As the speed of innovation continues to surge, the restaurant industry is taking advantage of new tools to ramp up operational efficiency and connect with guests more effectively.

Technology experts at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show Saturday, May 17 explored how technology, predominantly the adoption of mobile tools, is changing everything from back-of-house accounting to front-of-house table service to corporate marketing.

“The technology revolution is not coming, it’s here,” said A.T. Toroyan, chief operating and development officer for Tossed Franchise Corp., a made-to-order salad concept. “It’s not if we’re going to get on board, it’s when.”

“Today, it’s faster and less expensive to do some really powerful things. We’re on the verge of a new era of the restaurant business,” added David Gilbert, president of the hospitality group for Heartland Payment Systems. “Prior, big companies had a competitive advantage, but some of the things at today’s show cost a comparatively small amount of money. Lots of things can be added to your business to help it grow without breaking the bank.”

For example, Mike Gibbons, c.e.o. of Mainstreet Ventures, has begun implementing digital menus at his portfolio of fine-dining restaurants that includes Real Seafood Company, Gratzi, Blue Pointe Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar, Ciao and others. At the Chop House in Ann Arbor, MI, guests can scroll through a tablet menu that includes photos and provides more detailed information on dishes. An algorithm behind the scenes pairs food with wine. Once they choose their meal, diners are automatically shown a handful of Chop House’s 360 wines that would pair well.

“We don’t run out of anything anymore. If we run out of something it disappears from the menu,” Gibbons said. “When we want to implement new menu prices, we can roll it out in one day and we don’t need to print menus.”

But technology shouldn’t replace staff, experts said. Instead, technology should be used to give employees more ability to enhance the guest experience, according to Toroyan. “Employees can spend more time focusing on increasing their average check and making sure food is delivered to their liking and is timely,” he noted.

Gibbons says digital menus and even mobile ordering won’t eliminate the need for servers. In three to four years a server’s job will be different, he observed, describing an environment where servers are more like hosts to an area of the restaurant.

Mobile technology in particular is helping restaurateurs learn more about their guests and drive repeat visits. Matt Wise, c.e.o. of HelloWorld, a software company specializing in promotions and loyalty solutions, said consumers are changing their behavior and brands are adapting. He noted that 61 percent of young people refer to social media to decide where to go out.

“If you’re running a restaurant and you don’t have an aggressive social platform, you’re missing out on a large market,” Wise advised the audience. “If you’re thinking about how to reach your customers and you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, you’ve got to learn how to market on a cell phone.”

At Diversified Restaurant Holdings, c.f.o. and treasurer David Burke said the 19 Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern locations use consumer engagement via mobile to learn more about the customer profile. It provides data on demographics such as income level and family size that the brand can use to drive marketing efforts.

“We allow the guest to customize their experience and we understand how important it is to learn our customer base,” he explained.

Burke said wage pressures are going to cause restaurant owners to change the way they operate to remain profitable, adding: “I think technology is going to be a huge part in that.”