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Placing restaurant orders via handheld devices is a major trend for 2021.

5 technology trends that are transforming the restaurant industry

Working in a restaurant or a café means navigating in a fast-paced environment. Greeting new customers and taking their orders to the kitchen while other customers are waiting at their table for the possibility to pay... All this requires paying attention to a lot of details to ensure everyone has as good customer experience as possible.

Luckily there are several technology solutions for the industry that can make these processes easier. We have picked our top 5 hospitality trends for 2021 that we think will break it this year.

1. Mobile ordering for staff

Let's start where the restaurant experience also starts: ordering. Now, usually this scenario involves a waiter with their pen and notepad, writing down everyone's orders and possible customisations. At the beginning of their shift the waiter would also have had to memorize the day's specials to be able to repeat them to the customers later. Then, once the orders are placed, the waiter brings the information to the kitchen, where the chefs will prepare the dishes and notify the waiter when they are ready to be taken to the customers.

Now, imagine if these steps were operated via a handheld, portable device. Not only would it allow the staff to serve customers anywhere, but also decrease the likelihood of small mistakes. Orders could be fulfilled faster and more accurately when the information could be taken down and sent to the kitchen there and then, with a press of a button. Later on, bills could be split or joined as easily – no more queuing for a terminal while the customer waits impatiently.

2. Mobile ordering for customers

Handheld devices operated by the staff are surely handy, but what if the convenience could be taken a step further? The answer is using customers' own devices, that is to say, allowing them to place an order using their smartphones.

Customer self-ordering has three main perks: it reduces (and in some cases, completely eliminates) waiting-time, empowers the customer, and has proven to increase sales. In fact, when experimenting with self-selection machines, McDonalds found that the average check was a dollar higher – which at the time meant a 30% increase.

When customers can use their own smartphones they can skip waiting to place an order. Whether the process is run via a QR-code or an app, they'll be able to browse the up-to-date menu and specials as soon as they've gotten a table. Once they are ready, the order will be sent directly to the kitchen.

Research and experience have also shown that when orders can be placed privately, that is, with the help of a device instead of a waiter, people are more likely to place bigger orders as well as add premium toppings. Not having to vocalise orders also adds a certain level of privacy, thus removing social friction and empowering the customer.

3. Smartphone payments

Pay-at-table solutions have become everyday life for most restaurants at least in Sweden. This has already made the process more efficient and customer-friendly, but it could be even easier and frictionless with the adaptation of smartphone payments.

Again, we are talking about empowering the customer and reducing their waiting time. Not having to wait to catch the attention of a waiter to ask for a bill sure sounds nice, doesn't it? There is even more to that, namely the added layer of security. By using their own smartphones customers don't have to watch their card leave the table, nor does the payment data have to go through the restaurant's POS system. Depending on the system, the customer might also be given the freedom to use alternative payment methods such as Apple Pay or Swish.

Plus, it a definite post-pandemic perk not having to handle a shared device.

When it comes to customer engagement, restaurants also get another opportunity to advertise their loyalty programs and collect opt-ins for marketing purposes.

And not to forget the obvious one: transitioning to smartphone payments restaurants can skip buying pay-at-table devices.

4. Digital receipts

Now that we have arrived at the end of the dining experience, the thing we need to discuss is receipts. Digital receipts have been up and coming for some years now, and the pandemic has been an eye-opener for many to notice how unnecessary it is to transfer this piece of paper (and all the germs!) from hand to hand. Instead, it could be replaced by a digital receipt.

Paper receipts are unnecessary in many ways: they create tons of waste, cannot be recycled, and contain harmful chemicals. They are also easily lost or the ink faded  – in fact, 90 percent of receipts get thrown away or lost, thus only creating solid waste.

From a business perspective, not having to print receipts saves time and money. Furthermore, digital receipts are easy to send and categorise for business expense reporting and taxing purposes.

Digital receipts also help in bridging the gap between online and offline: They allow for easier customer data collection, loyalty programs and sending personalised offers.

5. Omnichannel marketing

Now that we've enjoyed our imagined, digitally enhanced dining experience, one question remains: How could these all be tied together to improve the business? The answer is omnichannel marketing.

To put it simply, omnichannel means being active on multiple channels and sharing data between them. It is important for businesses to start integrating their marketing channels in order to provide better customer experiences – the customers are already expecting it.

This is where digital POS systems can help, that is, in collecting and analysing customer data. Whenever a step is conducted digitally, whether it be ordering, paying or receiving a receipt, the data from these steps can be connected, allowing businesses to send out personalised offers, or even to personalise the experience there and then.

Read more: How the hospitality industry can increase customer loyalty