Small Products, Big Edge: Consumer Tech in Restaurants

There’s no denying the restaurant industry is a crowded space. With over 600 thousand restaurants in the U.S. and more opening every day, it can be hard to really stand out from the crowd. Customers show up for the food, ambience, and service but I encourage you to think a few steps ahead.

Consumer technology products have a place in restaurants. These small additions can do quite a lot to increase customer perception. So, let’s examine three popular items and examine the pros and cons of incorporating them into your establishment. We’ll take a look at offering Wi-Fi, utilizing tablets, and making portable chargers available to your guests.

Wi-Fi

No longer is offering wireless internet just for cafés. If you don’t already offer Wi-Fi to diners and guests, think about what this change could do for you. For larger establishments, be sure to look into commercial-grade providers from companies like Ubiquiti.

Pros

Convenience.

Extended Dining Times. If you have a few meal periods where turning tables isn’t the most vital, offering Wi-Fi can be a great way to encourage business professionals to hang around and order another drink.

New Clientele. Speaking of business professionals, offering Wi-Fi can be a great way to attract diners who might otherwise be spending most of their time in coffee shops.

Branding. Going one step beyond a simple Wi-Fi hookup, you may want to use a CPN (Captive Portal Network) to create a branded sign-in page and engage your patrons. This is a great area to gather e-mails, link to social media, showcase food, and get diner feedback. Companies like Wizz WiFi can help get you started.

Cons

Turnover Decrease. For establishments in the quick-service and fast-casual space, extended dining times may not be what you’re looking for. Having diners linger a bit longer may also present a challenge for high-turnover periods, such as happy hour in smaller establishments.

Cost. Although incorporating Wi-Fi for guests isn’t free, it generally isn’t too cost prohibitive. Find providers that offer fixed service rates to avoid surprises in fees and service quality. It’s likely you already utilize a Wi-Fi connection for management and office work, which will reduce costs associated with set-up.

Tablets

Now that your Wi-Fi is all set up, incorporating tablet computers into service can make quite the difference for operations.

Pros

Engagement. Utilizing tablets can be a great way to have customers engage with your restaurant and brand. Consider utilizing these to showcase wine lists or link to online content about your suppliers. There is a lot of power in highlighting local farms, hospitality groups and the people who make your food possible.

Efficiency. For both your customers and the service staff, tablets can be an effective way to process orders and payments. For locations with high square footage, utilizing tablets in this way can help reduce wait times and errors in order taking.

Analytics. Your service team may know the menu well but utilizing tablets allows customers to go deeper into menu items. Consider sharing nutritional information and meal preparations. Giving customers tablets also leads to greater analytical capabilities.  Tracking menu items that are viewed often but not ordered can lend insight on items that may need to be altered.

Cons

Upkeep. Cleanliness of tablets can become an issue and unlike paper menus, it’s not feasible to just dispose soiled products. Another challenge is ensuring all tablets are charged and operable at all times.

Usability. Although customers are becoming much more adept at using technology, depending on your clientele, use of tablets might be more of a hindrance. Information on tablets can sometimes hard to read or difficult to navigate.  

Cost. Depending on the size of your establishment, providing tablets to each table may be out of the question. Consider companies that lease products at an affordable rate, some without the need for adopting their POS systems. You can also test the waters by piloting the program for a single use such as providing complete wine list information or service staff food ordering.

Portable Chargers

These little guys are just plain convenient and, when placed in restaurants, do more than prevent the 21st century nightmare that is a dead phone.

Pros

Hospitality. Allowing customers the ability to charge their phones is simply the nice thing to do; we are in the service industry, after all.

Mobility. Having a stash of portable chargers on hand removes the need for bartenders or hosts to keep an eye on charging phones. The mobility factor is also a plus for restaurants with few accessible outlets.

Dining Incentive. As your patron stays a little longer to charge their favorite device, service staff have the ability to offer additional items. Another drink at the bar or a bit of dessert suddenly becomes much more reasonable as your customer waits thirty minutes to power up.

Cons

Upkeep. Similar to tablets, the a major challenge here is ensuring all the chargers stay charged. However, this is easy to overcome through simple diligence and a system to return chargers to docks after each use.

Cost. Portable chargers are not extremely expensive. Consider buying a set of your own and branding them. You can also look into companies like Doblet that provide restaurants with charging stations. Services like these can be low-cost routes to satisfying customer needs for phone charging.

Theft. It’s a reality. Unfortunately, one of the most convenient elements of portable chargers is also their main downside. To combat theft of products, consider renting them out in exchange for an ID. Another option is to invest in low-cost branded chargers and, perhaps, give them away for free.  

These small changes can make a big impact overtime. As consumer habits shift to be more reliant on technology, we in hospitality should take notice. There are many reasons why customers choose to dine where they do, and incorporating consumer technology is one way to give your establishment a bit of an edge. Consider these topics in an effort to increase service efficiency, attract new customers. and engage the ones you have.