Restaurant Tech Guide Preview: Rockbot and the Evolution of Guest-Facing Tech in Restaurants

[Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored post.]

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Sociologists have concluded that having more options may not be as advantageous as once thought. We can apply this thought to restaurant technology. In an endless sea of mobile apps, POS systems, guest-facing technologies, hardware, software, and the list goes on, it’s seemingly impossible for restaurant operators to stay afloat.

Foodable Labs has determined a solution for navigating these gnarly waters, using expert insight and guidance to narrow down the lot. The outcome: the first annual Tech Guide for restaurant executives and decision-makers, available for download in December on foodabletv.com, in the Apple iBooks store, and on Amazon. [Update: Download the complete full Guide here.]

How We Got Here: The Process

We enlisted a savvy group of restaurant operators, consultants, and National Restaurant Association employees to join the first-ever Foodable Technology Advisory Board. We gleaned their insight on upcoming trends to watch for, which are laid out in the 2015 Tech Guide, and asked them to score roughly 60 different products — some of which they’ve personally used or heard about, and others they did extensive research on. Points were manually established on an individual level in nine different components for each product: integration, design, ease of use, mobile/social, ease of deployment, emerging standards, price point, killer app, and overall innovation. Foodable Labs then pulled unstructured data from the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI) to determine Operator Sentiment, as well as Overall Sentiment, and averaged all 11 columns to yield a Total Score for each product considered (a total of 180 tech companies submitted, which we narrowed down, based on sentiment scores, to just over 60).

Mobile Addiction: ’Til Death Do Us Part

America’s drug of choice comes in the form of a 6 oz., pocket-sized contraption filled with endless functions; a black hole of opportunity. Glued to our screens, hiding behind a roughly 5” display (depending on model), we have become mobile addicts, feeding our ego and time.

But we’re not here for an intervention; there’s a lot of positives when it comes to mobile usage — connecting people to each other as well as businesses, enhancing on-location experiences, and gaining knowledge through a bevy of information and media.

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study centered around Mobile Usage in 2015, young smartphone owners increasingly use their devices to watch videos and listen to music. In “experience sampling” surveys, where smartphone owners were asked questions about their mobile usage twice a day for one week, 75 percent of young smartphone users “indicated using their phone to watch videos at least once over the study period, compared with 31 percent of those 50 and older.” It was also found that 64 percent of younger adults “used their phones at one time or another to listen to music or podcasts — a 43-point difference compared with the 21 percent of older users who did so.”

What does this mean for restaurants? 

Guest-facing mobile integration is key for an enhanced dining experience for younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z. And since they’re the two largest generations to-date, eventual increased buying power is not far away, and marketing to these groups is instrumental for sustainable success.

Courtesy of Rockbot

Courtesy of Rockbot

Rockbot and the Evolution of Guest-Facing Technologies in Restaurants

Rockbot, an official sponsor of Foodable’s premier Tech Guide for Restaurants, is an ideal representation of a modern-day guest-facing technology for restaurants and retail. From a consumer standpoint, strengths lie in its direct connection to social media, customization components, and giving guests a voice, allowing them to make simple decisions to enhance their personal dining experience. 

If you’re not yet familiar with Rockbot, it’s branded as “the social jukebox app,” where customers can request songs to play at a restaurant, bar, or other business. At participating locations, restaurants currently using the product include Buffalo Wild Wings, Johnny Rockets, and even Burger King, among others. If you’ve ever had dreams of being resident DJ at your favorite local participating restaurant joint or cocktail venue, this is your moment. (But please, be mindful of your surroundings when going for those high-notes after the third cocktail.) 

In order to make this magic happen, diners must first download the Rockbot app. It’ll only sync if the restaurant you’re dining at has deployed the technology, which requires, according to the Rockbot website, minimal hardware and advanced enterprise software.

Courtesy of Rockbot

Courtesy of Rockbot

Show Me the Data!

While restaurant operators could also see the benefits of the aforementioned perks, like social integration and customization, consider how a technology like this might affect length of in-store visits and branded awareness of your restaurant to a user’s social networks.

According to Rockbot data, the average number of check-ins per month per Buffalo Wild Wings location showed 50 check-ins through Foursquare, 42 check-ins via Facebook, and 350 check-ins from Rockbot. And, with no restaurant specified, Rockbot data found that guests who engaged with Rockbot stayed at a restaurant an average of over 27 minutes more than usual.

A broad category in and of itself, guest-facing technologies vary greatly, and range from ordering apps to digital menu boards to email marketing providers. But all have one thing in common as Millennial habits become mainstream, shifting and influencing business strategy and marketing decisions: All have integrated mobile into the user experience, allowing diners to make decisions of where they want to dine on their own terms, possibly even before stepping into a restaurant. 

For guest-facing technologies like in-store music streaming, tableside entertainment, and buzzers, all of which are present only inside a restaurant’s four walls, its purpose is to enhance the in-store experience through interaction and involvement, which has the ability to build consumer sentiment and possibly brand loyalty.

What’s the future of guest-facing tech in restaurants? Beacons is one guess. While a handful of restaurants and retailers are testing out this technology, gleaning data from nearby consumers’ smartphones and applying it to location-based marketing, some tech companies, like Rockbot, are using this information to their advantage. Rockbot Anthem, the company’s newest product, automatically plays a customer’s favorite song(s) when visiting a restaurant location based on their previous requests.

Considering this, technology-based marketing will most likely become more seamlessly integrated into consumers’ daily lives, where we’ll no longer have to seek out promotions, deals, or specials. Restaurants and retail establishments will no longer cater to just our proactive requests or decisions, but rather will give us what we want, based on individual habitual behavior, before we realize we want it.