As a technologist and foodie, the easy answer would be something like “we’ll order from Alexa, (other voice assistants are available!) to communicate dining preference to a bunch of super intelligent cyborgs in the kitchen”. But I think that’s a crude use of technology and probably not that useful. No, I think this will be a hidden war.

When most people go out for dinner, the service and experience is a big part of it. While technology has a huge amount to offer, the best restaurants will use it to augment their understanding of the customer and to provide the best experiences – not to replace how we interact today. (Sorry Arnie)

So, the experience of the future will be the same? No, there will be massive enhancements in pre and post dining (more on that another day). The dining experience itself on the outside will appear very similar. with the exception it will be turned up to 11 EVERY TIME.

Let me share a recent story and how it could have looked with a little bit of hidden tech:

I’m lucky enough to frequent a local restaurant that serves exceptional food and service (and I mean exceptional). I’m a believer on tipping according to the service received and not just for the sake of it. So, it’s not uncommon for me to tip more than the usual amounts because it really is that good. But, recently, they had an off-night (like real off!) and I didn’t tip anything, not £1.

“The lost opportunity to learn”

Now let’s ignore the few quid they lost that night, that’s small fry. The bigger picture here is how that plays on future bookings and stories that get told, but MOST importantly it’s the lost opportunity to learn. I’m a semi-regular; they should know my tastes, they should know how I tip, they should know my social handles. If I was the manager I’d like to know why one of my regular, good tippers, decided to not tip, not post that picture on Instagram, or… you get the point. Understanding customer experience isn’t about throwing an iPad in their lap after the meal to get a review or responding to bad reviews online. It’s about knowing your customers, knowing their preferences and monitoring it.

Even with issues, you can recover and still turn it up to 11! Let’s play out one of the many scenarios that could have happened with a little bit of tech helping out behind the scenes.

Restaurant systems have been alerted that a usually prolific Instagram food poster hasn’t posted this evening. It knows that the individual has usually posted within x minutes for a meal they like, and this has passed (opportunity to act #1, we’ll ignore this for brevity this time round). The end of dinner approaches, the bill is delivered, payment is made, and the tip isn’t in line with usual amount. As payment is made, the manager is informed so as the customers leave she can give a friendly handshake and a “We’re sorry, our game was off this evening, there is glass of champagne waiting for you next time you’re down” and you guessed it, when they come back the system lets you know so that glass of champagne is ready and waiting.

This is a super simple example and in reality, it will go much deeper, we’ll be:

  1. Predicting what they will order based on social pictures they post; where their eyes focus on the menu before their visit; what they eat elsewhere. So, no more “sorry that’s sold out” for the customer, and more accurate stock orders for restaurant (read as “less waste and higher revenue per table”).
  2. We’ll know if the customer isn’t going to show, or is simply stuck in traffic. We’ll know their ETA, and if it’s a split group we’ll know that half the party is going to be waiting and save them a space at the bar. The section server will know this to better plan how she runs her time and tables.
  3. We’ll understand the customer context for the evening; romantic dinner, mates having a chilled one, business, etc. People want to interact differently depending on what’s going in with them…

I’m just scratching the surface – but what excites me most about technology colliding with dining isn’t the replacement of people, but the invisible additions that will lead to awesome experiences. Along the way we’ll reduce food waste, create better working conditions for a hard graft industry and help restaurants retain the best talent.

In some respects, I think dinner is the last frontier for face to face conversation. So, let’s keep technology hidden as long as we can.

Agree/disagree!? Let me know 🙂

Tom Ridges | tom@tealight.co