3 Restaurant Tech Takeaways From the Fast Casual Trends & Directions Conference

Yesterday marked the 4th annual Fast Casual Trends & Directions conference. Held in the Ritz-Carlton Chicago by Technomic, in media partnership with DigitalCoCo, the event showcased a handful of panels and speakers with great insight into the restaurant segment that’s changing the game: fast casual.

Foodable Founder & CEO Paul Barron hosted a panel about tech in fast casual restaurants. Panel members included Anthony Pigliacampo, Founder & CEO at ModMarket, Anand Dass, Business Development at Postmates and Michael Hagen, COO at LevelUp.

No matter how you slice it, tech is a huge push for Millennial adoption in fast casual. Here are three takeaways from the panel.

Treat your restaurant like a tech company (or not).

Pigliacampo is currently working on building his own tech for ModMarket, a topic that led to a slightly heated discussion on stage. To BYOT or not to BYOT — that is the question. The ModMarket CEO said he had a clear idea of what he wanted tech in his restaurant to look like from the start. The health-centric restaurant has been displaying nutrition facts on all of its receipts before it became a common thing for restaurants to incorporate. This sort of transparency aligned with the ModMarket brand, which promises to deliver on not just health, but high-quality, good-for-you ingredients. When Pigliacampo looked into the off-the-shelf offerings for better tech, including online ordering, he was not impressed with what was out there. The primary problem, he said, is that a lot of third-party vendors do not promote a user-friendly, organized experience on the back-end. Unless it syncs up perfectly with accounting, operations, etc., it gets to be too much, he said. His aim is to build a from-scratch, user-friendly system that creates a great experience for not only the guest, but also for the internal team. Michael Hagen of LevelUp chimed in, noting the complexity and difficulty for an operator to build technology, especially while running an entirely other business like a restaurant. Stick to a third-party vendor that you trust and they’ll do the work for you, said Hagen.

But here’s the beauty of building your own brand API: the direct data you can glean about your customers, which syncs into all of your operational channels, to heighten the guest experience. This would also be beneficial for third-party vendors like Postmates. 

Social channels will shift.

All three panelists agreed that social media will remain a huge tool for restaurant consumer engagement. However, there will be a shift in how consumers use social, especially Millennials and Gen Z. This is so important for restaurant brands to grasp because social platforms like Facebook are a discovery driver for new customers of these generations. Dass said more forms of social media will come online, but not necessarily just in the form of new platforms, but moreso in how these platforms release more engaging features. Snapchat stories is a great example. “Social will shift from channels,” he said. “But it won’t change. The challenges will change.”

People are buying time with money.

“On-demand and mobile is the expectation of this generation,” said Hagen. “There’s no room to not get on the capabilities of what’s possible. This movement is not going away, it’s not slowing down. You’ve got to find your voice with this technology.” However, he says, you can’t just adopt technology and expect it to work. Not one size fits all. You need to do whatever makes sense for your individual brand. Millennials have a big appetite now for what is possible for the future, and it’s only accelerating. No one knows this better than Dass. There is a new level of expectation for on-demand things because it gives people instant gratification, he said. An average Postmates delivery takes only 17 minutes. “People are buying time with money,” said Dass. “People want to push a button on their phone and get stuff.” This behavioral shift in Millennials is popular not just for its convenience, but because it removes friction from the process of doing and they’d rather spend that hour doing something else.

Stay tuned for more content from the Fast Casual Trends & Direction Conference & the NRA Show!