3 Ways Tech is Improving the Dining-in Experience

New restaurant openings used to feel infrequent, rare, and risky. Today, new concepts can be easily tested in a food truck, and capital can be raised through services like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

In Austin alone, over 18 new restaurants are planned to open this fall. There’s would-be restaurateurs using a food truck to trial a concept, like the local food truck Gourdough’s, which recently expanded into a full pub/restaurant in addition to keeping their original trailer open. Then there’s payment options like PayPal’s Pay Here service, which launched during SXSW and allows users to check in on their phones and pay without having to touch their wallets.

As a result, competition and the need for differentiation, outside of the actual food eating experience is heating up. Here are three ways this is happening.

1. Online infrastructure consolidation

Before stepping through the door of a restaurant, you have choices for how you interact with them. OpenTable, one of the premier providers of restaurant reservations, was recently acquired by Priceline. This was an early industry example of a single company trying to take care of the tourist experience from end to end. Most recently Uber opened their API, allowing Uber to appear as an option in apps outside of its own.

2. Vending and distribution

A vending machine that makes a pizza in 90 seconds sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it’s already been prototyped and is going to be hitting the streets of Los Angeles in the next five months.

The same parent company already produces vending machines that make burritos, with the owner saying that the idea behind the “Pizza Box” is “…to introduce the concept as the new drive-thru “ATM” or “AFFM” — Automated Fast Food Machine.”

But faster access isn’t just for junk food. Austin locals MyFitFoods and Snap Kitchen aim to make healthy food more convenient with options including curbside pickup, delivery, and online ordering of ready-to-eat meals that are made with fresh, local ingredients. This removes the “fast and unhealthy” or “slow and healthy” dichotomy and makes it easier for time-strapped people to still eat health-consciously.

3. In-dining technology experience

Both Chili’s and Applebees have started using on-table tablets to streamline the ordering process in store. This has a few interesting effects on the experience for the user, the server, and the business:

  • Users don’t feel like they have to justify what they’re eating to others, specifically the server. (Realistically, the server doesn’t care what the customer purchases, but it’s human nature to feel like others are watching and judging our decisions.)
  • Upsell additions were higher too, possibly because of that same reason, with Chili’s stating that sales of both appetizers and desserts are 20% higher on average with the tablet-equipped locations.
  • The tablets include games and entertainment, which undoubtedly can make the wait easier when customers have hungry children at hand.
  • The overall eating experience is streamlined due to the user’s ability to pay without waiting on a server; Ziosk (the tablet provider for Chili’s) found that restaurant visits were five minutes shorter, on average.
  • Tips were, on average, higher when Chili’s did a test rollout of the tablets—partially because the tablet defaults to a 20% tip and the user has to take action to change that.

The end results of these new experiences can create more satisfied customers and staff. McDonald’s and White Castle are implementing similar ordering kiosks, and it’s not far-fetched to think this type of ordering will emerge as a new norm soon.

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