Understanding next-generation avenues in foodservice design and consulting.

 Here’s the thing: new forms of restaurant and foodservice technology — from upgraded, integrated POS and data collection platforms to cashier-less checkouts, self-serve ordering kiosks and more — are here, and they’re not going away. As such, while foodservice consultants and designers have not traditionally had to deal with researching this type of technology or specifying the infrastructure for it, that could change very soon.

“As consultants, the technologies and new platforms growing around us will continue to become an important part of our practice,” says Joseph Schumaker, FCSI, principal of SGC FoodSpace, who has researched and specified technology software and hardware on behalf of his B&I operator clients. “We should learn as much as we can about these new technologies because we have the chance to be an important part of their development. We should be a part of this movement because the more we know, the more we can improve our clients’ lives and business productivity.”

Technology can essentially work its way into anywhere a transaction takes place, Schumaker says. Chain restaurants — particularly those in the fast-casual sector — embrace technology in all mediums, and they may have designated IT staff. It’s the smaller restaurants and noncommercial operators that could really use an expert’s help.

Here, Schumaker outlines some of the different technologies foodservice operators use and the research and hardware these solutions require.

Self-serve ordering kiosks

Thirty-seven percent of restaurant operators consider the customer ordering process to be the most important area of development, according to a 2016 survey from the National Restaurant Association. That’s where self-serve kiosks come into play. Already embraced by McDonald’s, KFC, Sweetgreen, Shake Shack and Honeygrow and Wow Bao in Chicago, many colleges/universities and healthcare facilities now include the staffless machines in their operations as well. Not only can the kiosks cut down on labor costs, they can also help reduce lines, increase order accuracy, upsell items and allow for on-the-fly menu adjustments, such as removing eighty-sixed items and adding discounts. One maker of these kiosks also offers pickup warming cubbies to stage online orders for easy customer pickup when they come out of the kitchen. 

Design and specification needs: space at the front of the store or throughout a cafeteria for these kiosks, along with ample space in between each to allow patrons enough room to stand and place their order; kiosk stands (if not included) in the form of countertop mounts and brackets; NSF-certified stands and screen protectors to prevent damage from accidental spills and other effects of high-volume use; secure bolting to stands for theft prevention; space to securely store and charge tablets in an office or on a locked cart overnight; ADA-accessibility, which might require counter height adjustments; built-in scales for customers to weigh out and pay for build-your-own salads in cafeteria-like settings.

Tablet-based checkout

While some operators shy away from self-serve ordering kiosks, others have done away with old-school cash registers in favor of tablets as the new order taker and payment method at the counter. Like self-serve ordering kiosks, many of these programs come with elaborate data tracking and analysis, and can house loyalty programs and other back-end information services. Some can sync in-store activity with online ordering history to track customer preferences and behaviors; note top sellers and tippers; monitor peak selling times and more.

Design and specification needs: Countertop cut-outs for tablets and power sources at the main order line; swivel-ready, NSF-certified stands that allow staff to turn tablets toward the customer for payment; additional add-ons like monitors for displaying names when orders are ready for pickup; data-drops for future Internet and cloud-based support enhancements.

Hand-held server ordering tools

Smartphone-size readers and other hand-held tablets hooked up to the main POS platform cut out the extra step of having to punch in orders on a stand-alone monitor, allowing servers in both full-service and hybrid settings to plug in orders at tables or even in lines that then go directly to the kitchen. They can help speed service, improve order accuracy, and even help boost sales by prompting servers to ask about appetizers, desserts, extra drinks and specials. With the advent of younger Millennial and Gen X servers in the marketplace, these smartphone-like tools are becoming more and more accepted over the simple pen and paper method. These devices will often be part of a contract with a technology provider, or set up as a month-to-month lease.

 Design and specification needs: secure lock-up space at night in an office or safe; charging station, cart or other setup with multiple hookups for recharging when not in use.

Digital menu boards

Many top chains have swapped out older model, static or infrequently rotating menu boards for top-of-the-line units that can synch across multiple locations when the menu changes, LTOs come online or other updates. Thirty six percent of operators would implement automatic price adjustment technology if available, per a National Restaurant Association study. And digital menu boards can facilitate this technology. Chains with more than 20 units must post nutrition information, which makes higher-end menu boards increasingly important and useful for both commercial and noncommercial operators with lots of moving parts.

 Design and specification needs: Cat 5 (Internet) cabling to a back office or computer or Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) at each menu board for on-site processing without the need for extra cables; for back-of-the-house display units, wall brackets and other mounting needs.