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Foodservice

How Foodservice Can Digest New Technology

FSTEC panel discusses pitfalls, challenges of "eating IT"

WASHINGTON -- With technology poised to reinvent everything from food ordering to customer-staff interaction, an executive-level panel at the opening general session of Winsight’s FSTEC conference discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the foodservice industry.FSTEC

Assembled with multiple departments in mind, executives representing roles such as CEO, marketing, operations, information technology (IT) and human resources squared off on topics ranging from integration to customer relationship management (CRM) at the annual FSTEC foodservice technology conference.

“We’re drowning in data and starving for meaning,” said Burton Heiss, CEO, Nando’s USA, Johannesburg, South Africa, noting how information doesn’t necessarily provide foodservice operators direction. “The challenge is the accelerating rate of change [in technology] both on a consumer standpoint and internally. It’s about establishing priorities to achieve a greater vision.”

With a discussion landing on Seattle-based Starbucks and its new food-ordering and pickup app feature, Heiss, whose restaurant chain focuses on South African “peri-peri” chicken, said operators have yet to determine what customers will really respond to regarding technology, with a dangerous pitfall being investing in something they won’t use.

To that end, Trip Sessions, senior vice president and chief digital and technology officer for TGI Friday’s, Exton, Pa., said a challenge foodservice operators face is being able to integrate third-party data with what an operator is able to collect at the point-of-sale (POS). Oftentimes, legacy systems and processes are barriers to “matching up” with other data resources to discover richer insight.

The panel also talked about what technology challenges concerned them the most. These topics included:

  • Engaging staff internally using the latest in hiring, “onboarding,” scheduling and e-learning applications.
  • How customers engage the brand, from learning about menu offers to reviewing the food.
  • Executing new technologies, with issues ranging from developing the proper consumer interfaces to integration with current IT platforms.
  • Working with payments, everything from data security to new types of cards.
  • Developing and experience that leads to customer “stickiness.”

In a discussion about strategy, Bonnie Lippincott, vice president and COO, The Rose Group, Newtown, Pa., said one of the biggest challenges operators face is engaging their IT teams in the development process. “It seems IT is always brought into the process too late,” she told the audience of about 350 attendees. “It’s one of the biggest challenges, because IT has to make it work.”

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