Modern consumers are different beasts to their/our parents’ generation. The way bills are paid, taxis booked, newspapers read and even birthday cards sent has changed and barring the occasional retro experience, we are not looking back.
The next market to experience a revolution is the restaurant industry. While food trends have evolved constantly, the act of eating out has changed little in the last hundred years – you arrive at your desired location, order food, sit down, eat said food, and when done, you pay. That is, until now.
We are in the midst of a reformation and ten years down the line, the industry is going to look very different to how it does today.
With the smartphones and tablets being a more popular way to access websites than on desktops and the rapid development of smarthome hubs and AI, it seems unlikely that we will call the restaurant of the future to book a table. We may not even have to call or use desktop website booking services.
‘Alexa’ already allows users to book an Uber, change tracks on Spotify, order loo roll and pay friends. There’s no reason booking a table or pre-ordering from a menu couldn’t be handled just as seamlessly through a conversation with a smart device.
In reality, we are already halfway there. Diners at restaurants like Maroush, London’s largest chain of Lebanese restaurants, can use an app or website to pre-order food and drinks, see what deals are on or order food for collection en route.
Diners increasingly expect queue times to be minimal, at no cost, be that monetary or to the detriment of food quality. Consequently, technology providers are creating service models where the food served is still of the highest standard but where service time rivals that of traditional ‘fast food’ outlets.
We don’t have to look as far as the rise of cryptocurrencies in recent years to know that how we pay is changing. A couple of year ago cashless payment meant using a card in a shop or Paypal online. Now, consumers can pay via Apple Pay, contactless chips embedded in jewellery and so much more.
It takes a daring person to predict exactly how we will pay for our food on an evening in 2027, but unless you are eating at a 2001 themed retro restaurant, you can nigh-on guarantee that paper cash, as we know it, will not be the medium of choice.
When we pay is changing too; in an age of exacts, it is highly likely that we will be used to pre-paying the exact amount for our goods. Pre-paying fits in perfectly with the new order-ahead culture that is growing. These transactions, again, will be instant and digital, no ‘real money’ involved.
As digital orders begin to be facilitated by social media companies, Amazon and white-labelled technology providers, restaurants are forging closer connections to the digital generation; having a Facebook page is not going to be enough in years to come.
We will expect to make choices about our dining experience long before entering a restaurant. This may not stop simply at what we want to eat and drink, but the location of our table, the music in the background, perhaps even the temperature of the space.
By pre-placing such at the restaurant of the future, the customer guarantees the exact dining experience they want, and the venue has plenty of time to prepare and create an experience that brings customers back again and again.
A bespoke experience
As Michael Douglas so eloquently put it in Wall Street, “The most valuable commodity in the world is information.” What people do with data is changing everything about the world we live in. The restaurant of the future will know a lot about us. It is likely that they will have a good idea of what we will order before we do and service is going to get more data driven, faster and tailored to us, the customer.
Moreover, businesses are changing how they interact with us, using that information. McDonald’s and KFC are already testing facial recognition systems for fast food orders, Apple uses lasers to unlock the latest iPhone X and ‘Animojis’ are motion tracking engineering masterpieces, just for fun.
When will it be standard for restaurants to feature smart tables that can tell if your drink is empty? Will lasers be able to tell when you want the waiter’s attention as quickly as you realise you want more mustard? Chances are, those waiters will be robotic in some way.
There is a lot of discussion online about data privacy; online safety is of the utmost importance to people the world over and a gold standard that we strive for. Here, for once, internet safety if not the topic of discussion, instead it’s in-venue safety.
I foresee a day when app-driven menus can connect with other apps and software on our phones. If the embedded healthcard on our smartphone shows an allergy to pine nuts, we won’t even be able to see anything on the menu that could trigger an allergy. Restaurants would be notified automatically that a person on table 6 has a gluten intolerance so the bread and oil waiting can be replaced with something more fitting. Technology can help us make better and safer food choices.
Technology really has the opportunity to speed the restaurant of the future up, making it more exciting and offering us better choices through smart technologies. I, for one, cannot wait to see what “2027 a Fine Dining Odyssey” will look like.