Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer has been regarded as a trailblazer in the restaurant industry. From ending tipping at his restaurants, to introducing paid parental leave for his employees, the NYC restauranteur is no stranger to making headlines for his forward-thinking initiatives. So it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise that Meyer’s latest innovation involves one of the hottest gadgets currently on the market —the Apple Watch.
But is this really as groundbreaking of a concept as Meyer’s team says? Perhaps. Though this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve heard the idea.
At last week’s TechTable Summit, representatives from Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) and Resy — the reservation system start-up founded by Eater co-founder Ben Leventhal, (along with Michael Montero, and Gary Vaynerchuk) announced a partnership that would bring the Apple Watch to front-of-house restaurant service.
Managers and sommeliers at Meyer’s restaurant, Union Square Cafe 2.0, slated to open in NYC this month, will be ready to take care of business with the help of Apple smart watches, which, according to Meyer’s reps will allow them to keep up-to-date with everything happening at the restaurant, from when a VIP guest walks through the door, to when a menu item runs out.
Maureen Cushing, USHG’s vice-president of technology, says this strategy will provide “another way to listen and respond to our guests... [the app gives employees] real-time communication from guests, similar to Uber feedback.” She also stressed that integrating Apple Watches into front-of-house operations will not replace communication between wait staff and managers. “Right now, servers will not be wearing watches, only management and sommeliers,” which means diners won’t have to worry about distracted waiters attending to them. “It’s important that we think of tech as a solution to replacing operational hiccups,” she said.
While Meyer’s team is certain their use of Apple Watches is going to, “continue to make strides in the advancement of restaurant technology,” this is a concept that Bill Bellissimo, president of tech company CrunchTime, has been talking about for quite some time.
While we were unable to reach Bellissimo for comment, we did find a 2015 interview where he speaks to Rob Grimes of TechAdvisor Media about the company’s then-new restaurant back office software, which included integration with wearable devices.
“Mobility is an important buzzword in our industry today,” said Bellissimo. “The objective for everyone is to make sure that information is available anywhere, anytime on any device.” Like USHG’s concept, CrunchTime’s platform allows managers to track everything that’s going on in their restaurant via devices like an Apple Watch, from employee overtime to restaurant sales. The USHG strategy seems to work in similar fashion, with managers being alerted of everything from when a new table is seated, to when a guest waits too long to order his or her drink. The end goal also seems to be similar for both — allow managers to stay up-to-date, while having the mobility to move out of the back office and be seen among customers and waitstaff.
So is wearable technology actually as revolutionary as it seems in helping front-of-house operations? Or, can your restaurant do without it?
Well, it could certainly make a difference for mid- to large-sized brands, according to Bellissimo, noting that CrunchTime targets restaurants with 10 or more locations. At this level, there are plenty of ways the use of wearable technology can benefit.
In fact, in 2015, CrunchTime published an article that gave restauranteurs some tips on how best to integrate smart watches into front-of-house operations without compromising customer service. “The greatest Watch apps are those that are glanceable and deliver quick nuggets of information that alert or notify the user of an important event,” the article explained. Benefits also included:
- The ability to monitor KPIs like sales metrics, food and labor costs and guest counts.
- Understanding how your restaurants are performing against forecasts.
- Getting notified when it’s time to check inventory, when an employee has a break violation or when it’s time to clean restrooms.
- Less time spent in a back office gathering information on a desktop PC.
- Get your staff to stop looking at their phones and pay more attention to customers.
Bellissimo also explained that while wearable technology can certainly be helpful to restaurant managers and staff, its more important for tech companies to focus on offering complete platforms that can be accessed from any device. “You should be able to get to everything that you need on one platform, and whether you want to get that information on a tablet, on a watch, on a desktop, that doesn’t factor into the equation.”
So while you may want to run out and get Apple Watches for your entire restaurant staff, it may be worth assessing how you’re already using technology in your day-to-day operations first. In the meantime, we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Danny Meyer and Union Square Cafe 2.0 to see how well the Apple Watch revolution works for them.