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  • Sridhar Laveti

Analyzing the Impact Millennials and Technology are having on the Dining Experience

GenY or iGen or Millennials. No matter the name, no matter the geography, younger guests are the catalyst that's inspiring the use of innovative technology across restaurants. Millennials are distinct from previous generations. They're intrinsically curious and passionate about the food they eat, and they're adventurous enough to seek out new experiences. They crave new flavors and ingredients that go beyond the norm, with authentic flavors and cuisine fusions.

Engaging in technologies that push the limits will not only set restaurant apart, but it will give the millennial "foodies" a reason to come. The idea of using a smart phone to place an order isn't new, but as these guests seek to interact more with restaurants via apps and mobile devices, technology will evolve to provide a high-level of user engagement with increased revenue opportunities for restauranteurs.

What is Considered Innovative?

Restauranteurs are thinking beyond the "what" of technology proliferation; thinking outside the devices and applications themselves, and looking to understand what technologies diners are ready to adopt - or have already adopted. Understanding what experiences will drive the most value for owners, and resisting the urge to invest in a new technology simply because it seems innovative. Understanding which technologies are truly poised to transform the dining experience and which ones are mostly hype. Making the right technology play can shift a restaurant's reputation at lightning speed. Even the most seemingly routine apps, like table reservations or loyalty, are spurring tremendous growth in restaurant technologies.

Technology as a Differentiator

The individual dining experience is one of the most important competitive differentiators in restaurants today. It ranks as a priority among diners, alongside emerging trends such as farm-to-table. Modern restaurant technology enables restaurants to offer high-caliber service with a holistic experience. As restaurants are beginning to offer more technology-oriented guest service, it's not surprising that they're also seeing more rewards. They're keeping guests engaged, increasing overall traffic, and facilitating a seamless dining experience. Using social media for real-time offers via push notifications, restaurants stay in contact with diners, often leveraging guest data to increase loyalty. Differentiation is centered on serving the guest precisely how the guest wants to be served – and it's augmented with technology.

Another, perhaps simpler, way to differentiate the restaurant while encouraging a loyal base is by offering multiple portion sizes, half and full dishes for example. It doesn't just give guests the choice to sample more items from the menu, it encourages them to combine and share their meals. This choice is exactly what characterizes the Gen Y population. Experimentation and creation of a unique harmony of flavors encourages them to express themselves further. Inspiration is often the result, with photos of food shared on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and in other social media. And in doing so, reflecting the popularity of the restaurant or brand.

Technology supports differentiation

It's also a sophisticated solution for communicating with guests. Intelligent, modern technology that augments service is the latest way to keep diners connected to the restaurant as often as possible. It allows restaurants to send messages not only by SMS, but over popular IM networks as well, such as WhatsApp, WeChat and FB Messenger. This is already an expectation in international markets, but it's quickly becoming popular in the U.S. This open communication makes guest service much easier for restaurants, but more importantly, it enables the type of guest contact that younger populations desire. Whether sending text notifications when a reservation is confirmed or a table is ready, it serves as an easy way to stay engaged. Perhaps even more important is two-way communication, which allows the guest to respond with reservation changes, giving them more opportunity to customize their own experience.

Technology can provide a simple channel for users to track and redeem loyalty points, or place orders in advance. Loyalty features of the software can ping the guest with an upcoming seat at the chef's table or other featured events. It draws more people to the restaurant using proximity alerts. The continuity of these communications before and after the dining experience will further promote high levels of personalization and guest retention.

Navigating Loyalty

Most diners are willing to share a little information in exchange for a personalized experience, and as a result, restaurants have more guest data than ever before. They're also empowered to use the guest data in ways that surprise and delight diners who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. Using data to create loyalty and marketing notifications can uncover a goldmine in positive reviews and repeat business. It gives restaurant managers and staff access to information that facilitates a deeper understanding of their diners. Curating a personalized experience via technology means knowing when the guest has dined there before, and the fact that they always order dessert. It helps provide the highest level of service personalization and always results in increased guest satisfaction.

Well-Rounded Technology

Millennials show great interest in what they eat and drink, and enjoy exploring new ingredients and menu items. Not yet "foodies", where they most commonly spend their dollars is heavily influenced by social sharing. Social media provides an abundance of knowledge about healthy foods and unique menu offerings, both of which are increasingly influencing the diner's awareness about which venues are good and which are not. Integrated restaurant technology enables this promotion, and helps owners meet the needs and habits of this demanding population.

There are several interconnecting pieces forming the foundation of an exceptional dining experience. And while there are stand-alone apps that help increase guest engagement, they aren't sufficient on their own. An independent solution used solely for back-of-the-house purposes is not guest-centric enough, and therefore doesn't have the ability to capture the all-important guest data. A solution that's not capable of integrating with other technologies, including those the restaurant may be using already or will later adopt, can limit overall productivity, not to mention the restaurant's growth potential.

Interoperability enables a smarter, more connected and more empowered service staff. It gives the entire front-of-the house the reliability of data to help create an extraordinary guest experience. Integrating a table reservations system and the restaurant's point-of-sale helps the staff to deliver service that goes well beyond knowing that the guest has a peanut allergy or a preferred red wine. It helps boost the server's ability to provide highly-personalized service and creates unprecedented opportunities to tailor individual experiences using data from the combined systems. When guest information from multiple sources is merged using technology, diner profiles are expanded to help identify critical trends and opportunities that don't exist without this technology-based integration. This includes data about typical spending patterns, with insights into behaviors or habits that help restaurants drive customized offers and incentives that are proven to lift revenue and increase loyalty.

The Future Brings Increased Efficiency

Kiosk and touchscreen technologies are steadily growing in popularity as millennials look for alternative ways to interact with businesses. Restauranteurs are using kiosk solutions to promote new products, even suggesting additional items that might accompany the guest's intended purchase. Upselling the old, manual way relies heavily on the individual who is taking the order. During the busiest periods, upselling offers greater opportunity to increase average sales, but it often becomes the lowest priority for the individual order-taker who is working frantically to bust the line and reduce the queue. That's where the power of touchscreen technology helps reduce friction. Restaurants can even promote the most commonly purchased items by other, like-minded diners. This suggestive sell technology enhances the overall digital experience while often increasing the bottom line. Studies show that this self-serve shopping experience leads to guests spending more, boosting overall sales.

As automation tools continue to advance in functionality, security and reliability, owners and managers see quantifiable returns. Building guest loyalty, reducing labor costs, saving time, maximizing sales and building brand exposure are all compelling reasons to expand workflows in support of self-serve technologies. Kiosks are an inevitable future. They are expected to have an increasing presence across hospitality segments. At dining venues, they offer an affordable way to streamline food and beverage purchasing experiences. Through each touchscreen interaction, guests are actually building a relationship with the restaurant, augmenting revenue opportunities and increasing brand exposure.

For younger populations, their way of living, their environment and their daily requirements are different than preceding generations. Variety and personalization will continue to be important as technology initiatives flourish. Their habits will be documented with smartphones by friends and shared on social media. Restaurants need to adapt to their needs to draw their attention.

This rising demand for authenticity is shaking up the restaurant industry. Established brands should continue to capitalize on this shift by offering menu items with high-quality, organic ingredients that can be customized and served quickly. Such unique offerings have helped the industry sustain growth over the past few years. Providing an exclusive dining experience, attractive engagement and granting diners a means for their own self-expression will go a long way to securing Millennials' business. Modern restaurant technology is the driving force that makes it possible.

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