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Top 9 Restaurant Technology Trends for 2021 and Beyond

Jennifer Post

The restaurant tech landscape is evolving rapidly. Here are the latest trends.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced restaurants, like all businesses now, to drastically change how they operate. With dine-in service not available in many states, restaurant owners have had to pivot to offering outdoor dining, as well as delivery and pickup, to survive.

While it doesn't appear that there will be a short-term end to the restrictions, to effectively compete during this challenging, surreal time, there are some changes you'll need to make, and a lot of them center around technology. If your restaurant has switched to using a restaurant point-of-sale system, now is the time, and your livelihood may be at stake if you don't switch.


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How technology affects restaurants

Now, more than ever, technology is greatly impacting restaurants. Consumers are using self-checkout, auto checkout, and contactless payment methods, and if your restaurant isn't offering diners those options, you are falling behind.

Holden Bale, global vice president of commerce at Huge said that while restaurants in North America have typically been more conservative in adopting mobile and contactless payments, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed that. 

"If you go beyond touchless, we're finding consumers want greater flexibility to order on their terms – whether it's delivery, pickup or dine in. It can be challenging to try to serve so many different patterns as a restaurant, but technology can make the lift easier," Bale said.

Dwight Zahringer, president of Pure Cabo, a hospitality and tourism service, said that before the pandemic, technology, including cloud-based systems, has significantly streamlined restaurant operations, optimizing efficiency and profit margins.

"Think improved inventory systems allowing restaurant managers and chefs to reduce food waste, or kitchen display screens managing kitchen service work," Zahringer said. "It's time and money saving, which is a winning combo in any industry."

Bass Zongo, corporate technology manager for Nobu Restaurants, affirmed the benefits in efficiency and savings for restaurants that look for ways to implement new tech, rather than shying away from it.

"Keeping up with the trends puts us on par – if not at an advantage – with the competition. It helps streamline processes and make [restaurants] efficient," said Zongo. "Some of our restaurants have even improved their payroll numbers with the adoption of new technologies."

How new restaurant technology improves customer service

Besides helping restaurants improve their operations and margins, technology can help restaurants provide a better dining experience to patrons.

"Consumers are increasingly expecting digital ways to engage with the physical world, especially post-COVID-19," said Bale.

"In major metropolitan areas, QR codes are becoming a staple to view menus and specials, [to] be taken to online payment at the table and [to] have the opportunity to connect with a restaurant digitally," Bale said. [In need of a POS system for your restaurant? Check out our recommendations for the best iPad restaurant POS systems.]

Further, reservation systems are integrated with point-of-sale systems, which is a huge bonus for restaurants and customers.

"The restaurant now has a complete picture of their patron profile and is now in a better position to provide a consistent and tailored experience to any repeat guest whether they visited Nobu Miami, Nobu 57 or Nobu Malibu," Zongo said.

Here are nine tech trends that will last through to 2021 that can help your restaurant save on costs, deliver a great experience to diners and ensure strong results on your marketing efforts:

  1. Technology that reduces food waste. With predictive order management software, restaurants can anticipate customer demand and reduce waste, thus saving money and improving their profit margins. Another benefit of automating the task of inventory management is that restaurant owners can eliminate the overbearing manual task of maintaining complex spreadsheets (and the inevitable inaccuracies that occur with tracking your inventory manually).

  2. Technology that simplifies complex loyalty programs. If your customers are close to receiving a loyalty reward, they are more likely to spend more. The latest technology integrates with POS systems and customer smartphones so that customers who've signed up for your loyalty program can check their account status anytime, anywhere. Toast has a loyalty management application integrated with its restaurant POS solution.

  3. Technology that improves guests' dining experience. Quick access to accurate guest data makes it easier to tailor service to diners' known preferences, and keep those customers satisfied and coming back for more. Delight your regulars by offering such perks as their preferred seating or offering their most frequently purchased beverage or menu item.

  4. Technology that keeps customers updated on the status of their delivery. Customers want to be able to order quickly and easily, and they want to know how long it will take for their food to be delivered. Reduce frustration with technology that allows customers to see the status of their order in real time. One robust online ordering and tracking system for small restaurant operators is Trackin.

  5. Technology that allows guests to split and pay bills at the table. Giving guests the ability to view, split, and pay their bills at the table using their smartphones saves them time (as well as your staff) and improves table turns and productivity.

  6. Technology that allows for contactless ordering, payment and delivery. This technology is here to stay, says Bale. Customers want to be able to browse your restaurant's menu online, and they also want clarity about your hours and the safety measures you have in place if your restaurant is open to diners.

  7. Technology that allows restaurants to market their food more accurately. According to Bale, restaurants that succeed in driving compelling experiences through digital will find unique ways to help consumers "touch, feel and taste" the menu. With consumers taking more consideration and care in where they eat, creating rich descriptions is key.

  8. Technology that thoroughly and safely sanitizes restaurants. Customers expect that when they dine out at a restaurant that thorough steps have been taken to sanitize the restaurant. One technology in particular that could be valuable is bipolar ionization. Rather than relying on a filter to trap pollutants, charged ions actively seek, attack, and neutralize contaminants in the air and on surfaces, according to Tony Abate, vice president and chief technical officer at indoor air quality technology company AtmosAir Solutions.

  9. QR technology that delivers several convenient benefits to consumers. QR code technology isn't going away anytime soon. Tablet-based temperature readers, mobile tailored websites, and pay-at-the-table options are all available through the use of QR codes. Bale noted that QR codes have been a staple in Asia and other purely mobile-first societies, but have rarely been used in the United States until now.

Additional reporting by Pamela Oldham.

Image Credit: Drazen Zigic / Getty Images
Jennifer Post
business.com Contributing Writer
Jennifer Post is a professional writer with published works focusing on small business topics including marketing, financing, and how-to guides. She has also published articles on business formation, business software, public relations and human resources. Her work has also appeared in Fundera and The Motley Fool.