My assistant recently recommended a restaurant that had opened in our area and was using iPads as menus instead of paper. Knowing of my keen interest in hospitality technology, she believed that I would appreciate this tech-savvy establishment’s forward-looking use of modern conveniences. I decided to give it a shot.
Upon arriving at the restaurant, a smiling hostess greeted me and my two colleagues. However, that smile disappeared the moment we were seated, because she became engrossed with the device she was carrying. Later, we found out that she was entering server and table numbers into the system. We were given two iPad menus even though we were a party of three. When asked why this was the case, the server explained that during busy mealtimes there are not enough iPads to go around, so guests are required to share.
Service snafus: when technology hinders instead of helps
While the hostess should have been personalizing our experience and giving us her full attention, she was busy crunching codes into a system. This part of the experience alone was a clear case of technology getting in the way of service.
I waited while my colleagues placed their orders. Then I had my turn with the iPad menu. I was excited about the prospect of seeing the pictures, videos, and a list of bestselling items that I was confident this dynamic menu environment would offer. I was also curious to see if I would have the ability to eliminate meals that included pork, since I do not eat that particular meat. Much to my surprise and disappointment, the iPad menu was basically no different than a paper menu and it didn’t offer any of the bells and whistles I was anticipating.
I asked myself, what is the reason for this investment if it is not going to add anything to the dining experience? What does this system offer to justify the expense? Why would an owner or restaurant manager approve a technology rollout without answering these imperative questions?
Complications continued when one colleague’s food was delivered before the rest of the table’s. Since we all made our meal selections separately, the orders went to the kitchen at different times and the food preparation and delivery followed suit. Of course, we insisted that our tablemate begin to eat. Then my other colleague’s food came out and he also started to eat. Right after they finished, my food came and then they watched me eat. It was not an enjoyable experience.
This reminded me of a similar instance when my hopes for updated technology were dashed during a hotel check-in. I was staying at a five-star luxury brand hotel in Europe. When I received my room key, I noticed that it was a smart card that cost about $10 per card as compared to magnetic stripe keycards that cost 10 cents or less. When I opened my door with this expensive key card, I observed that it did nothing more impressive than a regular magnetic stripe card. Once again: What was the purpose of the new technology? I could not use that card as an e-wallet; I could not use that card to open multiple doors.
Harnessing the potential for technology and ROI
I want to be offered an electronic menu that can be customized based on my preferences. The technology should be capable of presenting personalized food choices by allowing guests to specify food allergies or specific dietary requirements. It should also list the top sellers, show reviews by previous guests, and allow me to post my review on the menu for future guests and on my social networks. The next generation of restaurant tech has the potential to show an insider view of the restaurant with short but rich menus that will convince me to order higher profit margin items, wine or other beverages.
I believe that we are very close to this reality, and some in the industry may already be leveraging the rich features that this technology provides. If you’re leveraging in-store electronic menus for some of this functionality, please tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.