Top 3 Technology Trends for Restaurants


Technology is changing eating out.  The use of mobile phones and online access is changing how customers find and experience eating at restaurants.  But what exactly is happening out there and how can restaurants grasp onto these trends to improve their business and build better relationships with the customers?

Hello, this is Drew Adams, owner of Restaurant Engine.  Restaurant Engine will have a booth at the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Expo on August 29 – 30 in Raleigh, North Carolina and I will be speaking on a panel dedicated to Restaurant Technology.

In the run-up to the being on the panel, I thought I would like to outline three trends in restaurant technology especially as it pertains to online and mobile usage and how your restaurant can leverage them.

Trend: Mobile search

In 2015 Google announced that mobile searches had overtaken desktop searches in 10 countries including the US and Japan.

Google says the results of a survey of online mobile searching shows that 55% of people using mobile devices for research want to purchase within an hour and 83% want to purchase within a day!

Of the people searching for restaurants specifically 70% considered making a purchase and 54% actually made a purchase.  For restaurants being seen or shown during what Google calls these “micro-moments”  is a huge opportunity to gain new business.  

Consider this story from a typical restaurant customer.

If I am in a town I do not know I do an internet search, “best restaurants Charleston”, and I always go to Trip Advisor…sometimes Yelp….and ask for the top restaurants, read the ratings, check the budget, often then I will go to the restaurant’s website check out the menu, see the ambiance, and sometimes I call directly. If it is before hours I will use Open Table to check availability and make a reservation. If there is not availability and I really want to go I will call the restaurant. I do all this on my phone.”

But the most important part of the diner’s description above is probably, “I do all this on my phone.”  Think about that.  Checking location, menu, reviews, setting reservations – things that back in the 90s would have taken several conversations among friends, a subscription to Zagat, a phone book, and, yes, a push button phone – all done now on a 5 inch x 3 inch screen in the palm of a hand!

According to Google’s Think Insights, 59% of those researching online will visit the business’s website and the ones who actually make a purchase come an average of 6 times to the website.  An OpenTable survey says that 86 % of diners regularly check out menus online before they dine out.  

The bottom line is that it all re-inforces the upmost importance of having a good mobile website.  And in a world with Yelp and TripAdvisor and the like, the restaurant’s website is the restauranteur’s chance to “make the case” to the customer directly on why they should visit the restaurant and give them an idea of what they will experience when they come.

Studies have shown the most enjoyable part of a vacation is the anticipation.  Considering this, I would propose that the restaurant’s website has another function, and that is to set diner excitement.  In doing that, you are actually creating the first moment of the diner’s experience and influencing the overall enjoyment of the meal.

What technology to use to be a part of the trend

  • Make sure you have a website that is optimized for mobile.
  • Make sure you are in Google Location.
  • Make sure the basics like your address and phone number are easily accessible.
  • Use images that convey the experience the customer can have coming to your restaurant. 

Trend: Mobile apps

An OpenTable survey earlier this year found that 56% of consumers said they were “very unlikely” or “unlikely” to download an app for an individual restaurant, compared with 6%  who said they were very likely to download such apps.

But, that being said, it’s impossible to ignore the mammoth success of the Starbucks app.  Consider these statistics:

  • 16% of total transactions in quarter ending December 2014 were paid for by the app
  • 21% of total transaction in quarter ending December 2015 were paid for by the app

In fact, customers have preloaded $1.2 billion dollars onto their Starbucks accounts, which makes Starbucks the same size as a healthy mid-sized bank!

Its clear that customer will use apps.  Mobile apps give customers several advantages that they love including:

  • Gaining rewards for purchases
  • Pre-order ability (avoid lines)
  • Quickly finding locations close by

Likewise restauranteurs also gain from being able to:

  • Reward repeat customers
  • Increase efficiency
  • Have a detailed order history data on customers
  • Send App notifications – via GeoFencing or Beacons

Clearly, it is working for franchise like Starbucks, but how important is having an app for single independent restaurants?  I believe this questions is playing out in the marketplace today.  There are some relatively cheap options so you can experiment with having an app if you want one.  If you have take-out and delivery or a chain with multiple locations, I would advise experimenting with one and see how it affects your total take-out volume and speeds adoption of your loyalty programs.

What technology to use to be a part of the trend

Here are a few ways to tackle the app building task:

  • Hire your own app developer and incorporate the features you want.
  • Use a third party solution that has pre-built features.  Here are some companies that offer these services.  
    • Levelup
    • MojoBistro
    • OpenDining

Trend: Online Ordering

Panera, which defined online ordering as ordering done via kiosks, mobile or the web, says that in cafes that have been converted to the 2.0 model specifically, they account for more than 20 percent of retail sales, and it reaches 30 percent for 2.0 cafes converted more than a year, he said.

LevelUp research indicates that customers who have placed an order online visit the restaurant 67 % more frequently than customers who haven’t.

Our partner OpenDining says that online orders are 22% larger than comparable call-in orders and also add on average an 18% increase in total, non-dine-in orders.

Online ordering gives advantage for consumers to

  • Skip lines
  • Saved preset likes and dislikes
  • Get items delivered

Online ordering has increasingly been a no-brainer for restaurants that offer take-out or delivery. 

What technology to use to be a part of the trend

Online ordering consists of subscribing to online ordering provider and then putting your menu into their system. 

Online orders can be received via fax, text or email as a baseline, but even better is if they are connected directly to your point-of-sale systems on site so the orders can appear in your systems as if keyed in by waitstaff.  This is supported by most point-of-sale system.  Here at Restaurant Engine we partner with Open Dining to provide online ordering features and then we integrate the ordering into a restaurant’s website.


Use of online technology in the process of eating out has been increasing and signs show will continue to increase.  Customers want to use mobile phones and online media to locate and research restaurants, make reservations, order their meals, pay for those meals and earn rewards.  Keeping up with these technology trends can be daunting but  can reap big rewards for companies with increased traffic, order size and customer satisfaction.

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