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Tracking restaurant technology in 2014

Technology increasingly played a role in restaurant chain operations across the board this year, but one trend in particular stood out in 2014: mobile ordering and payment.Restaurant chains from Starbucks to Taco Bell rolled out or took the first step toward allowing guests to order ahead and pay via smartphone. Next year, no doubt, many more chains will go mobile in what for some could be a consumer-facing game changer.

Starbucks, for example, next year isplanning to take mobile ordering a step further by offering delivery in certain markets. Chick-fil-A’s mobile ordering feature will include the option of having food delivered curbside to the car in some locations.

Next year will be all about execution. The key will be in how well newly mobile chains adjust to the additional throughput pressures of balancing incoming digital orders with those from customers already in the store.

The launch of Apple Pay, the proprietary mobile payment system of Apple Inc., this year also marked the beginning of new era in mobile payment.

McDonald’s, Subway and Panera Bread are among the brands accepting the smartphone payment method, which is preloaded on Apple’s new iPhone 6. Independent restaurants also are increasingly accepting Apple Pay through the OpenTable reservation service.

Casual-dining chains moved into online ordering, with brands like Olive Garden, Johnny Rockets and Buffalo Wild Wings joining Applebee’s and Chili’s in putting touch-screen tablets in restaurants.

A common goal: Removing the “pain point” of waiting for the check at the end of the meal.

For some brands, however, the tabletop tablets also offered other means of incremental income. At Johnny Rockets, the tablets also serve as jukebox. Buffalo Wild Wings is offering sports content, video poker and trivia games.

Touch-screen technology was also explored at McDonald’s. After testing a build-your-own burger feature in four units in Southern California, McDonald’s this yearannounced the expansion of its Create Your Taste program to as many as 2,000 locations next year. The platform features touch-screen kiosks at which guests can fully customize a burger of their own creation.

Digital ordering technology gave pizza-delivery chains Domino’s and Papa John’s a big boost this year. Both chains say the number of orders coming in through various digital channels is rapidly rising – reaching 40 percent for Domino’s and 50 percent for Papa John’s this year.

The pizza industry in general has pioneered the move away from phone orders, training consumers to think first of turning to their computers or smartphones when in the mood for a pie.

As a result, brands are shifting to more responsive websites. Donato’s Pizza, for example, relaunched its website this year with a more responsive design that will optimize itself for use on desktop computer, smartphone or tablet.

Pizza Hut is reportedly exploring the use of eye-tracking technology on a tablet that it calls a “subconscious menu.” It watches where your eyes linger, eliminating the need for tiresome tapping on a screen.

Next up: menu boards. Wetzel’s Pretzels last month debuted new digital menu boardswith animation that features charming little blue bakers who open up a world behind the menu screen.

Watch the animation featured on the new Wetzel’s Pretzels menu boards:

As restaurant chains move forward with tech innovations next year, a likely theme will be the link to loyalty programs, offering brands a new opportunity to target their marketing efforts and collect data that will better drive results.

As Mark Mears, chief marketing officer for Schlotzsky’s, told Nation’s Restaurant News earlier this year, technology is not just about creating a “wow” factor.

“Rather, use the data, information and insights that technology provides to engage your guests on a more intimate, one-to-one level,” he said. “This will elevate your brand from a surface-level transactional exchange to a deeper, more relational level with your guests.”

Written by Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com via Nation’s Restaurant News.


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