MICROS Exposé, Pt. 1 — A Tech Pioneer Revolutionizes the Future of Foodservice

A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs

Technology in the restaurant space has progressed to a point of continuous consumer customization. A slew of startups are banking in the foodservice space with ordering apps, digital payment options, you name it. We’re even seeing a possibility of how wearable technology might play into the future of foodservice, as told by Google Glass guru Chris Dancy. But what about the big league guys? In a Millennial-centric world with a mentality constantly shifting to cater to the control of consumers, do larger corporations have the flexibility to keep up? Or are they at an advantage, considering the surface area they already control in the space?

“In our space,” said MICROS President & CEO Peter A. Altabef, “we’re the largest provider, and so we can put the resources necessary to bring the latest technologies in here and do it a.) with deep domain knowledge — we really know the business — and b.) with industrial strength, and on a global scale.”

MICROS, who was just acquired this week by Oracle at $5.3 Billion, has been a pioneer for point of service (POS) in foodservice for more than three decades. Of the acquisition, Oracle President Mark Hurd said, "Oracle has successfully helped customers across multiple industries, harness the power of cloud, mobile, social, big data and the internet of things to transform their businesses... We anticipate delivering compelling advantages to companies within the hospitality and retail industries with the acquisition of MICROS."

Below, we take a look back at how POS technology has evolved throughout the years and what MICROS has done and continues to do to keep up with this progressive technology.

Would You Like a Side of Context with Those Fries?

The mTablet is MICROS’s latest solution to the evolving landscape of mobility in foodservice. MICROS CTO Michael L. Russo describes it as “a live tile-based system that allows a single device to be used for multiple purposes in a safe manner.” 

The mTablet has the ability to go mobile or tableside, is both consumer and associate facing, features a built-in POS and payments system (with a PayPal partnership, the device incorporates PayPal Wallet, where no credit card is required), and is completely customizable. Operators can choose which real-time widgets to feature on the guest’s home screen — specials of the day? Local weather updates? Nearby movie times? Public transportation schedules? Real-time social media feeds? Even apps like iJukebox, where guests can control the music, can be integrated, depending on the restaurant’s preference. Some mTablet clients, like Habit Burger, are even using the technology to train its staff.

“MICROS has been making investments in user experience, as well as user interface design. What’s the flow like? How easy can we make this? How intuitive can we make these systems that we’re creating?,” said Russo.

No one wants a one-size-fits-all experience — dining or otherwise — which is why technology that houses big data about the restaurant’s diners is crucial. 

“There’s a lot of information that comes out of this. There’s a lot of information about your customers — a lot of knowledge, both front office and back office,” said Altabef. The mTablet can track analytics like guests’ ordering habits and projected inventory level.

POS: The Early Years

In order to appreciate how far the industry has come, it’s important to take a look back at how we got to this point. In terms of POS systems, it hasn’t always been sleek touch screens and big data.

MICROS Systems was founded in 1977, around the same time IBM unleashed the first basic POS systems. But these systems were not capable of processing information alone — its terminals were wired back to a larger control system. At that time of early adoption, according to touchpos.net, few were open to take the risk, and stuck to cash registers.

It’s been reported that McDonald’s was the premier restaurant chain to integrate one of the first microprocessor-controlled cash register systems, in 1974, built by William Brobeck and Associates. It wasn’t until 1986 that Gene Mosher built the first POS software, complete with a color touchscreen and a widget-based interface.

MICROS Systems is Born

With an entrepreneurial spirit and an engineering degree, MICROS Founder Louis Brown Jr., began making computers for the government under a company he called IDEAS, Inc. Soon after, he founded PICOS Manufacturing, which later turned into MICROS Systems, after realizing there was a future in “smart” cash registers, or POS systems. The rest, as they say, is history — revenue continued to increase each fiscal year, and in 1981, MICROS Systems went public.

Initially, MICROS was only focused on the food & beverage industry. The company has since expanded into hotels, casinos and retail.

A year after MICROS went public, the company wasn’t doing so well, but MICROS bounced back by catering to the “lower-end” of the foodservice & hospitality industry, while creating a more in-depth system for full-service restaurants — a system that included things like inventory information and payroll processing.

Maintaining Innovation: The Challenges

While MICROS is one of the leading technology companies we know today, Altabef is fully aware that it’s easy for challenges to arise in this space, and it’s important to realize them. 

The first, he tells us, is expectation. “Diners and prospective diners expect to be able to interact in the same customer-friendly way they expect to use all of their handheld devices... They need it simple and they need it elegant,” said the CEO.

The second challenge for anyone in the foodservice and/or technology space is cost. “You have to do this in a very cost-effective way or ‘simple and elegant’ becomes too burdensome to the bottom line,” he said.

“What we’ve done is try to bring the multi-purpose aspect of mobile technology and bring it all together on a single device,” Russo said.

In a screen-to-screen world, Millennials want at least the option to control their own experiences, and contextual data is able to help bridge that gap between a restaurant and its guests.