On the restaurant scene, has the “touch” become mechanical rather than personally engaged? You bet it has, particularly in certain sectors. Let’s see, we have that “Hierarchy of Feeds” (apologies to Dr. Maslow). You know, the following: fine dining, casual, fast food and TV dinner.
Certainly, the era of the TV dinner speaks to technology and bare ingredients – we have the television screen and the helpmate – the microwave – the original “touches” in dining. Well, now the next segment – fast food – is about to swallowed by technology and even the casual dining sector may have some harbingers laying in wait.
We may have thought that the “touch” was about service, but that has become muddled with just delivery. The fast food purveyors always tried to build the Brand with some type of homage to service. But, that was difficult, for all the customer really wanted was speed and order accuracy. A smile was the cherry topping, but there was little chance to establish a relationship, particularly on the go. So, technology has stepped in with many companies experimenting and others having platforms in place already. Let’s take a look at some.
Pizza Hut, with more than 6,200 locations, has developed “…an interactive table that functions essentially as a giant tablet app. Customers could use the app to choose the size of their pizzas with the same pinch-and-spread motions they might use on a smartphone or pick their toppings by swiping through an interactive menu.” With the Customer Experience foremost in mind, company spokesman, Doug Terfehr, said “... the interactive table is not an immediate market share play, but rather an attempt to make the user experience more enjoyable”. What fun, I can now play games while awaiting my pizza. As reported, in mid-January, Pizza Hut said it would open two new-prototype units that would sell pizza by the slice and upgrade the dine-in experience to incorporate fast-casual elements. Domino’s Pizza, a competitor, followed with its own announcement the next day that all of its nearly 11,000 units worldwide would be remodeled to the “Pizza Theater” prototype by the end of 2017. The pizza race is on!
As the National Restaurant News stated, “Tablet technology is top of mind for several restaurant chains, from a test of customizable burgers built with an iPad at a handful of McDonald’s restaurants to the systemwide adoption of tableside tablets for Applebee’sand Chili’s.” The Minneapolis-based casual-dining chain, Buffalo Wild Wings, uses 7-inch tablets to allow guests to order and pay at the table, as well as access complimentary and prepaid content like sports highlights or play video poker and trivia. They have a staggered roll-out plan afoot. According to Ben Nelson, VP of Guest Experience and Innovation, ”‘Buffalo Wild Wings’ tablets offer the interactive and entertainment experiences of playing trivia and video poker, as well as request certain channels on TVs nearby or certain songs to be played in the restaurant…” He added that the operational features, such as paging the “guest experience captains” or servers on the floor to bring the check, or ordering and paying from the tablet, are meant to complement ‘Buffalo Wild Wings’ “guest experience” model that also is spreading system-wide this year.
You almost feel you are on NCIS-Restaurants or Hawaii Five-O Dining with the pinch-and-spread application. These companies have certainly listened to their customers. You do wonder what their servers and staff are thinking about, as technology encroaches upon their traditional domain. For the operators, tablets or interactive tables do not have to be scheduled or earn overtime. There is a battle line coming, though – you can feel it on the horizon, particularly in the casual dining arena.
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
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