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With technology changing rapidly, can a foodservice provider keep in touch with customers in ways they want to be reached? Is it possible for a small company to have all the technology tools it needs, from mobile loyalty offerings to online employee training?

These were just a couple of to the topics addressed during “Tech Talk” at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Dallas. Panelists from four foodservice chains shared their hits and misses with new technology. They included A&W Digital Manager Liz Bazner, as well as COO Bo Davis of United States Beef Corporation, Arby’s largest franchisee, and Verts Mediterranean Grill Marketing Vice President Keith Peterson.

Two takeaways were that companies need to do their research, and management has to be supportive for technology initiatives to succeed. Pioneers like Starbucks, for example, gain a lot of press for their social media and mobile initiatives, but even they don’t hit home runs all the time.

About 70 percent of the coffee giant’s customers do not download its customer app, said panel moderator Adam Fricker, vice president of innovation at Steak ‘n Shake. The chain is not alone; Fricker said restaurant customers are not downloading mobile apps, even though mobile payment is growing.

Using loyalty platforms to learn about customers

A loyalty card within a customer mobile app can offer real-time insight into customers’ habits and preferences, said Bo Davis of U.S. Beef, which includes 340 Arby’s restaurants and their 7,500 employees.

“You get unique, timely customer insights,” said Davis, referring to the mobile loyalty rewards program the company offers its customers.

Self-order kiosks, however, did not work for his company. The team didn’t test the technology before launching them, which Davis admitted was a mistake.

“We didn’t buy into it,” Davis said of the kiosks. The reason, he said, was that the company’s owners believed that it was important for employees to make eye contact with customers. Davis said a company must support a new technology for customers buy into it.

Davis said his locations had a better experience using iPads for training. Because iPads made training easier and more effective, the company was able to train more people in less time.

A&W Restaurants  saw similar results when it rolled out training via iPads, said Liz Bazner, digital manager at the company.

While it was difficult to measure at first, the company was satisfied with the number of views the training videos were getting. It also noticed that a lot of employees were talking about the videos, something that hadn’t previously happened, Bazner said.

Keith Peterson of Verts Mediterranean Grill said his company did well introducing gamification. Employees won points for doing daily tasks.

Making time for tech

The panelists agreed that one of the most important aspects of their jobs is staying on top of technology trends. That can be a challenge, however, while also trying to do their regular jobs. To ensure he doesn’t drop the ball, Fricker sets a time in his calendar each day to read and research technology.

And how does a company know when it is ready to invest in technology? Fricker said if he cannot explain the technology to the executives in 20 minutes, “It’s probably not ready for prime time.”

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Photo Credit: iStock
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