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Today, technology is transforming the bar and restaurant industry…for the better. From secure payment on mobile POS devices, to instant reservations through Amazon’s Alexa or a chatbot, the latest tech trends are all about making the guest experience more convenient and personalized. That’s why Buzztime teamed up with SevenRooms, to share the top 10 tech trends you need to know about in 2019 – and beyond.

Chatbots Automate the Conversation

Many of the top restaurant tech trends – like chatbots – streamline and simplify time-consuming processes for both you, and your guests. Chatbots are a form of AI that provides automated answers to customer questions through Facebook Messenger, SMS text messages, and even at your website.

The 2018 State of Chatbots Report found that 15% of consumers had used a chatbot, but 33% said they would use them to make reservations in the future. Chatbots are one of the key tech trends for 2019 because it’s all about “super serving” the customer. Chatbots provide 24-hour service and instant responses – both of which aren’t possible for the average restaurant owner to accomplish.

Some businesses avoid tech trends like chatbots because they don’t want to remove the “human element” from the conversation. However, you can configure your chatbot to let guests know they’re speaking with a bot, and provide links to contact information for real people.

If you want to try these chatbot tech trends, it won’t break the bank: basic chat bots range from free to $50/month. Try ChatFuel or Botsify . Keep it simple! Set up a chatbot at Facebook and/or your website that asks customers if they would like to do the following: Make reservations, see the menu, join your loyalty program, order food, or get directions

Tableside Payments: Secure and Convenient

The next restaurant tech trends for 2019 focus on taking payments…right at the table. How? By letting guests pay for their meal on a mobile POS device equipped to accept credit cards as well as NFC “contactless” payment methods like Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, or Google Pay.

A January 2019 study by TSYS found 79% of today’s customers want restaurants to offer tableside payment. The two main benefits of tableside payment are convenience and security.

Just like chatbot tech trends, pay-at-the-table is a “win win” for both you and your guests. Customers don’t need to wait for their waiter or bartender to run their credit card to a POS station. The transaction is immediate, which can speed up table turn – and satisfy guests.

Another one of the key benefits of tableside payment tech trends is data security: the guest’s credit card never leaves the table, eliminating the risk of an unsavory staff member stealing data. Today, everyone is concerned about hackers and identity theft. That’s why 85% of customers are more loyal to businesses that take steps to protect their financial data.

To try these pay-at-the-table tech trends, you have two options. You can provide your waitstaff with handheld mobile POS devices (ask your POS provider if they offer mobile POS). Or, the most secure and convenient option is to give customers handheld tablets that let them browse a digital menu, order, and pay – all on one secure device. These handheld tablets integrate with most major POS systems.

It’s important to note that mobile POS devices are the ONLY way to accept NFC/contactless payments like Apple Pay. In 2018, 25% of smartphone users made mobile payments – by 2020, it’s expected to rise to 1/3 of all smartphone users. Get ready now by embracing these mobile-focused tech trends!

Loyalty 2.0: Get with the New Loyalty Program

Loyalty has gone digital: replacing plastic and paper cards. The latest tech trends in customer loyalty are focused on simplicity. It starts with how customers earn and redeem rewards. The either use their phone number or credit card as an identifier, or they scan a mobile loyalty app.

These new loyalty tech trends are all about convenience, guests don’t have to remember their card anymore. Mobile app-based loyalty programs are especially popular with customers. In 2018, 85% of customers said redeeming rewards through their smartphone improved their experience.

Loyalty mobile apps are easy to set up and allow for customization: patrons can earn rewards through spend, number of visits, even choose their reward…it’s personalized! To get started, ask your POS provider if they offer an integrated loyalty program. Or, set up your own program using these loyalty app provider reviews.

Touchscreen Ordering Isn’t Just for Quick Service

Today, guests don’t just want to pay at the table…they’d like to order, too! That’s where kiosk and handheld tablet tech trends come into play. Essentially, touchscreen ordering devices let guests browse a digital menu, customize their order, and even send it straight to the kitchen.

No, touchscreen ordering devices aren’t meant to replace servers. Instead, this type of tech lets waitstaff cover more tables while freeing them up to chat and bond with guests.

Another benefit of touchscreen ordering tech is how it appeals to those following a dietary lifestyle: from vegan to gluten-free, paleo to keto eating plans. This technology lets patrons get specific about their preferences, resulting in an experience that’s “all about me.”

Most touchscreen systems also include automated prompts for upsells. Modern Restaurant Management found that guest checks increase by 20-30% when orders are placed on a touchscreen device.

Ultimately, touchscreen ordering tech trends are a major opportunity for bars/restaurants: BRP Consulting found in a 2018 survey that 74% of guests under 37 believe “ease of ordering and payment” is extremely important. Yet, only 45% of restaurant operators are meeting expectations.

Want to try touchscreen ordering tech trends? Start by asking your POS provider if they provide this technology. In general, kiosk systems are ideal for quick-service operations. For limited- and full-service businesses, utilize touchscreen tablet systems.

