Technology is no longer a novelty in the food-service industry. It’s the key to survival and success. According to the recently released National Restaurant Association report “Restaurant Industry 2020: A Snapshot of the Future,” industry competition will continue to intensify in the years ahead, and operators will to have focus on offering elevated levels of food and service in tandem with technological enhancements. As new technology slowly creeps into the restaurant world, a picture of the future is emerging. No part of the dining experience will be untouched, from the way hungry diners choose their destination to the way they pay their bill.

Connecting Hungry Diners with Open Tables

Technology is all about empowering better choices: both for restaurants and their patrons. We’ve seen restaurants begin to offer online reservations and online advance ordering. Soon, guests may be able to search local restaurants based on current wait times and even purchase special offers sent via text, email and social media to entice visits during non-peak hours. During peak hours, guests will have the choice of a traditional pager or receiving a text to their cell phone, both managed seamlessly by a host with a centralized check-in system.

Customized, Dynamic Menus

According to the NRA, nearly four in 10 consumers say they’d be likely to use an electronic ordering system and menus on tablet computers. That number increases dramatically in the coveted 18 to 29 age demographic. Indeed, some restaurants have started using tablets at the table for ordering, and that’s just the beginning of what the technology can do.

Tablets allow restaurants to customize menus based on time of day, or they can emphasize highlighted specials and items with excess inventory. They can even tailor the menu to guest preferences for vegetarian, gluten-free or low-calorie selections. Digital menus also can help with upselling by suggesting additional menu items to go with a guest’s selection.

When a Menu is More Than a Menu

Tablets make great menus, but why stop there? More restaurants are choosing—or required—to provide detailed nutritional information. Tablet menus can allow guests to drill down on everything from calorie counts to ingredients. Tablets also can feature informative and entertaining games and videos, allowing restaurants to share content and promotions with adults while acting as a high-tech replacement to the coloring placemat and crayons for kids.

Putting a Bow on the Guest Experience

We’ve all had the experience of a great meal ruined by a 10-minute wait for the check or credit card slip. Tablets now enable tabletop checkout at the guest’s leisure. It's been reported that tablet-based checkout shaves seven minutes off the average diner’s stay. Furthermore, tablet-based checkout can be another point for gathering a customer’s email or cell phone information with an offer of digital coupons, something that 58 percent of restaurant-goers use on a regular basis, according to a recent survey by Technomic.