How restaurants should use tech to innovate – and thrive

It’s fair to say it hasn’t been a brilliant year for the restaurant industry

Jamie’s Italian kicked off 2018 by announcing the closure of 12 restaurants. Shortly after, fellow Italian restaurant chain Strada said it was closing 11 branches due to disappointing trading and rising costs. At around the same time, burger chain Byron announced forthcoming closures, and several sites have already shut up shop – most of them outside London.

Further casualties of 2018 have so far been Côte Brasserie, Cau (owned by Gaucho) and Carluccio’s to name but a few. Data from analysts CGA and corporate advisory firm AlixPartners in June 2018 showed that the number of restaurants in the UK had fallen for the first time in eight years.

The reasons behind this rather dramatic demise include rents soaring, sales stagnating and broader economic uncertainty. But thankfully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel as technology is playing a key role in improving guest experiences and helping this casual dining sector thrive.

Based on new research conducted with 1,000 UK consumers, the hospitality technology integration platform Flyt has identified some key differences between people that visit restaurants frequently compared with those who visit occasionally, which can be used by casual dining operators to help them develop their business models.

High visit frequency guests (classed as those who dine out during the week more than four times per month) spend twice as much per head as the less frequent diner, and represent a key audience for understanding their expectations in terms of how tech plays a role in their experience:

  • 68% say good use of tech improves perception of the brand
  • 62% say more likely to visit if making good use of tech
  • 55% say a good restaurant app makes them visit more frequently
  • 55% of these would increase frequency by at least once a week

In this environment, operators are facing increased complexity in the food technology ecosystem. Some brilliant new tech designed to improve both the customer experience and support kitchen teams has been introduced over the last couple of years; for example, Winnow helping chefs measure and monitor food waste, or Kafoodle which is helping businesses improve the management of menus.

The main challenge is how to make sense of all the tech opportunities that are now being presented to operators. It can be confusing, daunting even. While previously being able to lean on their key technology provider, the POS supplier, to cover the foundations of the operations, the connections into operations now become a critical route to provide better experiences through tech. A vibrant food tech ecosystem means operators can now look outside of their traditional technology providers for innovations, with confidence.

The universal platform that Flyt has been building since 2016 is beginning to address some of this complexity. Increasingly, integration into POS, and between different applications, is becoming a core business activity. Whether it is Deliveroo initially integrating via Flyt for GBK, Byron and Ask Italian, who now offer their own partner API for POS to connect in with. Or whether it is Just Eat, which is integrating into KFC via Flyt in order to keep improving service as they continue to build relationships with major QSR and casual dining brands.

Consumer services such as the Facebook Messenger payment chatbot which has just been introduced at burger chain Byron, rely on smart integrated technology. In this instance, using POS and Adyen payment provider integrations, Flyt was able to develop this chatbot to create a highly effective Pay At Table service which means people can pay for their bill at a time that suits them. Indeed, when the bot was piloted at Wahaca earlier this year it accounted for up to 14.5% of payments in the restaurant, with a peak conversion rate of 69%.

We are also seeing restaurant services appearing in other major social media platforms. Quandoo have recently integrated their booking technology with Instagram which makes it possible to book directly with a restaurant who are advertising on the platform.

Restaurant branded applications have been shown to be important to 77% of guests in comparison to third party applications, according to the research by Flyt. When Pizza Express relaunched their app it was a great success with over 200,000 downloads in the first week. Since then, millions of pounds of transactions have been processed via the integrated Pay at Table service which connects the Zonal Aztec POS to the Flyt APIs that securely process payments using the CyberSource payment gateway.

The keyword in all of these examples is integration.

In the last two years, integration has been one of the key requirements for an operator to consider trialling new technology designed to help them solve challenges in the customer experience. By emphasising the importance of integration, Flyt has been at the forefront of establishing collaborative partnerships with major POS across the UK, and are now branching out to do the same in the USA.

It’s becoming clear that all major restaurant tech developments in the coming years will have integration at their heart. Whether that is tech to improve sustainability, allergen information, menu management, consumer services or creating delivery efficiencies, all will be ensuring their tech is integrated into a restaurant operation, and in some cases, integrated with major consumer channels in order to further reduce the friction guests experience.

About the Author

Tom Weaver is CEO of Flyt. Flyt makes it super easy for merchants and service providers to work together, creating flawless experiences for users.