"Not since the computerized point-of-sale system started replacing the cash register in the 1970s we are seeing such changes in how orders are taken, processed and served," said Che Baird, who's been in the quick service restaurant business for nearly two decades and is Panasonic Canada's National Business Development Manager - QSR/Retail. Mr. Baird says ideas hatched in entrepreneurial incubators and corporate R&D labs are shaping eateries in Toronto, San Jose and NYC. Panasonic, which began working with major restaurant operators back in 1978, today counts Tim Hortons, Dairy Queen, McDonald's and others as customers because it delivers the innovations that the quick service restaurant industry wants.
1. Customer choice
With customers demanding more choice and control, some of the biggest sellers of coffee are turning to digital self-order kiosks to give people a choice in how they interact with the restaurant. Use a kiosk, and choose, customize and pay for your coffee, then pick it up or have it served to you. Restaurants like kiosks because consumers tend to place bigger orders when using touchscreens. Expect to see more of them. "In some places kiosks are so popular that restaurants are experimenting with touchscreen ordering at their drive-thru," said Mr. Baird.
2. My car is my castle
In the book "Ten Restaurants that Changed America," author Paul Freedman credits the bright orange roofs of Howard Johnson's, a U.S. chain founded in 1925, for popularizing highway dining with a distinctive architectural feature built to snag motorists' attention. Almost a century later, car-bound customers are critical to major restaurant operators. Some 53 percent of fast food sales in the U.S. went through the drive-thru in 2015, according to Euromonitor International. Consumers want speed and accuracy. One thing that helps customers move fast is a high-resolution digital menu board that can easily be seen in bright sun or darkness. "Vivid images placed in the center of the screen help people decide and place orders more quickly," said Mr. Baird. While customers want fast service, they don't want to sacrifice order accuracy. When customers receive incorrect orders their likelihood of returning decreases. Panasonic helps QSRs improve performance, clarity and efficiency with its drive-thru communication system, Attune II, which offers sound quality to reduce order errors, eliminate the need to reconfirm an order and enable restaurants to serve more satisfied customers daily, boosting sales. And the science of the drive-thru continues to evolve. What may be coming soon? Customer-facing cameras and AI software that recognizes and recalls license plates or faces. One possible result: the system remembers your previous order, and asks if you'd like it again.
3. Loving line-busters
Quick service restaurants in the U.S. will see a slight increase in traffic in 2017, according to research by industry organization, The NPD Group. That could mean more people looking for their morning jolt at the same time you are, and many retailers are prepared for that. Line-busting is a term that describes techniques restaurants use to help consumers avoid lines. Bolstering sales are mobile apps with ordering, payment and tracking capabilities so a coffee lover can see where their beverage is in the prep process, and then arrive when it's ready. Tablets that are lightweight, rugged (protected against coffee spills) and take payments anywhere the consumer happens to be standing are also a line-busting favorite. For instance, the Toughpad(R) FZ-R1 is the world's first Windows(R) 8.1 tablet computer to incorporate a Europay, MasterCard and Visa reader for secure payments, is built to accept most electronic payments, and can help enhance customer engagement and satisfaction.
4. Can I get a Brownie Batter Donut with that coffee?
In 1964 National Hockey League legend Tim Horton opened his first store in Canada selling coffee and donuts, for ten cents each. Today Tim Hortons ranks among Canada's largest quick service restaurant brands, and coffee remains a huge draw. Order a double double, and you'll get a coffee with two creams and two sugars, in about the time it takes to snap a selfie. Awiter Yaacoub, who manages a month-old bustling Tim Hortons in Mississauga, says what's really speeding orders is technology. "We are getting busier every week -- people come here because we can serve them faster and faster every day," he says. Technology helps especially when the restaurant adds new limited time offer items, like something chocolatey for Valentine's Day. For example, its IQ Touch point of sale system with a simple design allows staff or managers to easily add a new flavor of donut, sandwich or style of coffee to the touch screen.
5. Forecasting your café con leche, before you order
Restaurant organizations use a secret sauce to guide data collection and analysis to make sure patrons receive what they want, when they want it. Clearview by Panasonic is a highly flexible and scalable web-based solution for financial management, food cost management, and labor management. It collects data on everything from scheduling to food orders, which is mixed with information from consumer search activity (such as when you use your handheld to find the closest coffee shop), and sometimes even social data. To that combination, operators add a pinch of AI to figure out how much milk, coffee and sugar to order so there's enough ingredients to give you a cup of coffee, even if you pull up behind three buses carrying the college baseball team.
6. A peak at the-not-so distant future of fast coffee
Imagine. A hankering for a cappuccino hits you as you sit in traffic in a strange city. You click your coffee app, find the closest location, make your order, pay for it, and let the system's artificial intelligence estimate your ETA. Ten minutes later, you steer to the curbside pickup, and a hospitality robot hands you your steaming beverage. You're about to leave when you notice a beautifully designed digital experience playing on a high-resolution videoboard by your pickup spot. It highlights the sustainable sourcing of a hand-crafted sunflower roll, prepared with organic grains, and adapted from a traditional farmhouse recipe. You place a new order. Although HOSPI, Panasonic's hospitality robot, hasn't yet served coffee, it is now honing its skills helping guests at a hotel and airport in Japan. Watch a demo on HOSPI.
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