The hospitality industry isn’t known for being bleeding edge in adopting new technology. In fact, restaurants and hotels often run on first-generation point of sale software, but that’s beginning to change as technology becomes more palatable for everyone.

“It’s a very tough industry in regards to technology,” says Barbara Castiglia, executive editor of Modern Restaurant Management magazine. “There are very small margins in terms of how much money you’re going to make, so you want to make a conscious decision using technology that’s an investment, and it has to work.”

On this episode of the Hospitality Podcast, we discuss the ways tech is transforming the industry with new software, and even surprising hardware, that aids hiring, training and inventory.

Castiglia says the interest in tech news is substantial. “Technology news drives a lot of traffic for us because it’s what people want to know,” she says. “They want to how they can run their businesses in a better manner.”

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE EPISODE 

Shelby Skrhak: So there, as executive editor, you’ve got your pulse on just about everything that’s going on in the restaurant industry and something that we’ve been seeing a lot more of lately or I guess I’m noticing are a lot of headlines about different technology, either apps or providers that are coming into the restaurant space and the hospitality space to kind of help improve various aspects of operations or hiring or management. Barbara, what are you seeing there as editor of the magazine and keeping a pulse on everything?

Barbara Castiglia: We’re seeing a lot of different things and I think one of the things that we say as our mission is to provide information on products and services to help restaurateurs make better informed decisions for themselves to help run their businesses in a more efficient manner. And part of that is going through a lot of information about a lot of tech. We’ve been in business for two and a half years and what we write on the tech side is drives a lot of traffic because what people want to know, people want to know how I can run my businesses in a better, better, is this app going to increase loyalty and put more butts in seats as they’re always looking for.

You know, it’s a very tough industry on a number of levels in regard to technology. There are very small margins in terms of how much money you’re going to make and you want to make a conscious decision using a technology that’s going to be an investment and it has to work. There are still restaurants out there that are using pen and paper. That landscape is totally changing in a very short period of time because the new restauranteurs are people who don’t know pen and paper, who have been brought up on phones and tablets and they’re finding these solutions. They’re the ones who are saying, “What are you doing inventory on this pen and paper? I have an app that you can do this,” and doing things in a more efficient manner.

There’s always this fear. Hospitality is a people industry. It’s probably the first business of all time. People serving other people food and you don’t want to take away that human element. So the best technology has to be a seamless technology that works to make that guest experience either more enhanced or just very seamless where you don’t even know that that the tech is involved. You know, I go to a lot of different conferences. I talk to a lot of different people about this and it’s fascinating for me to see how it’s working in different levels on the restaurant experience that you’re not even aware about even on the HR side where franchises and restaurants are using technology to hire better, to train better, and that comes out in the better experience for the guest.

SS: So then what are you seeing then as far as HR? Because that is something that in most all industries, especially for hiring with HR, it’s always a pain point because it can be so tedious and then especially within the hospitality industry where turnover can be high and there’s just a lot of manual paperwork that kind of goes into it. What are you seeing that technology is helping that matter?

BC: Oh, so many different things that it actually helps even the individual restauranteur on board before they even walk in the door by having those manuals and things that people may just, you know, when they’re on paper, they may just take and sign that they read, but you can actually now make sure that somebody actually look through all of this stuff online. So something like that is a great way for even a single restaurant or another particularly a brand to instill what their company culture is.

There are ways to using virtual reality to help train. I did a really cool thing last year with KFC where we use virtual reality to make the chicken and you really feel like you’re there and they’re telling you the story and instilling the values of Colonel Sanders as you’re making this chicken. And yes, it’s fun, but it does have benefits to it. Everybody is finding out what are the right ways for their individual brands to reach the best employees. As you said, training and retention and staffing is probably the biggest issue for the restaurant industry.

You want to have the best people in place and you want to treat them right and have them be engaged to engage your guests and it starts at that hiring process. And it’s reaching them at where they are. People are not going into the restaurant and seeing the sign on the door as much anymore as they’re looking you up online and checking you out and things like having systems and things in place for just to go read through resumes so that you get the best people in front of you.

SS: So virtually making chicken. You got to tell me about that experience.

BC: It was incredible. You know, they put the headset on you and walk you through it and it’s so weird because you feel like you’re going to different stations and you walk through the whole process of the seasonings and the importance of the seasonings and the breading and the frying and you’re picking things up, but you’re really not moving at all. You’re just maybe turning a little bit and what’s very interesting is that a few months later I did another piece where we filmed a virtual reality company that is using the technology to help in the retail format and as well as in restaurants in terms of the architecture aspects and how things will be placed so that they could make a better restaurant.

And the difference in the headsets that I used within six months that the technology had improved so much that it’s becoming more… I mean we’ve been seen this. I mean, I’m a dinosaur, I’ve been around. First computers were crazy, outrages amount of money and now they’re becoming very… I get a new one every couple of years, it’s how the technology goes. It becomes more efficient and more affordable to everyone. I find it fascinating. I read all the time, but I do have been paying a lot of attention to the use of robotics in the kitchen and I think there’s a lot of scariness about them taking jobs away from people and I think technology is always coming in and jobs change because of the technology, but it’s not necessarily going to take away anything.

If you want your burger flipped by a robot, it’s kind of cool right now, but other people may want their burger flipped by an artisan who’s making some kind of crafted burger. So I think different things. There’s nothing to really be scared about with technology. I think there’s a lot of players out there right now who are coming up with a lot of different apps and there’s a lot of information and people have to make the best decisions.

SS: Right. So I guess looking at the different spectrums of robotics and the kitchen and just in the hospitality industry, what are the alpha and the omega or what’s the most common use of robotics or even AI that you’re seeing in the hospitality industry and the contrast that to what’s just the most far out use of robotics that you’ve seen that is starting to kind of come into play?

BC: Well, I think there, it’s still kind of in its infancy. I think they’re probably robotics in used in ways that are robotics from years ago that are probably very common in terms of how pieces operate and things. But one of the ones that attracted a lot of attention last year and this year is something called Flippy the Robot that’s a burger flipping robot and one of the brands in California put it in place and it didn’t fly, it just didn’t keep up with what people needed, but that’s being perfected. That will get there. They’re more on the backend so people don’t see more on the training side but even something like cool kiosks and things that people are using to make sure that people are getting their orders correct. You even see it in the transition from having a person take your order at a quick check. McDonalds is doing a lot more kiosks that those are the use of technology that is then bringing up a person to do a job that they may be better suited for.

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