Technology surrounds us, impacting every part of our daily lives. From communicating with friends and family to paying for groceries, technology is being used to simplify processes and make them more convenient. It’s been used with great success in the restaurant trade too. Things like POS systems, tabletop tablets for self-ordering and inventory tracking systems are streamlining mundane and repetitive tasks.
While there is definitely some positive impact technology can have on restaurants, there’s no denying that the restaurant experience is still mainly driven by human interaction. And, for the foreseeable future, it looks like it will remain this way.
But this raises an interesting question: What role should technology play in the restaurant experience?
People have written extensively about the role of technology in business. One such author, Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great,’ states that great companies are the ones who understand how technology can be used to enhance their offering. That’s an excellent point. Technology should only be incorporated into a restaurant if it can improve the customer’s or staff’s experience.
Most people visit a restaurant because of two reasons; the convenience of having food served to them immediately, and, for the feeling of joy they experience when they’re being looked after while sampling delicious food and drink.
So, if convenience is at the heart of a restaurants offering, then technology should have a central role. Examples of brands who are doing this really well include EKIM, a French food start-up who have recently raised substantial investment for their robot pizzeria concept. Another example is San Francisco based Café X, who use robots as a replacement for baristas.
It’s possible, that this is a glimpse of things to come. Spyce is a concept that has been developed by graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It involves robots instead of chefs cooking complex dishes. Using robots means the restaurant’s overheads are kept to a minimum, so they can sell their dishes for as little as $7.50.
While convenience is great, there is still a question of how technology can add to the ‘joy’ that people experience when eating in a restaurant. The main benefit of using a robot is that they can automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks. But the downside is that they add very little to a customer’s main experience i.e. being looked after by attentive staff who serve tasty food.
If robots are used to provide this service, once the novelty has worn off, are you left with an experience that people are bored by?
It will be interesting to see what the answer to this question is. However, there are already examples of restaurants who are successfully using technology to offer convenience and joy. One such restaurant is Inamo. The incorporation of self-ordering technology means their customers can be served quickly. And at the same time, this technology is creating an interactive environment which appeals to its core audience.
This concept is definitely working as their Camden branch was voted ‘Best Local Restaurant’ by Time Out. It will be interesting to see how this brand reacts to developing technology and how it plans to incorporate any of this into its branches in the future.
It’s also worth looking into how technology impacts the restaurant staff. Technology can play a hugely positive role in helping staff to perform their duties more efficiently, so their time is freed up to focus on serving customers or training and mentoring junior team members.
So, if you are thinking of incorporating technology into a restaurant, you should ask yourself these things first:
- Does technology complement the main purpose of the restaurant? i.e. what is it that makes people want to visit the restaurant?
- Will technology enhance the ‘convenience’ factor of the restaurant for both the customers and staff?
- Will technology add to the feeling of joy of visiting or working in the restaurant?
So, will robots be running restaurants soon? Probably not. But it’s quite possible that their use in a restaurant environment may help to create a positive experience for customers and staff, alike.
Object Space Place is a London based restaurant interior design company, with a focus on storytelling and craftsmanship. They work with both brands and private individuals to create rich and enjoyable spaces and thriving businesses.