Technology in restaurants: how much is too much?

September 15 2017

Technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives and that’s no different in the restaurant industry either. But sometimes an overuse of tech can be suffocating or hamper the dining experience.

Now, a new survey from OpenTable Canada has explored how Canadian diners feel towards the use of technology at every stage of the dining experience.

According to a spokesperson for OpenTable Canada, restaurants are embracing new technology with the aim of improving front and back of house. However, it can occasionally conflict with what diners actually want.

The research, which quizzed 275 diners in February and March, focuses on three different stages of the dining experience: before, during and after the meal.

Before the meal

Prior to arriving, more than half of diners (56 percent) said they wanted their restaurant to know their preferred table or seating area, while three-quarters believe having the option to choose their table or seating area would improve their experience.

More than seven in ten (72 percent) would like to be able to add themselves to the waitlist before they arrive.

A third of diners want their restaurant to know how many times they’ve visited, while close to half want restaurants to know special dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries. Three in ten believe it would be beneficial if restaurants were already clued-in on any dietary preferences.

Additionally, 53 percent of diners think it's a good idea or are not bothered by the idea of restaurants Googling them prior to their arrival.

During the meal

Tech has the potential to spoil a dining experience when it actually comes to the eating part; 46 percent of the survey sample hate it when people they're dining with use tech during a meal because it disrupts their experience. As such, less than one in ten (eight percent) take pictures during a meal.

Similarly, the idea of robots taking orders or preparing food would take away from the dining out experience for 65 percent of respondents.

It’s a different story if people are eating alone, as 22 percent of solo diners use their smartphone several times. That’s just at fine-dining restaurants.

At a counter service joint, that more than doubles to 47 percent and skyrockets to 71 percent for those aged 34 and under.

Finally, more than a third (37 percent) liked the idea of having a button on the dining table to alert staff to an issue.

After the meal

When it comes to paying for their meal, diners don’t mind experimenting with tech. Half said they were open to mobile payments, negating the need to wait for the check to arrive.

Loyalty schemes may have been around for a long time now but they’re still good in the view of many people. A fifth said they always or frequently interact with a restaurant's loyalty program. A further fifth sometimes use them too.

Any restaurants thinking about developing their own app may want to reconsider after it emerged only four per cent of diners said it was very likely they would download the app of an individual restaurant they'd visited.

In summary

OpenTable’s spokesperson said the results of the study would help restaurateurs improve hospitality and learn where technology can enhance or sour the overall dining experience.

“Having multiple apps for the same function can be cumbersome,” the spokesperson added.

“Diners want an easy and efficient way to streamline the reservation process with the ability to browse restaurants, view menus and reserve a table, all through a single platform.”

OpenTable is one of the leading names in online restaurant reservations, securing tables for more than 23 million diners every month at more than 43,000 restaurants.

The OpenTable service meets many of the demands raised within this latest research exercise. Diners can see which restaurants have available tables, select and book a restaurant based on reviews and menus.

On the flip side, restaurants can manage their reservation book, streamline their operations, and enhance their service levels.

Since launching in 1998, the service has seated over 1.4 billion diners around the world and more than 54 million in Canada via online reservations.