The Evolution of Technology in Food Service - Part 1 of 3

Posted on: April 23, 2021
By: Dina Townsend

Menu Board

Man with noodlesThe pandemic has temporarily changed the way many businesses function, in particular Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR) and Fast Casual. It is estimated that on average that the drive through is responsible for 50-70% of a quick serve restaurant’s revenue. This drive through option has been a well-used and valuable asset during this period where indoor dining has been significantly impacted. However, not every QSR has a drive through, and few fast casual restaurants have drive through or outdoor options that can be leveraged to help ease the strain of various limitations imposed to keep us all safe.

In this, and many other ways, the pandemic has required businesses to think about how they can use their available space more efficiently and better market their carry out or take away services. As we look toward a bright future where we can gather again, there are some aspects of daily life that, in my opinion, are likely to have been permanently altered by the pandemic’s impact.

For the purposes of this blog, let’s take a high level look at 3 areas of purchase in the restaurant space and the technology demands, limitations, and requirements for each:fries and burger

  1. Dine In
  2. Carry Out/Take Away
  3. Drive Through

Each has its own unique needs from a technology perspective. As each is so nuanced, we will explore these areas over 3 separate posts. Today we will tackle Dine In or Indoor. There is so much to cover; and, because the space is evolving through these times, we will address the subjects with a combination of trends, opinion, and ideation to balance what is working with what is possible.

As Dine In options become available again, seating space is still limited by occupancy thresholds. There is an opportunity here to move diners through the order process more quickly and thereby allow more patrons through the space. There is also an opportunity to inspire additional take away purchases from Dine In patrons.

Over the last 10 years we have seen a large number of both QSR and Fast Casual restaurants move from print menu boards to digital. This change has eliminated things like print and shipping costs, ongoing menu changes and associated installations of the menu boards, damage to the boards, and the limitations of anything that cannot be modified on the fly. Now more than ever, flexibility serves the restaurants well. With some supply chains impacted, product availability may vary which may cause menu offerings to change more often than before. A solid digital menu board solution will allow the end user to substitute, manage, and modify the menu as needed without having to recreate the entire piece of content. It will also allow for local and regional control to accommodate fluctuations in different markets.

Digital menu boards that are easy to read and that highlight items most available can assist in moving patrons through the queue more quickly. With limited Dine In options, supplementary screens can feature and promote items for takeaway and increase the overall ticket. For example, promoting items that store well at home in the refrigerator for the next day’s meal, or hot drinks and snacks for the ride home, or even bringing home dessert for the family can maximize the sale while expediting the Dine In experience.

burgerFrom a purely technical perspective, when planning your menu board deployment, it is important to consider the impact of redundancy. Having menu boards go dark is never ideal, but when the menu is changing and therefore may be less familiar to patrons, and when extended ‘person to person’ contact is in question, anything a business can do to ensure that patrons have the information they want, when they want it, without interruption, is fundamental. Redundancy generally involves a backup media player, ideally connected and ready for automated failover such that if the primary player goes down, the backup player takes over and the menus function as expected and with the proper content. This is a point worth talking through not only from a cost perspective, but from an optimal hardware perspective. Ensure that the player hardware you choose is capable of driving all the menu board screens and that the screens are capable of accepting that failover command to ensure all menu boards come back on line immediately.

Digital menu boards will allow the end user to address the changing needs of the time while protecting the overall investment for better days to come. Those same screens can quickly and easily be used to create ambiance, or promote limited time offers, or anything else that businesses may dream up as they reimagine their delivery model over time.

In our industry we talk a lot about Day 2 issues and how to plan for them. In the pandemic, Day 2, 3, & 400 may all look very different. Having a solution that allows for support and flexibility when the unexpected happens will provide at least one stabilizing aspect to business.

As a sneak peek at our next post, the same technology that drives the Dine In experience can be used to drive the Takeaway and Drive Through while also allowing flexibility for other hardware choices helping restaurants to run efficient software solutions and harness the power of the right technology for different deployment use cases and environments.

Visit us again to see our upcoming blog on the technology of Carry Out and Takeaway in QSR and Fast Casual.

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