Taking Technology to the Street: Apps for Consultants

In the foodservice industry, apps that allow consumers to make reservations and place food orders tend to garner most of the attention. But a growing number of apps and other technological developments continue to quietly emerge the marketplace, allowing foodservice designers and consultants to work more collaboratively and remotely, thus enhancing project management skills and communication among all members of the team regardless of location.

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Mobile and tablet technology has grown popular among restaurants when it comes to ordering, customer interaction and menu displaying.

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In fact, Chicago-based research firm Technomic noted that more than half of the consumers in its consumer-facing technology report said they believe it's important that restaurants integrate digital ordering into their platforms. Technomic found only three percent of consumers expect to use technology less at their favorite restaurants next year. Technology research firm Gartner also anticipated mobile payment transactions would grow by 61.9 percent this year.

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But mobile technology, apps, tablets and other digital platforms are also becoming popular among foodservice and restaurant consultants for use in their businesses. As consultants branch out of their immediate geographical boundaries to form new partnerships and work on national projects, these solutions are becoming more of a necessity than something that's just nice to have. This is particularly the case when, for example, face-to-face meetings are not possible.

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And, as consultants continue to ramp up their travel to conduct site visits and connect with more geographically diverse partners, they're relying on their touchscreen tablets and the multitude of available apps to showcase projects, share ideas and photos, review plans and more. It's all about online collaboration.

Arlene Spiegel, FCSI, principal at Arlene Spiegel & Associates, and Georgie Shockey of Ruck Shockey and Associates both rely on the online program GoToMeeting to connect with their clients and project team players outside of traditional face-to-face meetings. Skype also works for video conferencing when you want to go beyond a phone call but can't make a face-to-face.

"We started using our GoToMeeting subscription about four years ago, and each year we do more and more with it," Shockey says, noting that the program works by connecting collaborators through both a dial-in phone conferencing system and web-based slideshow for presentations. GoToMeeting also allows participants to "unmute" themselves to weigh in on conversations or post questions in an online box that the meeting leader can see. Many webinars are now conducted using this medium as well. "We are hosting a ton of sessions with 1 to 20 clients for education and best practice sharing. We review statistics, data, reports, plans, you name it. I already travel 100,000 air miles on average a year. This saves me and my clients time and money. I bet it results in at least 25,000 fewer air miles a year! In one recent meeting, we reviewed retail survey data to determine how we could best redevelop spaces in the main café for a hospital based on what customers were telling us."

Shockey says she also uses www.hatchwise.com to create custom logos and other designs for some of her operator clients. For a fee, users can post their business name, mission statement and other written words to the site to start a "contest" for various designers to propose their work. The chosen designs are suitable for websites, business cards, signage and other marketing materials.

Shockey and Spiegel also use Google docs and Dropbox, two other online programs that help consultants share ideas and materials. The programs allow users to create shared folders and grant colleagues and other collaborators access to those files from anywhere and at any time. Shared users can make edits and comments to existing files as well as upload new files, photos, drawings, even music and videos. The online component also makes it easier to transfer these larger size documents that have a tendency to overload email or fall into spam folders. This comes in handy during site visits when taking high-def, panorama photos, a feature many smartphones and tablets now offer.

In addition to Dropbox, Shockey uses YouSendIt and FTP sites to upload high-res images and large PDFs. "These programs have made things so much easier, and greener; think, no UPS, FedEx shipping or endless printing of paper documents," she says.

When it comes to tablets, many consultants say they won't even leave their office without the device, including Spiegel and Eric Norman, FCSI, who swear by their iPads. "We use our iPads now on site visits instead of carrying a full roll of documents," Norman says. "We put everything on PDFs and load them to our iPad or access them through different apps." Some apps allow users to mark up documents right there on the spot, no pen needed. "You can circle different things on a drawing and type in a note here or there. For mobility it's been great," Norman says.

For a list of apps utilized by foodservice consultants see page 2.

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