Restaurant Development & Design

July-August 2015

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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3 4 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • J U L Y / A U G U S T 2 0 1 5 Guest Experience Cautions While digital ordering and payment systems remain alluring to restaurant developers, they should also consider how the guest experience will change. For example, when a coffee chain's customers can order and pay for items before entering the store, they could complete the transaction without interacting with a barista. While customers appreciate the convenience, they might miss the personal touch found through the in-store ordering and payment experience. How to address this point depends on a brand's philosophy regarding customer experience. Cary Attar, founder and CEO at Fielding's Wood Grill in metro Houston, worries that digital menus, ordering and payment systems could create an im- personal guest experience. A full-service restaurant, Fielding's wants its servers to develop a good rapport with every guest party. "In other business models using technology, servers have double or triple the number of tables," he says. This creates a dumbing-down of table service. "I get it. Finding people is tough; but if you're going to be in a service busi- ness you need to provide good personal service." When restaurants use digital technology to enable staff reductions, waiters can become "glorifed food runners," Attar laments. Despite his criticism, Attar doesn't rule out adopting some of these technologies someday. "I'm not anti-technology," he insists. In fact, Fielding's has already set aside space for an "iPad bar" equipped with eight tablet computers for guests to use. The idea for this full table-service area evolved from a discussion with Eldeberto Goncalves, Attar's head chef and business partner, over the installation of TVs in the bar area. Goncalves suggest- ed installing tablets in lieu of TVs, fguring that this would add a hipness factor. The space was originally intended for adult guests dining alone, and that is its primary clientele at lunchtime. At dinnertime, kids who are entertained by the "electronic babysitters" take over the area. Meanwhile, their parents, keeping an eye on them from a safe distance, are able to have a quieter, more private experience. This is an added draw for some parents, but Attar admits that "It drives me nuts when people say they come back because of the iPads. I want them to come for the food!" Adults who use the iPad bar tend to be Millennials or Gen Xers, Attar says. "We rarely see Baby Boomers sitting there," he notes. "We do see them using their own devices at their tables." Other restaurants are providing gaming options. Some McDonald's locations, for instance, have attached game systems to walls for children to use, a more compelling diversion for a tech-savvy generation than crayons and paper. "It gives them some- thing to do while they're waiting," Dorsey says. "We're going to see more of that." Dwight offers one caution about adding gaming to a space. Depending on the lighting, it could detract from the overall ambience. "If the device fickers and the image moves, it can be distract- ing to others," Dwight says. "Everybody has games on cell phones, so I don't know if this is going to catch on." Robotic Cooking Up Next? A few vendors offer machinery that cooks food automatically. One claims to cook 360 gourmet burgers per hour. You can fnd robotic cooks that prepare personal pizzas and burritos at some airports, Technomic's Rodriguez points out. Though essentially automatons, "they still offer a customized product," she says. We may begin to see robotic cooking apparatus appear at chain restaurants over the next few years, she says. "Maybe you'll see them used during off-hours when restaurants don't want to staff the location." Like vending machines enabled to handle hot orders, these machines will allow locations such as gas stations, con- venience stores and drug stores to offer a wider variety of freshly prepared hot food. It's hard to predict which new technologies will resonate and have staying power in the restaurant industry. Low proft margins mean restaurateurs have limited capital for investing in and testing new technology and equipment. "A lot of technologies could be interest- ing, but many restaurants are hesitant to become early adopters," Dwight says. "They don't want to pick gimmicks." On the other hand, waiting too long to adopt game-changing concepts will put some at a competitive disadvantage. Different brands and restaurant concepts will have to balance those competing pressures to choose the most appropri- ate solutions for them. One thing is clear: Features such as digital ordering, payment, and loyalty programs are too impactful to ignore. + TECH TOOLS Carmel Kitchen takes tablet in- ventory at every shift. Each unit has a tracking feature and data can be erased remotely.

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