Why Integrations Are the Next Major Step in Restaurant Technology
January 19, 2022
Technology is supposed to help operators manage restaurants — but today, they're often left managing technology.
Today, most restaurants understand the value of technology. They have seen how it connects diners with restaurants and restaurants with diners, and they know that with the right combination of tools, they can make their businesses leaner, faster and more profitable.
Unfortunately, finding the right combination of tools is hard work. Restaurant owners must navigate a fragmented technology landscape, where a growing number of companies offer a growing number of products that claim to solve a growing number of problems. Many of these tools are incompatible with one another, which creates its own set of problems and leaves staff rightfully exasperated. They need a better way to realize technology’s potential.
This is why the industry is buzzing about integrations. At FSTEC, one of the nation's largest restaurant technology conferences, Joe Guszkowski of Restaurant Business reported that, "The importance of integration came up with virtually every [tech company] I talked to... They know it's a key selling point for operators."
But what exactly are integrations, why are they so important and what do they say about the future of restaurant technology? To understand that, we first need to know how the industry became so fragmented in the first place.
Past: The Evolution of Restaurant Tech
The modern idea of a restaurant dates back to 18th-century Paris. In the decades before the French Revolution, the world's first restaurateurs applied the service model of French café culture to hot meals. Their menus consisted of one dish: bouillon.
For the next roughly 250 years, restaurants evolved into what we know today: pillars of their communities that support, and often shape, local culture. But the rate at which they’ve evolved hasn't been constant. The last 50 years in particular have upended the restaurant operating model, forcing them to become more efficient in order to serve more plates to more people.
Technology has played a key role in helping them do this, which is why it's so frustrating that the modern restaurant tech landscape creates as many issues as it solves. From a high level, this change occurred over three distinct eras:
1973-1998: Restaurants Adopt Back-of-House Hardware
With the debut of IBM’s computerized point-of-sale (POS) system in 1973 and the introduction of credit card authorization systems in 1984, technology became essential to restaurant operations. These two tools automated the process of recording orders and processing credit card transactions (farewell, knuckle busters). Transactions could now be stored and accessed in a single computer system.
In 1992, after the birth of the internet and proliferation of computers, restaurant tech reached another milestone: the integration of POS systems with Microsoft Windows. This allowed restaurants to import sales data from the POS system and input it into adjacent operations programs for tasks like reporting and payroll. This leap in automation was the catalyst for the next two decades of restaurant-based technology.
1999-2007: The Internet Births Guest-Facing Restaurant Technology
In 1999, OpenTable and Seamless were founded within months of each other. By the end of 2003, both companies served hundreds of thousands of users, proving that guests — just like restaurants — wanted digital tools to improve the dining experience.
Yelp launched the following year in 2004, and by 2006, it had reached more than a million monthly users. Grubhub, also founded in 2004, showed so much promise by 2007 that it raised $1.1M in Series A funding to invest in growing markets. The way guests interacted with restaurants would never be the same. Digital technology would always be a key part of the process.
2008-Present Day: The Rise of Single-Point Solutions
The late 2000s were a booming era for technology investment. Seeing the growth of Yelp, OpenTable, Grubhub and Seamless, investors circled foodservice as an industry ripe for “disruption.” As money poured in and the race for hypergrowth escalated, the industry was incentivized to solve specific issues rather than building comprehensive solutions. It was the fastest way to provide value, acquire customers and secure further rounds of investment.
This led to a wave of single-point solutions such as Tripleseat for restaurant events in 2008, Menufy for digital menus in 2009 and EZ Cater for catering in 2011. Even existing solutions began to fragment into niches, with companies like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash and Caviar emerging to challenge Grubhub for online ordering.
The industry continued fragmenting for more than a decade, leading to where we are today.
Present: The Rise of Integrations
Integrations are best thought of as “connectors.” They bridge multiple platforms into one unified system. For example, an online ordering platform from one company can instantly share information, like a takeout order, with a POS platform from another company. Even though the platforms are different, the integration allows them to speak to each other and function like one unit.
Given the fragmented state of restaurant technology, this makes integrations incredibly valuable. With so many tools from so many companies serving so many purposes, restaurants are often forced to choose between doing fewer things or having incompatible systems. Integrations create more connections and compatibilities.
Here are several specific areas where integrations can help:
1. Online Ordering
With direct online ordering, manually communicating incoming orders to the kitchen has always been a pain point. Integrations solve this by connecting a restaurant’s direct online ordering system with its POS system, eliminating a manual task and reducing the risk of human error. For example, BentoBox Online Ordering integrates with Clover POS and the many POS systems partnered with ItsaCheckmate. BentoBox also integrates seamlessly with a growing list of back-of-house printers to send online orders directly to the kitchen, bypassing POS entry and improving workflow.
2. Online Presence
More than 70% of diners visit a restaurant's website before deciding where to dine, but many diners also rely on sources like Google and Facebook for restaurant discovery. In the past, restaurants had to manually upload and update accurate information across each one of these channels, which was time-consuming and difficult to manage. Today, they can integrate their website with Google My Business and Facebook, update information in one place and have the update apply to all channels to save operators valuable time, increase consumer trust and improve search rankings.
3. Diner Data
Data has been called the new oil, but companies like Grubhub and DoorDash have lobbied to keep valuable customer data to themselves. Direct online ordering allows restaurants to own their data, and integrations make it easier for them to use it. For example, restaurants can integrate online ordering data with email marketing platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, and use it to set up automated email campaigns.
Future: The Promise of All-in-One Platforms
The most recent era of restaurant technology was defined by fragmentation. Integrations won’t make the industry less fragmented, but they will usher in an era where fragmented tools are more compatible, allowing restaurants to get more value from the technologies they invest in.
What does the future hold after that? Most likely, an era where restaurant technology does become less fragmented. Where instead of many companies offering a few solutions, a few companies offer many solutions. These “all-in-one” platforms will be designed, engineered and managed by the same company, which will create even more connection points across products.
These connection points are essential because the more restaurant technologies connect with each other, the more time and effort they save. This allows restaurant professionals to focus on what they do best: providing hospitality. Ultimately, that is what every member of the restaurant tech industry, including BentoBox, wants to enable.
Integrations are a major step forward — but they’re also just the tip of the iceberg.
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