How to prepare restaurants for the digital revolution

| by Bradley Cooper
How to prepare restaurants for the digital revolution

Lauren Smith Madden and Jason Williams, left, attorneys at Frost Brown Todd moderated this discussion with Chris Caldwell, CIO, KFC, Brad Gardone, vice president of IT, Long John Silver's and Mike Nettles, CIO of Papa John's.

Editor's Note: This article originally ran in Digital Signage Today, a sister publication to Kiosk Marketplace.

Technology is transforming every industry, and the restaurant vertical is no exception. Kiosks, digital menu boards, online ordering and loyalty programs are just a few technologies that are making their debut in restaurants. It can be challenging, however, for large franchises with a long history to make the transition from traditional methods to advanced solutions. At a panel entitled "Is your franchise ready for the tech revolution?" at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Louisville, Kentucky, three panelists from Papa John's, KFC and Long John Silver's addressed this topic.

Lauren Smith Madden and Jason Williams, attorneys at Frost Brown Todd, moderated this discussion with Chris Caldwell, CIO, KFC, Brad Gardone, vice president of IT, Long John Silver's, and Mike Nettles, CIO of Papa John's.

Look at the whole picture

Madden addressed that technology is disrupting the restaurant industry in three key ways: management; diner convenience; and diner experience. The panelists, however, argued that restaurants need to take a holistic approach to these disruptions.

"There are a lot of brands that are just putting up an app or some technology, but they aren't prepared from an operations perspective," Caldwell said. He pointed out that some restaurants will put up impressive customer facing technology like kiosks or digital signage but aren't prepared to make adjustments to their everyday operations.

Nettles argued that if you got bogged down in the individual technologies, you miss the big picture and the true disruption.

"The real disruption is that customers are changing their expectations," Nettles said. They expect the same experience online as in the store.

Ditch the suit and tie

Many restaurants and companies have a highly traditional corporate image, but when they project that onto their digital platforms such as social media, they might run into trouble.

Nettles believes these companies need to ditch the suit and tie image. Much like when playing with kids, restaurants have to get down on their hands and knees and play in the mud. "You have to jump into the fray and get down and dirty."

Often, this just means speaking the language of your audience and being prepared for negative feedback. Nettles pointed out that if you engage with users on Reddit, they are going to be more cynical than Facebook users, so you are going to need to have a thick skin.

KFC, for example, is involved in a variety of non-traditional mediums ranging from Twitter to comic books to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Keep digital's real purpose in mind.

One reason many franchisees are starting to push for kiosks and digital signage is the belief that these tools will reduce labor costs.

"If I had a nickel for every time someone said, 'this is gonna save labor,' I'd be rich," Nettles said. "Most digital tech never reduces head counts. It actually raises it."

Kiosks, for example, enable more people to place orders than before, which in turn drives the need for more employees on the back end to prepare the orders. The real value in these tools lies in their ability to improve customer experience.

Nettles mentioned how restaurants can use digital menu boards to deliver marketing messages on the fly. Menu boards can also deliver curated content based on a customer's needs or diet, such as gluten free.

Digital menu boards can also make compliance to upcoming FDA regulations regarding labeling much simpler.

Gardone pointed out how much of a nightmare it was to put stickers all over static menu boards regarding nutritional information. When Long John Sliver's deployed outdoor digital menu boards at a few locations, it found the process much easier.

Don't forget about the employees

With all this talk of customer experience, it can be easy to forget about the employees running the business on a day-to-day basis. Nettles argued restaurants need to engage digitally with employees as well.

"Our employees and customers aren't that different," Nettle said.

This can take a variety of forms such as digital training for employees or giving them smart tools such as online shift trading. Restaurants should use their digital platform to help improve not just the customer's experience, but also the employee experience.

"Customer experience will never exceed the team member experience," Caldwell said. If the employees aren't happy, the customers certainly won't be either.

Wanna hear more? Join us at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit, July 16-18 in London. Registration is now open.

Topics: Customer Experience, Digital Signage, Restaurants

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper is a Technology Editor for and His background is in information technology, advertising, and writing.

wwwView Bradley Cooper's profile on LinkedIn

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