British chef Robert Irvine, the host of Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible,” knows a thing or two about the ingredients in a successful restaurant. And, he says, while food quality surely tops the list, it’s only the start of a top-notch customer experience.
In a recent interview with restaurantnews.com, Irvine said modern restaurateurs have a lot more to worry about. He is also concerned that, while eateries have started dipping their toes into technology, many don’t yet make the most of modern capabilities needed to meet ever-higher customer expectations.
Just a few examples of some baseline customer demands these days:
- We expect to relax in an environment with minimal hustle and bustle and as little noise as is practical.
- We don’t want to – won’t, in fact – wait long for service.
- We want the soup served steamy and the ice cream served before it melts. That means minimizing the time from kitchen to table.
- We want to know that anything on the menu is available.
- We want menus customized to our dietary needs, including detailed lists of ingredients.
Fail to deliver on any of these promises and restaurants quickly find themselves on the wrong end of a social media maelstrom. The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen, Irvine says, is to invest in technology that streamlines the restaurant experience from the host stand to back-of-the-house operations. Investing in specialized technology can improve table time, employee efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Irvine: Technology is Now a Basic Requirement
In the interview, Irvine says basic key technology components all restaurants should have include inventory control systems, and systems that allow careful tracking of customer information – birthdays or favorite dishes, for example. He also suggests the use of tablets to provide both staff and customers up-to-date information.
He’s also particularly excited about new technology that allows instant payment at tables. Such devices also can allow restaurants to instantly survey customers on the experience. Tablet survey tools are a vast improvement over online surveys and comment cards, with restaurants reporting response rates exceeding 80 percent.
Irvine also says one of the most under-used technologies in restaurants is tracking time on orders. This is especially important for fast-casual restaurants. Devices like LRS’ Table Tracker can be used to keep time on everything from when a customer places an order to when a table is cleaned and ready for seating. Employees can see the times of each table at each stage so they know exactly where they need to focus their energy to get everything out on time. Later, managers have the benefit of databases that can be used to improve efficiency and service.
LRS Table Tracker also shows food runners exactly where each order is going, which keeps noise and bustle down in the dining area. Employees no longer have to tack time onto tickets by wandering around a crowded restaurant looking for a paper number. Instead, each guest is given a small device to place on their table that transmits their location to the main system.
Restaurants that use such systems see immediate, dramatic improvements in delivery times and, as a result, food quality and customer satisfaction. When employees at Jason’s Deli started using Table Tracker, ticket times improved by more than a minute right away.
Don’t Forget the Front of the House
The front of the house is the first impression guests have of your restaurant. If they see a crowd of people around the host stand or a dozen dirty tables, they’re going to go somewhere else instead of waiting around. However, there’s an app for that.
When it comes to seating efficiency, paper, pens and PA systems just don’t cut it anymore. Now there are technology systems that can track open tables, prioritize seating, page guests via pager or text when their table is ready and alert servers when they have a new party seated. LRS offers three versions of so you can choose the one that best fits your needs.
As you can see, the possibilities go on and on. Irvine’s final caution is that restaurants not be tepid as they adopt technology. The best approach is to go all-in, learn the technology and then reap the benefits.
“Ultimately the end goal is to make money,” he told the publication. “There is a sequence of events that take place in order to be successful – from the front of the house (presentation) to the back of the house (kitchen and business operations setup). Owners need to understand how to best provide the ultimate experience for guests within each facet of the business. The hospitality industry would be a lot faster, a lot leaner and have better product and service if technology could be effectively integrated.”
Find Out More About How Fast Casual is Changing the Restaurant Industry
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Jason Barge is a marketing manager at LRS and an expert in communications for the hospitality industry.