“Technology can coax the restaurant business into the future. It will improve their business models substantially, in terms of efficiency, loyalty, consumer word-of-mouth marketing,” says Resy’s Ben Leventhal. Resy’s product development speaks to larger restaurant-tech trends. Currently, the company works with over 1,000 restaurants in 80+ cities, with more to come, powering reservations, operations, and in a pilot program with New York’s Union Square Cafe that uses Apple Watches to enhance service. Here are five things that the company’s CEO thinks about when he thinks about hospitality tech — and what we should expect from them next.
The best hospitality technology runs in the background.
Technology streamlines processes, like customer relationship management, that previously may have taken a prohibitive amount of time. But the best technology runs quietly, enhancing the human touch of hospitality. “If you think about the way smart high-end restaurants are built and designed today, you see a trend of getting the tech out of the dining areas,” says Leventhal.
“Restaurant owners want to create an immersive experience where people can come and escape from the digital pressures,” he continues. It’s like a stage set, but technology can be a complete distraction and take patrons out of the moment. This means keeping a light profile. “Patrons book without knowing Resy as a brand is there, unless something goes wrong. As much as possible, we try to fade into the background, powering the reservations quietly.”
Restaurant tech is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Different restaurants call for different technology, and to understand what problems to solve and which needs to fill, companies have to work with the businesses they serve. ‘We chose to work with [Union Square Cafe] unusually closely because we want to truly understand their product needs,” says Leventhal.
Tech won’t affect every restaurant in the same way, either. “I expect fast casual to get a little more casual. So you may see more screens being added there,” he says. “But I expect fine dining to get a little more fine, and removing screens is the trend there.” By concentrating on a few specific partners, Leventhal and his team are able to hone the product as it grows and develops. “We choose to work with, so we can apply that knowledge to other industry leaders elsewhere who often have similar product needs,” he says.
The industry has lots of room for growth, but we have to get the basics right first.
“A couple of years ago, when we were starting, it was still an if,” he says. Now that Resy and others in the space have proven technology’s value to restaurateurs, they’re asking which features are most helpful. A lot of times, that means starting at the beginning. “Updating the core technology platforms at restaurants is slow. It’s slow but steady… but slow. Until you have the base, it’s hard to build the other things.”
“The industry is ready for change. But like the enterprise software revolution in other sectors, it will take a cycle for it to ramp up in restaurants,” says Leventhal.” Resy’s future lies in strategically adding the features that restaurants need most. “A huge focus for us are technology enhancements that consumers don’t see but will make the restaurants more efficient.” In the future, expect more from Resy, including data analytics, smart operations, and mobile payments.
The network effect is far more powerful than a single restaurant.
Leventhal says fine dining is Resy’s sweet spot, and in fine dining access to a network of information is a huge advantage. Resy maintains a global database, which means all its restaurant clients have access to the same guest information. In this sense, loyalty is portable and not tied to just one restaurant. When a patron gives their phone number at one Resy restaurant, the restaurant can access their profile, which contains important information like birthdays and anniversaries, or preferences and dietary restrictions. The moment of recognition and a warm welcome are core tenets of successful hospitality practice, especially at neighborhood restaurants. With new technology, the power of a network extends this ability to fine dining rooms, which most people visit only occasionally — maybe even just once. “Loyalty is incredibly important,” says Leventhal. “Repeat business comes from good hospitality, a good understanding of customer service. But tech can help grow that, too.”
When systems work together, everybody wins.
Currently, much in-restaurant technology works in silos, meaning restaurateurs have to operate and maintain disparate systems each performing its own set of functions. “All the systems have to play nice together,” says Leventhal. “Generally, the industry sees that the future is one of more collaboration and more connectivity, so I’m optimistic about what’s to come.”