Monday, November 1, 2010

There's an app for that--or will be soon

A technological revolution is sneaking up on the restaurant industry, and it promises to be a pleasant though dizzying one. Not long ago, the most advanced human resources tools were training materials printed in Spanish as well as English. Tonight at the kick-off cocktail party for People Report’s Best Practices Conference, I learned about products that could truly up-end the way restaurants recruit, train, reward, schedule and even observe their employees. Much of it can be done via smart phone or texting.

That includes a new capability to train a camera on employees, analyze the footage through a sophisticated algorithm, and then send a text alert to the manager if the system detects a situation—a food handler who’s casual about wearing gloves, for instance—that needs to be addressed through training. The set-up apparently recommends what that training should be.

That’s just on the personnel front. I also heard about a sales aid, about to be deployed by a major chain, that enables restaurants to pitch their empty seats to consumers virtually in real time—“come in at 9:30 and the drinks are on us.” That promise has been raised a gazillion times as a blue-sky possibility for the industry. As of tomorrow, it’ll be a real option, actually in place, as it widely is in Europe.

Then there’s the new sales benchmarking service that shows subscriber restaurants how their volumes compare with the intake of their peer group. That’s hardly revolutionary. But this one adds the why’s, based on other collected data, and delivers the information and an analysis quickly to a computer dashboard. The demos are even being given on cell phones, so apparently that capability is either there or in the near future.

Then there’s the start-up that intends to give employees what they’ve earned before payday. If hourly staffers clock shifts on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, they wouldn’t have to wait until Friday’s payday to get the money. Technically it’s loaned to them, secured against the wages they’ve already earned. This new supplier handles the process with minimal involvement by the employer.

All of that came from conversations with perhaps a half-dozen people. There were probably other examples to be encountered, but, hey, there was an open bar.

But I heard enough to realize the industry is entering a new technology era, where far more intelligence can be gleaned, far more control can be exercised, and far greater capabilities will be put in the hands of restaurant managers and corporate supervisors, quite literally. It’s heady when you think that some places are still regarding their VHS training tapes as Buck Rogers stuff.

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