6 restaurant tech solutions to combat 2022’s challenges


A few decades ago, full-service restaurant managers and owners often greeted customers at the door, shaking their hands and checking reservations in a book at the front desk. But today, many restaurants are quickly phasing out these analog operations due to ongoing labor pressure. 

So what’s filling the gap left behind by these human interactions? For a growing number of restaurants, it’s robots, QR codes and self-order kiosks. But interest in labor light or labor-free solutions appears to eclipse actual implementation among operators. 

Ninety-one percent of restaurants believe automation geared toward inventory would be a key use case, and 62% feel it would help better manage online, dine-in and delivery orders, according to Square’s Future of Restaurants: 2022 report. Despite this sentiment, only 36% of these respondents have upgraded their business technology in the last year. 

“The hospitality industry has been a late adopter in many ways to the technology trends that other industries and other markets have seen such progress [in],” Stephen Mancini, senior manager of strategy, technology and transformation at CohnReznick, said. 

There’s reason to be cautious when it comes to investing in new technologies however. Many restaurants, especially independent operators, are struggling to protect their margins amid rising food costs, increased wages and a lack of federal support. Cutting-edge tech solutions can be expensive, and SevenRooms CEO Joel Montaniel advises restaurants to do their research and ensure they comprehend the full benefits of the technology they are interested in. 

“Make sure you understand what the true cost is to use that platform,” he said. “Whether that’s the cost that you pay to get what you get, or whether that’s the ability to integrate into things you care about or the ability to support your business.”

There’s a host of technologies that can optimize various aspects of restaurant business and make the challenges of the current landscape more manageable. Not sure what’s right for your operation? Explore some of the most popular technology investments among restaurants below.  

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Mobile apps that connect to back-of-house tech

Prior to the pandemic, the focus of a restaurant’s mobile app was limited to improving connections between a brand and its customers, enhancing marketing and reducing pressure on front-of-house staff, Nick Cole, head of restaurant finance at MUFG Americas, said.

Now, in order to optimize throughput and guarantee convenient and efficient service, mobile apps need to coordinate with kitchen technology to ensure orders are fulfilled on time, Cole said. This also means apps need to integrate with third-party delivery partners. Shake Shack, for example, added in-app delivery ordering in 2021 that allows diners to track their orders in real time. 

Fast food chains are also starting to use advanced logistics to figure out where a customer or delivery courier is located and then notify the staff on when they should start the order, Jim Balis, managing director of CapitalSpring’s strategic operations group, said. This data ties to Google Maps or Waze or other location services, he said. Taco Bell’s Go Mobile stores, for example, will track a customer who orders through its app and have their orders waiting for them at the drive-thru upon their arrival.

While QSRs with drive-thrus thrived in the early days of the pandemic, fast casuals with good apps, efficient kitchens and delivery models became just as convenient as restaurants with drive-thrus — even without drive-thrus, Cole said. Panera added dine-in mobile ordering to its app in February, for example, allowing customers to order from their tables and receive alerts on their phones when their orders are ready.

“How technology in the back-of-house has married up with that front-end technology of the app ordering system [has] completely changed the landscape for some businesses and it’s been a real separator for companies that have outperformed in this environment,” Cole said. 

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QR codes

While many restaurants added QR codes to their tables to eliminate high-touch menus after the pandemic began, 45% of restaurants say they plan to offer QR codes for menus after the COVID-19 crisis ebbs, according to Square. 

“Interestingly the initial driver for much of this innovation — COVID — isn’t even why it may stick around. QR codes at tables and new ways to serve customers will actually be driven by labor shortages and rising prices,” Aman Narang, COO, president and co-founder at Toast, said in an email.

QR codes will likely become increasingly common at full-service restaurants since they can alleviate common inefficiencies, such as customers needing to flag down wait staff to order and pay. Using QR codes could help servers to focus on bringing food and drinks to tables rather than spending time taking orders and processing payments. This switch could allow wait staff to manage seven to 10 tables instead of four, Balis said.

“[QR codes are] something that’s going to continue to evolve into not just ordering, but also payment and other factors,” Balis said.

QR codes are also replacing tabletop ordering technology, which are becoming a bit outdated, Balis said. Restaurants would offer limited menus and games guests could pay for, which would help cover the cost of operating the device. But as more people began playing games on their phones, guests weren’t using the devices in that way, Balis said. 

Datassential found 58% of consumers would like the option of using a QR code to pay at a restaurant or grocery store. Among consumers who have used them, 70% said they had a positive experience, per the research. 

“People are just more comfortable using their phones,” Balis said.

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Self-order kiosks

Kiosk ordering at fast casual restaurants and QSRs is becoming more commonplace, especially in airports, Balis said. McDonald’s Restaurant of the Future remodels, which included new digital kiosks, are emblematic of this trend. 



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