Reimagining restaurants: how next-gen networks will fuel next-level customer experiences.

As the digital era fuels major industry shifts and changes consumer experiences, the way restaurants operate and serve their customers could transform too. And with next-gen networks spurring even more innovation, restaurants may be rethinking how to engage—and feed—their patrons.

In the not-so-distant future, hungry customers pulling up to drive-thrus may be able to access interactive experiences and augmented reality (AR)-driven content on their smartphones before ordering. Immersive menus and customized displays are merely possibilities today, but could be a regular aspect of restaurant-going in the future.

According to industry expert Aaron Allen, founder and chief strategist at global restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates, that transformation is already underway. He predicts that the food industry is on the precipice of yet another technology-driven industrial revolution. “The fifth [industrial revolution] is going to happen faster than any of the previous ones,” he says.  

And one of the main drivers behind this imminent transformation is the high speed and low latency offered by the next generation of mobile networks.

“We’re going to see IoT, automation, and analytics in a completely different way,” he says. “Restaurants will also leverage robotics, facial recognition, and biometrics, which will have an impact on labor management, inventory management, voice ordering, and many other restaurant and food services use cases.” That list continues with potential advancements like restaurants using 3D printing, conducting remote repairs, and more. 

Restaurants: act fast.

Restaurants shouldn’t wait to get moving on the latest tools and trends. While many of these technologies aren’t incorporated in companies’ operations or offerings today, Allen warns against a wait-and-see approach. He noted that, for many restaurants, tech adoption is slow—estimating it’s taken about 10 years for companies to build a social media presence in the industry. That pace might not cut it in today’s landscape.

“What will happen in the next five years will be a lot more transformative than the last 10,” he says. “It means that hundreds of billions of dollars in consumer spend and tens of billions of dollars in industry investment are migrating quite quickly to new channels, new categories, new formats. It will dramatically change the landscape of consumer foodservice globally.”

Some businesses are making moves. Allen says some restaurant CEOs are being “retired” due to a lack of confidence in their tech literacy. Understanding emerging trends and determining how to best leverage new tools are crucial items on the to-do list for any C-suite executive, whether in restaurants or not.

To that end, here are some technologies and trends—some available and others just emerging—to keep an eye on as transformation sweeps restaurants and other businesses in food services.

Dining—Jetsons style.

Innovations like beacon technology and narrowcasting deliver content to precise locations and customers. Using beacon technology—still in its infancy—a restaurant could recognize your vehicle as soon as you cross the property line.

“It takes a photograph of your license plate, and if you’ve got preprogrammed orders, you can access a different lane that allows you to bypass those that don’t know what they want,” Allen explains. “There’s a big profit bump just by shaving seconds off drive-thru orders.” Leaders in the space are catching on, with one industry giant already testing and investing heavily in similar tools.

In addition, features of narrowcasting technology are utilized today. Think digital menu boards that display menus tailored to the weather: soup when it’s cold or ice cream when it’s hot, for instance.  

“Narrowcasting allows you to be your own broadcast company, but instead of broadcasting it out to everybody, you’re just narrowcasting it into your own locations,” Allen says. “You could put any program you want through it, even training. You can also use real-time pricing, so the pricing changes based on demand.”

While still emerging, biometrics and facial technology could also have relevant application for restaurants—recognizing customers or employees who enter the business in order to better serve or support them. And according to Allen, the market may soon see new wearable technology (similar to smart glasses) capable of assessing customers’ moods.

Through mood recognition, restaurants could boost customer service by customizing interactions and service based on how guests feel.  

A special contact lens being developed would allow restaurant managers to see color indicators—green, yellow and red—next to each table so they can see what diners might be feeling. Restaurants could then use the information to adjust service levels, Allen says. "That’s pretty high tech, but it could be available within a three- to five-year window,” he says.

Finally, robotics is predicted to play a prominent role in restaurants, helping to tackle everything from mixing drinks to creating meals on demand to even delivering meals via busy urban sidewalks.

Competitive advantage through faster adoption.

Allen suggests the foodservice industry is traditionally slow to adopt emerging technology, citing restaurants that still rely on Excel for schedules and analytics. Those antiquated methodologies need to go, he says, and advised that while restaurants don’t necessarily need to think like tech companies, it’s still beneficial to recognize that they share the same consumer. Restaurants don’t need to be big to take advantage of software that helps boost sales, improve customer service, and make more informed managerial decisions.

“If you don’t start to speed up the cycle times, but your competitors do, you’ll end up losing market share,” he says. “That shift has started to happen and is pushing the reluctance of a slow-moving industry.”

Even so, transformation is taking shape, with next-gen mobile networks playing a prominent role in the fascinating innovations set to change both restaurant-goers’ experiences and business outcomes. “When you look where 5G will end up taking us, it’s a whole other world for the retail and restaurant space,” Allen adds.

Originally published on

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