Think back to the year 2006. I know, it feels like a lifetime ago. If you were in the industry then, do you remember how different running your restaurant was compared to now? Specifically, do you remember how little technology played a role in your business?
Think about it; in 2006 Facebook was only available to those with college emails. Google had just released Maps (and were years away from Street View), Netflix was still in the business of mailing DVDs to people and it would still be another year until Apple rolled out the very first iPhone. Oh, and a plucky little startup called Yelp! had just broken 100,000 restaurant reviews and was gaining traction.
The fact is, in the span of a decade, technology has fundamentally transformed how restaurants operate. Mostly for the better.
So what does the next decade hold? What will restaurant tech mold the independent restaurants of 2026 into? Here are 4 emergent tech trends that we believe every restaurateur should be paying attention to; because 2026 will be here before you know it!
1) Internet of Things (IoT)
The concept of the IoT has been around for a few years now, but it’s finally starting to become practical. This is the idea that ordinary, every-day objects are being embedded with internet-connectivity and sensors to be able to accomplish a variety of new and powerful tasks. The most common commercial examples of this in practice are devices such as Nest home thermostat or Amazon’s Echo speaker.
When applied to a restaurant environment, it is easy to imagine how powerful and necessary IoT devices will become in the coming years. Imagine a “smart” table which would allow visitors to place their orders and make modifications without the aid of a server, or perhaps a “smart” HVAC or refrigeration system that would allow restaurateurs to easily optimize energy usage which would save money in the long-term.
2) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
No, I’m not talking about robots replacing workers, a HAL 9000 running your business or even self-driving delivery cars. Recent advances in AI such as in ‘computer vision’ and ‘machine learning’ have spurred rapid growth in the area of purpose-built algorithms that promise to automate many time-consuming aspects of restaurant management.
For example, in 2026 your AI-connected employee scheduling software might be able to learn your scheduling patterns, along with the patterns and availability of your employees to create an optimised schedule that works best for everyone and can easily adapt to changing situations. Perhaps the software would even be able to suggest likely candidates to call in, in order to fit the need of the shift you are trying to fill.
Similarly, it is not hard to imagine AI-assisted inventory management software (like BlueCart!) that can keep track of all your supplies for you and automatically take care of reordering from your suppliers when things are running low. A system like this would also be able to interface with sensors embedded in perishables to track best-before dates and help ensure food safety standards.
3) Digital wallets
As cash usage continues to decline, mobile payment options such as NFC and Apple Pay are already poised to fill the void. In fact, the frequency of mobile payments have tripled in 2016 alone, with 1-in-5 smartphone users already adopting it as a payment method. Projected forward, it is not hard to imagine mobile devices being the defacto payment method of choice for consumers by 2026.
In fact, if you couple the rise of digital payments with the proliferation of IoT-connected devices you can easily picture a future where tables are turned over quicker as guests’ smartphones are automatically charged for their meals when they leave their table!
4) Digital Gastronomy & Infinite Personalization
Front-of-house doesn’t have all the fun. In the past few years the maturity (and decreased cost!) of 3D printing and fabrication technologies have opened up a whole new frontier for allowing restaurants to come up with things never before possible for their clientele. This change will bring with it two important considerations for restaurants.
First, advances in the technologies around food preparation, specifically the 3D printing of food, will allow restaurants to reduce kitchen build-outs considerably. Kitchens may be able to get by with different tech that requires less space, overhead and operational costs which would positively impact both your bottom-line and your ROI.
Secondly, with near-infinite food production capabilities comes with it the possibility of near-infinite personalization for customers. Need to make something gluten-free or vegetarian? No problem!
So that is what we feel are the most important tech trends that will impact the restaurant of the future. What do you think? Are there any areas we have missed? Let us know in the comments!
Post written by Chris de Jong, the Marketing Lead for 7shifts, an employee scheduling app designed for restaurant based in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He works with the rest of the 7shifts team to help their customers all over the world save time scheduling, reduce labor costs, and improve communication in their businesses.