When Too Much Technology Hurts Your Brand (And the Industry)

By Rich Parubrub
Group Creative Director/Copywriter

Advancements in technology continue to make our lives easier, with cars that park themselves, light bulbs that dim via voice commands and refrigerators that alert you when you’re running out of milk.

New technology is reshaping the restaurant world too. Facebook messenger chatbots can answer guest questions, as well as offer reservations. Customers can not only place their orders online, but through their smart homes connected to Amazon Alexa. For the sake of efficiency and accuracy, restaurants have placed tablets on tables so customers can directly order their food. People can also pay at the table with their own smart phones. And UberEats allows for home delivery in ten minutes.

All so very convenient. But do these technological improvements actually hurt a restaurant’s brand? Delving deeper, are they slowly and unknowingly undermining the industry itself?

Many restaurants pride themselves on the experience inside their dining rooms. Along with food quality, attentive customer service is at the core of many restaurant brands. Creating a welcoming atmosphere with personable staff who forge relationships with guests is a great way to build a loyal following. Regulars who value not only just the food, but that palatable, warm familiarity felt when walking into their favorite restaurant.

Those who embrace new restaurant technology will argue that they’re providing a seamless brand experience across their digital storefront. That recent tech offerings better appeal to Millennials. Or that new tech developments improve labor efficiency and optimize costs.

All valid arguments.

But at the end day, we’re still human beings. And when technology removes the human element in eating out, it discounts what we like about that experience. Many of us appreciate the friendly back and forth banter from a witty bartender. We like having an engaged server, who listens to what we say and makes recommendations on what we might like to eat. We appreciate it when a manager or cook takes the time to go from table to table to check on guests and their meal. It makes us – and the experience of that meal – feel special. Genuine, social interaction endears us to brands. Take that out of the equation and the less appetizing eating out becomes.

Technology embracers may claim this point of view to be misplaced overreaction. The fears of a Luddite diner warning against the rise of the machines. But consider the following.

Humanoid, customer service robots have already debuted in malls and airports to help people shop and eat in retail environments. These robots could very well be the wait staff of the future.

On top of that, a U.K.-based company is currently programming a robot to mimic the actions of a chef that’s been filmed cooking, to mirror each and every action needed to prepare a specific dish. One could argue that these are the cooks of the future.

Which means one eventual tomorrow, the only people inside a restaurant’s dining room could very well be the guests themselves … assuming that people will still go to restaurants. Last Fall, Grubhub’s C.E.O. predicted the coming of virtual restaurants that will focus solely on delivery and eliminate in-house dining. With different companies currently investing heavily to make drone delivery a reality, technology is fundamentally changing the restaurant business. In ways we might not be able to anticipate. And in ways that might not necessarily be good.

So the next time you find yourself at a restaurant ordering food on a tablet, look up from the screen and take everything in. You could be experiencing a soon-to-be memory.

Li Brown