Restaurant technology executives flooded into Las Vegas last week to attend one of the longest-standing conferences in the space, the Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference, better known as MURTEC. And as Qu’s new CMO I was thrilled to get a front-row seat at the show.
Touting over 800 strong, restaurant tech leaders from Table Service, Fast Casual, and Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) came together to discuss all the new opportunities and challenges presented by technology’s infusion into the restaurant world. Representatives from fan favorite brands were in good company, with Wendy’s, Five Guys, Sweetgreen, Chick-fil-A, Applebee’s, Sonic, Taco Bell, Qdoba, and Starbucks all on the scene. Talk about tasty!
As a newbie (aka, noob or “n00b” in tech speak) to the restaurant industry and MURTEC, I came into the conference knowing very little and left with a super-charged education on all things restaurant and technology related. And it’s not a simple equation to solve. While automating restaurant functions and activities seems like a fairly straight-forward activity, it has become overly complex due to the high number of integrations and vendors involved, and the prevalence of legacy tech solutions still in play. Regardless, the industry is ripe for new thinking, modern approaches, and rapid evolution to keep pace with the super-savvy and demanding digital consumer.
Here are my top 6 highlights from MURTEC:
(Sidenote: any mention of digital transformation was intentionally omitted, because it’s just too obvious and such a given in our world today…. Everything is about digital transformation!)
1. The Dinner Crisis, Changing Consumer & Stay-at-Home Economy
The new generation of diners — along with the high volume of millennials and digital natives dining at Fast Casual and QSR brands — has changed the face of the consumer. Not only have consumer demands shifted toward more tech-centric services, but we have what Carl Howard, CEO at Fazoli’s, called a “Dinner Crisis” on our hands. There’s been a shift to off-premises dining, resulting in a hyper focus on delivery services. Howard said FC and QSR chains will need to have a dinner solution in place soon, in order to stop losing evening market share to alternative food providers like grocery stores and meal delivery kits.
He emphasized the need to talk to our guests more directly and more often, as they are talking about us to the world in record levels.
“We must create an online, takeout and delivery experience with the same passion as the dine in experience.” – Carl Howard, CEO, Fazoli’s
Howard also predicted that virtual kitchens and multi-branded facilities will come online soon, further challenging market share.
2. The [Not-So-Silent] Call for API Standards
With retail chains light-years ahead of the restaurant industry, tech leaders from major brands all agreed on one thing: the time is ripe for API standards… now! After all, retail successfully achieved this nirvana state over ten years ago! Across numerous presentations and sessions, tech leaders from all brands of all sizes were not bashful about voicing the dire need for better API flexibility, extensibility, and openness to drive speed and more seamless, integrated delivery from the massive vendor and partner ecosystem.
3. Delivery Storms … and Rainbows
With third-party delivery on the rise across the board, many tech leaders are whirling around in the eye of the storm, trying to cater to a changing consumer mindset that wants customized convenience delivered to their door, while third-party delivery services can easily charge more than 30%–leaving profits at risk. Tech experts predict future consolidations among the many 3rd party delivery services today (more than 80 on last count; hundreds if you count college campuses!), and the opportunity for large platform providers (like POS) to partner with these conglomerates and drive rates down.
4. Guest Loyalty and Data Collection
Shocking for a newcomer like me to this industry, but restaurants and tech providers are slow to adopt and harness the power of guest data and analytics to drive better insights around guest loyalty programs. It seems like a few are doing it fairly well, but most are wishing they could just figure out how to simply collect, collate, and summarize guest data — and in real time. With third-party delivery systems now in the middle of so many transactions, restaurants are left with only small pieces of the whole guest data picture. On top of that, UberEats has built its own loyalty program, threatening guest-brand loyalty even further. Interestingly, Chipotle recently announced a new partnership with Venmo geared to drive better loyalty and convenience for the cashless, on-the-go consumer.
Leading technology providers are working hard to integrate CRM capabilities within their POS environments to help brands leverage guest data in a more meaningful way; to strengthen loyalty, boost revenues, and deliver a 360 degree view of the customer.
5. Women at the Forefront of Restaurant’s Technology Transformation
On the heels of International Women’s Day, MURTEC didn’t miss a beat by taking time to recognize female leaders driving technology transformation in their respective organizations. Among the winners were Carissa DeSantis, Director of IT at TGI Fridays; Cacy Merrifield, Director of Program Management at Sonic; Laura Kirkwood, Head of Innovation & Customer Experience at Merrivale; and Sif Rai, CMO at QikServe. Congrats ladies, you rock!
Separating the two awards ceremonies was an insightful presentation by Laura Rea Dickey, CEO of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, who showcased impressive technology innovations at Dickey’s and underscored the importance of returning the focus to the kitchen and guest services, while acknowledging that technology is now a requirement to be successful in the restaurant industry. She walked the audience through Dickey’s six key technology systems, all designed around the end-user and built to be analytics-first and recession-proof, a lesson learned in the aftermath of 2008. Voice-enabled technology was the most impressive innovation highlighted by Dickey’s who is actually using this much-talked about capability in their kitchens for temperature control and inventory management.
6. Results from the 2019 Restaurant Technology Study
Lots of juicy data was released in the new report by Hospitality Technology, headlining under the tagline: “Exponential Digital Drives Quantum Convenience.” The report noted that IT budgets are on the rise—52% of operators plan to increase technology budgets in 2019—as post-digital disruption continues to emphasize super-charged service and customization. Key takeaways and stats from the report included:
- 78% of innovators say delivering tech projects faster is the #1 challenge and priority. The number 2 challenge they face is being held back by legacy systems. Obviously these two challenges go hand in hand.
- Top 3 strategic objectives for tech in 2019 are to improve business and customer analytics (40%); digital customer engagement and loyalty (38%); and increase employee efficiency and productivity (29%).
- 33% of digital engagement leaders said enhanced payment and data security; and partnering with third party delivery services are top objectives.
- Top items on the tech innovation agenda are: Third party delivery integration (48%); mobile payments (47%); and digital ordering (45%).
With restaurant sales reaching $825 billion in 2018, the report painted a positive picture for growth in the industry, while noting that the world has changed and brands of all sizes are grappling with how to best service the “at-home consumer” and delivery culture. Keeping pace with the seamless omni-channel ordering spectrum, from mobile to online to in-store kiosks, and beyond, was a major topic of discussion. Restaurants now realize that in-store activity is no longer the best barometer of success.
There were many more interesting sessions and topics, but one can only soak in so much at a conference. And with Vegas as the main backdrop for the event, there was plenty of delicious food, excellent dining, and entertainment to absorb. Viva Las Vegas, Viva MURTEC, and Viva Foodies everywhere!
The Qu Crew at MURTEC