Welcome to the restaurant of the future: Digital menu boards change by the time of day or season. Customers order and pay with a few swipes, and restaurants know more about you … a lot more.
These high-tech investments are aimed at boosting visits and spending while attracting a more tech-savvy customer. While this technology is not universally accepted yet, it is being steadily adopted throughout the restaurant industry.
At The Cheesecake Factory, the company is "exploring a number of things" including text paging when tables are available and mobile payment via guests' own devices once the technology "becomes a little more ubiquitous," CFO Doug Benn said Tuesday at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Conference.
"We're looking at every single thing that's out there when it's really ready for us. ... There's nothing that we don't look at to see if it fits us," said founder and CEO David Overton.
Meanwhile, Burger King CFO Joshua Kobza alluded to tech initiatives in the pipeline.
"We're testing a bunch of things on the mobile side—not just payments," he said, adding that the company is looking into digital coupons in the U.S.
"I think you can expect to see more and more from us over the rest of the year," Kobza said.
Figuring out how to integrate mobile technology without slowing down the line remains key for an industry built on speed.
Noodles CFO Dave Boennighausen stressed the importance of vetting the best opportunity in the mobile payment space to maintain speed. The company already offers a way for customers to order and pay via app but does not offer iBeacon technology.
"We're going to be towards the head of the curve, but we're not going to be bleeding edge," Boennighausen said.
While Raymond Blanchette, CEO of Ignite Restaurant Group, said he's not a fan of tablets at tables, he does see technology as a way to combat rising minimum wage rates.
"It's going to materially affect the business model in casual dining," said Blanchette, whose company is the parent of Joe's Crab Shack and Romano's Macaroni Grill. "Certainly how we're thinking about it internally is: What are the ways you can leverage technology to expand a person's footprint in the business, so do more service with less people, which is ultimately where you're going to have to go with the minimum wage heading where it's headed."
Another part of the tech allure is attracting millennials—a group that's more engaged with restaurants through smartphones, said Hudson Riehle, the National Restaurant Association's senior vice president of its research and knowledge group.
Still, Riehle stressed the need to remain hands-on in addition to high tech in the business.
"Technology is just another tool in the operator tool belt. It isn't the panacea of success," he said.