This is the season for restaurant innovation. First came MURTEC 2016, a big show that caters to multi-unit restaurant franchisors; followed by the more recent 2016 Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in Dallas, a more intimate event geared to franchise owner/operators. Two different settings with different agendas. But a central theme connected them: Technology is reshaping the restaurant space. In the front of the house, the back of the house, and the things you do and put in the house. And making it all work is going require your network infrastructure to deliver a lot more bandwidth.
Speaking of things and bandwidth, an interesting place they come together is the IoT: The Internet of Things. Which happened to be the topic of a panel I moderated at RFIS16, Are You Embracing the Internet of Things in Your Franchise? Which, in my opinion, was one of the more interesting panels at the show, thanks to three great panelists: Laura Rea Dickey, CIO of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Jeff Dinard, CIO of On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, and Alex Glaser, Director of Development, Harbor Research (who has done a lot of research on IoT).
Ok, I know a lot of people might already be tired of hearing about the IoT. Others may wonder what it has to do with restaurants. The answer to the latter question is, A LOT. And it’s going to increase quickly. With wide-ranging impact on all sorts of aspects of restaurant operations. And not just customer facing apps. To the contrary, it will apply to things like refrigeration, lighting, food prep, and all kinds of commercial kitchen equipment. That will impact all sort of other things, like adjusting settings, and sending alerts, to keep food fresh, reduce spoilage, improve food safety, control energy use, lower maintenance costs, and improve store profitability.
One of the more interesting IoT innovations I heard was noted in a session on a different topic: RFID warming trays that inform you when food is ready to be changed out, which impacts both food safety and customer experience management. I mention it to emphasize that it won’t be long until everything is connected. FYI, for anyone interested, those other sessions covered great topics like the role of apps in customer experience, attracting millennials, kitchen technology design, digital branding, and store innovation, among others.
IoT will make 100% network uptime mandatory
The point is not about all the applications that are here now. The point is, MORE ARE COMING. And that’s going to have a dramatic impact on restaurant network infrastructure. It’s hard to emphasize just how important the network is going to become to every aspect of operations. Meaning 100% uptime will not be a goal, but a requirement.
To give you an idea of how far reaching the impact will be, consider the presentation I saw by Rick Caron, who leads Innovation at Manitowoc Foodservice, titled Five Ways to Improve Foodservice Operations. I thought it was quite telling that all five items listed rely on the network, with No. 3 of 5 above being squarely about it.
The network and consistent customer experience
One of the experts on my panel, Laura Dickey, spoke about the role technology plays ensuring brand consistency, resulting in a superior customer experience. This includes giving franchisees what amounts to a “store in a box” (something we subscribe to at EarthLink as well), which makes sure that every store location provides the same consistent customer pleasing experience. And that the infrastructure in those stores is able to accommodate growth, so the customer experience remains true, regardless of how many people or “things” you hang or run on the network.
This also brings up the importance of having a great network service partner to help your organization implement that technology package, secure it, monitor it, optimize it, and remove the burden of managing it so you can focus more on customer experience, store innovation and bottom line growth.
What’s been your experience with IoT so far? I’d love to hear your thoughts, but I need to run now; I just got a text from a warming tray that said “it’s time to change me.”
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