restaurant tech might be at the precipice of taking the leap into becoming a significant part of our lives; more akin to other areas like transportation and hospitality. With apps like the Starbucks app successfully combining mobile payments, online ordering, loyalty and individualized customer interaction, they are beginning to set a new standard as to what people expect in return for the real estate space on their phones. However, more capabilities are always being demanded.
Can this story have a happy ending? With hindsight being 20/20 and lessons learned about what works and what people actually want; hopefully, 2017 will see major strides in this category and restaurant tech can join the other sectors that are galloping off into the sunset.