The restaurant industry has come a long way from paper order ticket systems. Many may not realize the enormous amount of technology restaurants utilize. For example, when I worked at a franchise wing-bar restaurant, I logged into the point of sales (POS) station utilizing thumb print recognition. It was extremely convenient. All I had to do was press my thumb on the computer screen and I was automatically logged into my account. I could send orders to the kitchen, bring up all my current and closed out orders, see my sales, etc.

Technological advances continue to revolutionize the restaurant industry. Here are some major technologies predicted to have an impact.

Crowdsourced review websites

Today, the success of crowdsourcing on the internet has led to the creation of review websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon.  Reviews on these websites directly impact a business’ sales and reputation.

A study featured in the Economic Journal found as little as half a star difference in a restaurant’s average rating on Yelp can to generate a 19% increase in reservations. Even celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has commented on Yelp’s ability to impact customers’ restaurant choice. Yelp reviewers are the new influencers in an extremely competitive industry.

Bad reviews can quickly destroy a restaurant’s reputation. Restaurants are taking advantage of reviews to collect feedback and improve diner experience. On an episode of kitchen nightmares, a restaurant owner blamed Yelp for his restaurant’s failure. Host Gordon Ramsay demonstrated that Yelp was an opportunity to get feedback to improve the restaurant.

For a personal anecdote: I recently gave a mediocre review to a popular buffet. Within a few days, a representative responded to my comment and said they would share the feedback. How awesome!

Worth noting: Yelp has been accused of unfairly inflating a restaurant’s ratings and popularity based on their ad buys on the site.

[cta_widget block=”cta-im-a”]

Social Media

Meanwhile, social media allows restaurants to build their brands and reach out to diners online. Restaurants are taking advantage of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to reach new customers, generate buzz, and share content.

Conducting polls and studies in 2012, the National Restaurant Association found social media is important part of many restaurants’ marketing campaigns. Almost a third of consumers reported that they would follow a restaurant on social media if it “made its specials available on those platforms.”

Mobile Technology

Mobile technology advances can make the front of house more efficient. Advances in mobile POS systems are making it more convenient for waiters to quickly place and process orders.

For example, a hand e-holder with a POS system was featured on the popular show Kitchen Nightmares. The e-holder is a mobile tablet waiters can carry and input orders to the kitchen, review ingredients of dishes, and even accept credit cards all from one device that could be directly taken to the customers tables.

Other advances are bypassing the waiter altogether. Customers can now order and pay their bill directly from their phones with an iPhone application ahead of time. Overall, mobile technology provides huge opportunities to improve customer experience.

Big Data in Restaurants

Major restaurant chains are embracing big data software and data mining to improve the customer experience and their bottom line. Restaurants already incorporate a lot of technology to record and analyze their data from POS system. They can record every order, calculate sales expected, and predict trends using POS data.

Big data analytics and mining provides an opportunity to take that data analysis to the next step. Currently, the Cheesecake Factory is working with IBM to create a new data analytics system. This system mines information from its 175+ restaurants, looking for ways to improve customer service. Analytical tools like Slingshot are designed to consolidate the data from multiple POS systems, analyze the data, and predict future trends.

Big data can also be utilized to make food safer. Restaurants can collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track troublesome ingredients in their supply chain when customers get sick.

By looking at the restaurant industry, it shows the importance and new opportunities that information technology and big data bring. Almost every aspect of our food is impacted by technology, especially the need to analyze data. I think it is pretty amazing.

How have you seen technology in use in the restaurant industry? Please share in the comments.