Ten years ago the term Web 2.0 was popularized to explain the shift from static to dynamic content and today, in a market of infinite data and social commerce, it’s already passé. The Web and business has hit 3.0 and industries that are intimately tied to consumer reviews, such as foodservice and hospitality, are finding themselves in the midst of massive, consumer-driven change. At the 19th annual MURTEC® (Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference; www.murtec.com), a record number of 630+ food service and technology executives met for three days (March 18-20, 2014; Caesars Palace Las Vegas) to network and share ideas for keeping pace with this rapid change.
This year’s program was built around the concept: “Restaurants 3.0: Keeping Pace with Rapid Innovation.” In addition to a variety of educational sessions, this year also saw the debut of MURTEC University, a series of small-group sessions led by topic experts in a classroom setting. The goal was to provide attendees with an action plan for rolling out specific categories of technology in their restaurants. These educational sessions rapidly filled to capacity and received high marks from attendees who noted in their feedback, for example, that “instructors did a good job of tailoring the content to the interest and knowledge-level of the group.” Four sessions were offered: How to Go Mobile! Roadmap to Rolling out Guest and Enterprise Mobile Solutions; Getting Started with Cloud Migration: Data Storage & Email; Moving to Cloud-Based POS; and Utilizing SQL Reporting Services.
On the main stage, the overall theme of rapid innovation was established early on as Keynote Speaker Jim Carroll, global futurist and author, kick-started the conference with his engaging keynote address, “Restaurants 3.0: A Global Futurist’s Take on Consumer Trends, Food Service and Innovation.” In addition to likening mobile payments to teenage sex (no one’s doing it as much as they say; and those who are, aren’t very good at it), Carroll shared this wisdom: “The big will not beat the small; the fast will beat the slow.” Carroll furthered his point by noting that 60 percent of Apple’s revenue comes from products that didn’t exist four years ago. “Can your business earn 60 percent of its revenue from products that don’t exist today?” he prompted.
The conference also welcomed executives from Facebook’s restaurant vertical. Steve Governale, group director and Raj Talwar, client partner, shared how the social media platform can be utilized to help restaurants enhance customer engagement and drive sales. First-time MURTEC attendee Sarah Kim, director of marketing for Asian Box, shared her key takeaway from the session stating that social networking is constantly changing. “Hearing Facebook talk about how they are changing the architecture of Facebook mobile just proves that you have to roll with everything,” Kim said. “The most sound advice is to know where your customers are and be there – whatever it’s called it doesn’t matter. Things will keep changing, so just be there and be fast.”
The exhibit hall showcased solutions from more than 60 technology providers, including those in the “New Vendor Showcase,” an exhibit reserved for vendors who have not before participated at MURTEC. Networking with sponsors and peers remains a top draw for MURTEC attendees. When it comes to purchasing priorities, live audience polling revealed that 26% of restaurant executives at MURTEC are most likely to invest in POS initiatives in the coming year. A close second was mobile devices with 24% and that was followed by loyalty at 20%. These priorities are in line with findings from HT’s “2014 Restaurant Technology Study,” the full results of which were presented during one of MURTEC’s educational sessions. Other hot topics included wireless networking and converged infrastructure. How-to educational sessions were presented by those with first-hand experience, such as Tom Gergets, senior director of global infrastructure services with McDonald’s Corporation, who spoke on “Connectivity in Your Restaurant,” and Chris Andrews, vice president of IT with On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, who spoke on “Converged Infrastructure: The Path to Risk Reduction, Increased Uptime and Layered Security.”
One of the most talked-about sessions of the event was led by the chief marketing officer from Canada’s largest pizza chain, Alex Green of Boston Pizza. Green took to the stage to share Boston Pizza’s shift away from a points-based loyalty program, to a marketing strategy that uses technology to improve the in-restaurant experience. At the core, stressed Green, restaurants need to focus on providing great food and great service rather than gimmicks. “Facebook didn’t invent friends any more than loyalty programs invented loyalty,” Green said, as he urged restaurants to refocus their marketing spend on technology that creates a more satisfying experience which in turn, he noted, is ultimately what builds loyalty.
Next year, MURTEC celebrates its 20th anniversary. The event returns to Caesars Palace Las Vegas, March 17 -19, 2015. Full details will be available on www.murtec.com.