The Future of Augmented Reality in the Restaurant Industry

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm. Users of this augmented reality game are leaving their homes to go on “Pokewalks” to catch Pokemon, stop at Pokestops and to take over gyms.

Restaurant traffic, especially those close to Pokestops is increasing due to the influx of Pokemon gamers looking to fuel up for their Pokemon hunt.

According to the POS platform Revel systems, 82% of Revel businesses with close-by Pokestops have experienced an increase in weekly foot traffic and 63% saw an increase in weekly sales.

A restaurant’s location in relation to a Pokestop has even started to influence a consumer’s dining decision. With that in mind, Yelp launched a new filter that allows their users to find Pokestops near restaurants.

Many restaurants are trying to take full advantage of the trend, by throwing Pokemon themed events or by having signs that say “Pikachu can be caught here.”

Although time will only tell if the Pokemon Go Mania continues, the success of the augmented reality game is going to influence other technologies.

Will restaurant chains start to develop AR games that encourage guests to visit their stores? What does the future hold for the restaurant industry?

What the Heck is AR?

According to Mashable, “Augmented reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one. Augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements, such as sports scores on TV during a match. With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulable. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real world.”

In simpler terms, AR adds computer-generated images and sounds to enhance our real world surroundings.

Although the notion of AR has been a particularly popular topic due to the Pokemon Go Frenzy, AR is not a new concept.

The Acrossair AR browser | PC World

The Acrossair AR browser | PC World

Layar is an application available for download in the Netherlands. A user can point their smart phone in a direction and then the app layers information about restaurants over the what is being seen on the smartphone’s screen.

Yelp started to play with AR in 2009 with a secret component, called Monocle. User then could shake their IPhone three times and it would activate and display info on their smartphone screen about local restaurants with ratings and reviews.

Acrossair AR browser is similar to Layar, when you hold your phone horizontally it shows your location and you can select what category, including restaurants, bars, coffee, yelp, google and others you would like information on. Check out some other AR apps here.

So How Will Restaurants Incorporate AR?

A restaurant brand used to be ahead of the curve when they had a fully functioning mobile-friendly website and a mobile app where users could order, see relevant information like the menu and store locations. Now, it’s become more of an expectation.

But what if your customers could open your brand’s app and point in a direction and find the closest location and information like the menu and the current wait time at the restaurant, etc. Then to entice them to visit the store, a promo would appear with limited time offer for a free beverage, only redeemable if they visit in the next 20 minutes. This is taking geo-fencing push notifications, messages that appear on a potential customer’s mobile device about the taco Tuesday promo going on at the restaurant a block away from them, to a whole new level.

Entertainment Potential

Ziosk, the table-top tablet is not only dedicated to ordering at primarily casual dining restaurants, but it is also a platform with different virtual games. Chili’s has reported that 10% of their customers play the games and it serves as an additional revenue stream for the brand. Not to mention, it keeps the customers busy while they wait.

Brands have previously developed games to entertain their guests, while promoting brand awareness.

Chipotle's Scarecrow game | iTunes.apple.com

Chipotle's Scarecrow game | iTunes.apple.com

Chipotle developed its own game on “The Scarecrow” app as way to engage and entertain their customer-base. The goal of the game was to educate their guests about where their food comes from, while offering them rewards for completing game levels. These awards then drove traffic into the store.

Domino’s launched the Pizza Hero app in 2011, where users could make virtual pizzas and order pizzas within the app.

The tremendous popularity of Pokemon Go has shown that consumers gravitate to virtual scavenger hunts. So what if a restaurant brand was to integrate that aspect to their rewards program. Imagine if every store location had something to be collected. For example, at each McDonald’s store there was a virtual happy meal toy to collect and these would add up and generate points for future rewards. Or perhaps a chain could pair up with a popular game or television show and entice customers to collect all the characters. Yogurtland has teamed up with Nintendo to offer Nintendo character themed yogurt flavors like Mario’s Chocolate Gelato. They could take it a step further and have the customer collect Mario characters every time they visited a Yogurtland store.

A restaurant chain in many locations could engage their customers with a travel-themed AR game. Whereas a customer would point their phone at a store in a certain location and would wander the store to collect a stamp of the town. The more stamps a guest collects; the more rewards they can get. It would generate more foot traffic, while engaging customers in a fun way.

All of these concepts have yet to be developed, but AR is a realm yet conquered. But, Alper Guler of KabaQ is hoping to make it a reality.

How do you think restaurants will integrate this technology? Or do you think that this should be left to the entertainment industry? Does bringing this type of technology into the dining setting diminish the experience or would it enhance it?