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Guest Speaker: Tech Is the Trend of the Year—and Next Year, Too

15 January 2015

Of all the trends reporters and firms who generate copy near the end of each year, Baum+Whiteman is oft overlooked. Yet where U.S. F&B trends are concerned, arguably the company’s principals have their collective thumb on the proper pulse of the nation most firmly. So when they say tech is king in 2015, you can take that to the bank.

Courtesy of Baum+Whiteman

Forget cronuts and Negronis. Forget quinoa and kale. Short of putting food into our mouths, technology is upending the way dining out works. Electronic wizardry once hummed quietly in the background ... but now we’re immersed in “front-facing technology” or “guest-facing technology”: all sorts of devices and programs that interface directly with the consumer. More restaurant companies experiment with tablets ... letting guests order food and drink from their tables; play games while they’re waiting; then pay with smartphones ... meeting a waiter when an order is delivered, or when it’s time for a refill from the bar, or for upselling desserts. Tables turn faster by eliminating downtime during which little happens and customers start fidgeting.

Even that’s not efficient enough: Skip the tablet and let people reserve a table and preorder dinner from a mobile device that also tracks how long it’ll take to get to a restaurant ... and then clues the host and the kitchen to prepare for liftoff. Think of a chef’s joy in knowing that 20 minutes hence a party of six will want three ravioli orders (one gluten free, one high fiber), two orders of calamari (one fried, one grilled) and one plate of locally sourced root vegetables.

Got people standing five-deep at the bar? Why push through the crowd when you can order from your mobile? (That’s the easy part.) And location-based technology or face-recognition software can tell a waiter exactly where you’re standing. (Big Brother’s always watching.)

Two years ago we told you about McD’s kiosks in Madrid that allowed customers to order express meals without getting tangled at the counter ... but that’s already from the dark ages. Pizza Hut is fiddling with touchscreens so guests can customize orders by dragging icons of various toppings onto their virtual pies ... accelerating the entire dining process, cutting down errors, turning ordering into a game the entire family can play. Meanwhile, McD (and other burger-meisters), under competitive pressure from fast-causal upstarts, is testing apps for customizing hamburgers in real time—offering 22 premium options, never mind tanglefoot in the kitchen.

Convenience and speed are obvious benefits. But the real drivers are: (1) Millennials, who want to customize everything in sight and (2) galloping labor costs tied to healthcare and living-wage advocacy. And as labor gets too expensive, once-unaffordable technology starts making sense.

Coming: Amazing new uses for wearables like Google Glass. With face-recognition software, a server can know the names of everyone at a table ... “Nice to see you again Mr. Jones; your usual Hendricks martini?” Hotel concierges can send you on a virtual gastro-tour rather than thumbing through dog-eared Zagat guides. And wait for the avalanche of data that will emerge from ApplePay and other electronic wallets.

For more of Baum+Whiteman’s 2015 F&B and operations trends for restaurants and hotels, compiled by Michael Whiteman and chef/author Rozanne Gold, visit www.baumwhiteman.com/2015Trends.pdf.


Baum+Whiteman creates high-profile restaurants around the world for hotels, restaurant companies, museums and other consumer destinations. Based in New York, their projects include the late Windows on the World, the magical Rainbow Room and the world’s first food courts. They also run F&B trends seminars for major hotel and restaurant companies. Visit Baum+Whiteman at www.baumwhiteman.com