The use of technology is growing by leaps and bounds across the hospitality industry, and perhaps nowhere more noticeably than in the area of food and beverage. Today’s restaurants, including those in hotels, are quickly moving beyond basic point-of-sale technology to embrace solutions that improve overall business operations.
“Food and beverage is the most exciting space in hospitality right now,” said Mark Fancourt, cofounder of FOODnBEVTECH and TRAVHOTECH, companies dedicated to providing full-service consulting services to the travel and hospitality industry. “There’s so much opportunity for technology to make a positive difference in the way this sector operates.”
Fancourt is quick to point out that while innovative technology, such as robotics and drone delivery, often capture the headlines, some of the biggest shifts in the food and beverage space will be conceptual ones. “Basic business capabilities will change, and restaurants will alter way they do business to become more strategic and forward looking.” That’s not to say that high-tech solutions won’t play a role in the sector’s future. “Technology in the F&B area is accelerating at a rapid pace and will permeate every process in the industry, but some of the most important changes will happen behind the scenes.”
Following are six trends that Fancourt predicts will transform the food and beverage sector in the next few years.
1. Customer distribution channels will increase.
Currently, the food and beverage space is reminiscent of the hotel sector’s early days, Fancourt said. “It’s a single channel distribution model, with only a handful of third-party sites, such as OpenTable and Resy, dominating the space.” But that’s about to change, with consumers leading the charge. “Guests are accustomed to booking hotels across multiple channels, and they want the same capabilities when booking restaurants.” The future will include channel management for table spaces, which not only will distribute inventory to a broader audience but also will enable restaurants to chart their own course in the marketplace. “It will be about inventory management, pricing management from a table perspective, and menu optimization,” he said, adding that there also will be avenues for distributing tables during off- peak times. “This will be a huge shift for the space, but one that is long overdue. It’s about giving customers more choices.”
2. Use of real-time procurement platforms will take off.
Real-time procurement platforms, which have been used for years by hotels, soon will be implemented throughout the food and beverage sector. “Due to the highly competitive nature of the F&B industry, it’s becoming critical for restaurants to link consumption with purchasing practices,” Fancourt said. Food and beverage procurement software, which enables operators to place orders, track purchases and communicate with suppliers, streamlines the entire procurement process and results in time savings, more diverse supplier options, and increased profitability. “Restaurants are able to buy fresher products, which translates into better meals and repeat guest visits. It’s a win for everyone.”
3. Restaurants will keep detailed digital guest records.
Although the idea of keeping digital guest records may be old news in the hotel sector, it is a relatively new concept for restaurants, other than the large chains. “Historically, the average restaurant operation has centered around a single day, but the industry is becoming more strategic and forward-looking all the time,” Fancourt said. Getting a centralized view of guest preference data will become essential as customers expect more personalized dining experiences. He predicts that restaurants will move away from multiple point solutions to a single platform that captures guest data and loyalty information in one place and then uses artificial intelligence to act on that data with customized communications. He also envisions a future where guests in the same party will view personalized menus depending on their preferences and previous purchases. “It’s about being savvy and proactive about guest engagement,” he said.
4. Kitchen display systems will become a mainstay.
Kitchen display systems streamline kitchen operations by replacing printers and paper tickets with digital order viewing screens. Although the world’s most successful restaurant companies have used these systems for years, the adoption rate throughout the rest of the food and beverage sector has been abysmally low, Fancourt said. But that’s quickly changing in light of today’s multiple dining options, including delivery, pick-up, drive-through and dine-in. The benefits of kitchen display systems include increased order accuracy, enhanced efficiency, improved inventory management, and a higher caliber of guest service. “It all translates into more sales and greater profitability,” he said. “In today’s competitive F&B environment, it just makes sense to have this kind of system in place.”
5. NFTs will be on the menu.
According to Fancourt, non- fungible tokens, or NFTs, which are already being used by some of the larger restaurant chains, soon will be incorporated into food and beverage outlets of all sizes. Particularly appealing to younger and more tech-savvy customers, NFTs are unique digital assets based on blockchain technology. In a restaurant setting, they can be used in a variety of ways, from granting owners access to special reservations to rewarding diners for their loyalty. “This is the beginning of what will become a complex distribution environment,” he said, noting that NFT technology allows restaurants to develop an additional revenue stream that doesn’t depend on physically getting diners into seats. “The opportunities are enormous, and we’re just starting to see the benefits.”
6. Augmented reality will go mainstream.
A recent study by Deloitte Digital found that awareness of augmented reality (AR) is growing. In fact, by 2025, it is predicted that three-quarters of the global population will use AR frequently. Fancourt predicts that restaurants increasingly will incorporate the technology into their offerings, where it can help attract customers and improve the guest experience. Augmented menus, for example, can allow diners to see every detail about an entree, including portion size and information about ingredients. And a simple scan can bring a wine list to life, depicting the vineyard where the grapes were grown and showing a video of a sommelier talking about a particular vintage. “Dining is becoming an interactive and immersive experience, and AR enhances guest engagement like no other technology.”
According to Fancourt, technology provides more opportunity, greater stability and increased revenue streams for restaurants. He also believes it will improve the survival rate of middle and smaller operators. “Technology will give them the information they need to run their businesses more effectively and provide more targeted services to their customers.”
As time goes on, he predicts the food and beverage sector will become more like the hotel space, giving diners the ability to reserve, order, share personal details, see products, pay the bill and gift dining experiences, all without human intervention if they so choose. “Guests today expect lots of options, and it’s up to restaurant operators to provide them. It’s all about choice.”
In the long run, technology will make the food and beverage sector more valuable to the entire hospitality industry. “We’ll see more and better restaurants in our hotel spaces, ingredients will be fresher, and food outlets will forge more meaningful relationships with their guests,” he concluded. “One of the great things about technology is its power to transform. It’s an exciting time to be in the food and beverage business."