When Momentum Machines recently announced plans to launch what they’re calling the world’s ‘First Smart Restaurant,’ –a kitchen-free operation entirely run by a machine that can crank out 360 hamburgers an hour–many people saw it as a harbinger of the destruction of the restaurant industry as we know it.

“It won’t be long before people are replaced by robots.”

Well, the restaurant industry remains an industry where guests want a personal touch. At least for now.

How can restaurant owners embrace technology without alienating people? Is technology even necessary in the restaurant industry?

The answers to those questions may surprise you.

In today’s competitive hospitality industry, more restaurant owners are seeking a competitive edge than ever before. Increasingly, that edge is technology. Savvy restaurant operators are turning to software to streamline operations and deliver a better customer experience.

Not only are more restaurants relying on tech, the number of companies focused on designing innovative technology for the hospitality sector is growing as well. Examples include Cover, Settle, OpenTable, and Baltimore-based startup OrderUp, which has raised more than $8 million to continue building a food delivery network in less densely populated areas.

The National Restaurant Association found 73% of restaurant operators feel technology provides a competitive advantage and makes a restaurant more profitable but 47% feel they lag when it comes to having technology in their restaurants.

What does all this mean to you? Not much unless you learn…

How To Turn Technology Into a Competitive Advantage

What are some of the ways restaurant owners are turning to technology?

  • Geo-tagged marketing–Many restaurants are using location-based advertising and promoting special offers using technology. Expect this practice to grow in the future.
  • Inventory–Web based applications and restaurant management software can save time and reduce errors. Some restaurants have expansive, constantly changing menus and wine lists that would be impossible to manage without technology.
  • Payment processing–POS systems and cloud-based systems are transforming how restaurants accept cash and electronic payments.
  • Timekeeping–Many POS systems have timekeeping functions but the number of web-based timekeeping and time tracking software is also on the rise.
  • Monitoring food waste–LeanPath Mobile is just one example of using smart technology to solve a problem facing the restaurant industry.
  • Ordering–Facebook/online ordering is big business. Companies like ChowNow, NetWaiter and ONOSYS are working with restaurants to connect with customers. Some owners feel digital ordering helps them fill more orders faster.

Want to see how it works right now?

Here’s An Infographic That Sums Up The Impact of Tech on the Restaurant Industry

Guests have expressed a preference for more technology and restaurant owners will need to address this shift. Technology will continue to transform areas like restaurant management software, social media, apps, payment, and ordering.

The National Restaurant Association developed an infographic to show the impact of technology on the restaurant industry.

Adding technology to the menu

Examples of High-tech Restaurants

There are many restaurant operators out there taking advantage of the benefits offered by technology. Some notable examples include:

  • The Robot Restaurant–Since June of 2012 robots in Harbin, China have been operating a restaurant that serves more than 30 dishes. The robots–which have 10 different facial expressions– cook dumplings and noodles, seat guests, deliver food to the table, and there’s even a singing robot to entertain diners.
  • Neapolitan Express–In Manhattan, Max Crespo, owner of 9 food trucks does an average of 300 covers in a two-hour time span. He uses Clover, a cloud-based system that processes cash and electronic payments with a built-in card reader that has an encrypted MSR, integrated printer and cash drawer. Crespo says the same device can also run reports, manage inventory, implement marketing and consumer loyalty platforms and much more.
  • Tokyo smart restaurant–A popular Tokyo restaurant may have human cooks, but they don’t need waiters. Guests place their orders via tablet from their table and food is delivered on a conveyor belt. Payment is also automated. Technology monitors how many people are sat and what they’re eating. That data tells kitchen staff which dishes to prepare and how many new dishes they should add to the conveyor.
  • SD26 at 19 Madison Square Park–Owner Tony May uses technology for inventory ordering and payment. His restaurant’s 750-label wine list is displayed on guest-facing iPads and touchscreens. Guests are issued a SD26 smartcard upon arrival. When they leave, they give the card to a server who returns with the check. SD26 uses an Enomatic system that lets guests serve themselves, and choose from one-, three- or five-ounce pours with a sommelier available to answer questions. A digital board, above the Enomatic pouring system, displays the daily selections.
  • Barrel Republic–Launched in November 2013, this self-service craft beer bar in Pacific Beach, California has 44 taps for customers to serve themselves using iPourIt technology. Guests pour their own beer using a radio frequency identification (RFID) wristband that contains a wireless RFID chip that tracks the beer poured by a tenth of an ounce. Guests simply tap the wristband, open the tap and pay for what they pour.

What examples of advanced technology have you seen in the restaurant industry? Let us know in the comments.

Author Bio: This article was contributed by Anthony Sills. Anthony’s work can be found at American Express OPEN Forum, Copyblogger, Infusionsoft’s Big Ideas blog, and elsewhere.