In-Venue Digital Entertainment Puts Fun on Tap

Embracing tech trends can help your restaurant or bar stand out from the competition…especially when it comes to enhancing the guest experience. If your goal is to improve customer loyalty, seek out ways to put fun on the menu. Facebook Loyalty Study asked 14,000 adults to describe businesses they like best. The top word used was “quality” followed by “fun.”

Heading into 2019, thousands of bars and restaurants are putting fun within reach of every guest by offering digital entertainment. In-venue entertainment tech trends include everything from restaurant and bar trivia broadcast on your TVs to handheld digital arcade systems.

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Increased Role for Search Platforms

Handling more than 2 trillion searches per year, it should come as no surprise that search platforms like Google are playing a key role in how guests discover and book a restaurant reservation.

Add to this the rise in popularity of social media platforms like Instagram, with over 1 billion users worldwide, and these channels can no longer be ignored as discovery and acquisition channels for restaurants.  That’s why search platforms have a starring role on this list of 2019 tech trends for restaurants and bars.

Historically, search and discovery platforms have been siloed from booking intent, making it impossible to book a restaurant reservation without opening a separate platform. This changed in 2018, with search platforms like Google, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, now allowing diners to make reservations directly across these channels.

In the year ahead, tech trends involve streamlining the reservation process to allow diners to book while in discovery mode. That means driving reservations while guests are already engaged with the restaurant. As these tech trends take hold, restaurants utilizing these platforms will see an increase in reservations and sales across the board.

Personalization at Scale

This year, we can expect more operators to adopt advanced marketing tools that allow them to reach the right guests, at the right time, with the right message. Personalization tech trends are aimed at customizing the guest experience at every step: from initial reservation booking, through the guest experience, and after with tailor-made messages inviting patrons back for more.

In 2019, one-size-fits-all marketing no longer can be relied on to drive significant returns for your business. In fact, 58% of all revenue generated from emails comes from targeted campaigns, and 79% of consumers say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized based on a previous interaction.

When it comes to personalization tech trends, it’s often the simplest interactions that have the biggest impact. A recent study showed that 35% of people say a complimentary glass of wine would make their experience stand out, and bars should take note. Whether that’s inviting someone to celebrate their birthday at your bar and offering them their first round on the house, or targeting your football-season regulars with Super Bowl-related events, these promotions can help keeps your venue top-of-mind for guests. This is how operators can turn one-time guests into regulars.

On top of arming every staff member with information on their guests, predictive software tech trends can also help in larger-scale planning for managers. For instance, tracking sales can help proactively inform operators of busy seasons, preparing them to order more accurately from their suppliers and hire more staff accordingly.

Finding Your Voice

“Alexa, book dinner for two.” Fifty percent of all searches will be conducted via voice by 2020, and the restaurant industry is already on the road to full adoption through voice-based tech trends. Sixteen percent of people use their personal voice assistants to make reservations, and now voice tech is making its way in-house as well, helping to streamline operations for restaurant staff.

In fact, this year SevenRooms announced an investment from Amazon’s Alexa fund to bring voice tech trends and new skills to operators. For instance, servers can ask Alexa, “Does anyone at table 10 have an allergy?” or “Are there any diners celebrating birthdays tonight?”, arming the staff with important information about their guests without them ever having to lift a finger.

Prioritization of ADA Compliance

Compliance can often be overlooked when analyzing 2019 tech trends. However, restaurants should be prioritizing improving their overall processes in 2019, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In fact, restaurants who don’t prioritize compliance open themselves up to costly legal action and negative reputations like thousands of others this year.

Given the fact that over 40 million Americans have a disability, this represents a huge number of potential diners and employees that expect ADA compliance to be met. It’s important to remember that restaurants, like any other business, are required to provide accommodations when necessary to serve and communicate with customers who have disabilities.

So how can restaurants prepare for these accommodations? One way is to embrace accessibility tech trends, like a voice-recorded menu – or at the very least, a brail menu. You should also have proper wheelchair accessibility, and staff must be educated on key policies, like allowing certified service dogs inside the restaurant, regardless of policies to the contrary.

Security Ramp Up

If there was one word that businesses obsessed over in 2018, it was security. With GDPR taking effect last spring and plans for the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2019, every company collecting personal and transactional data has prioritized the protection of that information as they implement the latest tech trends.

Guest data is imperative to future success – from understanding which marketing channels are most effective, to how much of a specific ingredient to order for next week’s menu. However, restaurants have to implement the right strategies to keep this information safe. These include:

  • Training all employees who handle data
  • Choosing the right vendor to host your guest data
  • Understanding the type of data being collected

Looking ahead, the industry’s focus on data security tech trends will only increase in 2019. Restaurant guests recently reported that 34 percent would not return if a data breach occurred during their visit, highlighting the need for restaurants to elevate their security and payment options.

Thanks for joining SevenRooms and Buzztime on this tech trends webinar. We hope you found it helpful, and are inspired to bring more tech to your tables in 2019.