Part One: Industry Tech Trends From the 2nd Annual Restaurant Innovation Summit

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So what happened at the Restaurant Innovation Summit this year? Well, luckily Foodable had a front row seat during the summit and we are ready to report our findings.

The implementation of technology in the food and beverage industry was slow-moving, until now. The industry is playing catch up to cater to the tech- savvy consumer’s expectations. “What we're finding is one of the more important differentiators of an operator from the competition is the integration of technology,” said Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of Research and Knowledge at National Restaurant Association. According to the NRA, more than one third of consumers say they are more likely to use technology-related options in restaurants now than two years ago.

Technology has made the selective consumer more accessible, they can be reached even at home. “Of all the spending on food in America today, just 47% of it is allocated towards the restaurant community– so there is still ample upside potential for operators to shift the at home demand away from home market and technology is going to be pivotal in that,” said Riehle.

This year’s event was in Atlanta and it brought Industry professionals together to collaborate and exchange ideas about emerging technologies. So, there was a lot to discuss at the NRA’s Annual Restaurant Innovation Summit.

Let’s take a deeper look at the hot topics.

Evolving Mobile Platforms

Apple’s phrase “there’s an app for that” has influenced the consumer to expect almost every business to have an app. The consumer's high expectations and rapid growth of restaurant technology has lead to various challenges for brands. “Every restaurant operator recognizes that technology is absolutely vital to continue our growth and profitability,” said Caleb Mitsvotai, Senior Manager of Innovation and Technology at Panda Restaurant Group.

Paul Barron speaks to industry Experts Caleb Mitsvotai and Lara Nicotra at the 2014 Restaurant Innovation Summit | Foodable WebTV Network 

Paul Barron speaks to industry Experts Caleb Mitsvotai and Lara Nicotra at the 2014 Restaurant Innovation Summit | Foodable WebTV Network 

Mobile smart phones have become the consumer’s go-to device and they are no longer secondary to computers with 7 out of 10 adults using smart phones. “Today’s consumer is very impatient and if they don’t like your app, they’ll just delete and move on. They won’t even try it again,” said Mitsvotai. This is where it becomes important for the brand to not rush the development of their app and to do the proper testing and research to create an app that consumers want to keep on their phone.  

New restaurant apps are launching every day. “There are over 2600 restaurants apps now, which amazed us that there were that many because when you think about it there aren’t 2600 multi-unit brands that are over 300-400 units, so that means a lot of independent units and or a lot of emerging brands are really adopting this move,” said Paul Barron, Foodable WebTV Network Founder and Executive Producer. App development is not only a possibility for large brands, this technology is also attainable for smaller independent brands.  

Is Social Media a Double-edged Sword?

Social media gives a brand the opportunity to engage with consumers, even when they are not at the restaurant. “We don’t see technology as a differentiator in the market. We see technology as being used by our very best customers or most loyal customers and as a way to keep those loyal customers, who are worth nine average customers,” said Mitsvotai.

Social media marketing can be powerful, but often you have to determine the platforms that your customers are currently most active on. Consumers have moved from Myspace to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Pinterest to Kik, so being aware of new social platforms and understanding how consumers are using them can also be a challenge.  “There are some really cool things building on Kik and I think it is going to be something that brands should really pay attention to. A lot of fans aren’t really talking to us anymore on Facebook,” said Lara Nicotra, Social & Digital Marketing for 16Handles!

Implementation of mobile platforms and engagement on popular social media platforms by both major brands and small independent operators will be contributing factor to a restaurant's success. These topics were just a few of the many topics explored at Restaurant Innovation Summit. Keep posted for part two- where we cover the challenges and opportunities of consumer data collection, loyalty programs, and mobile payments for this evolving industry.