The introduction of technology into the front of the house remains one of the hottest trends in today's restaurant industry. Lots of industry professionals have their own ideas as to how the use of technology will shape hospitality in the years to come. Before we can start shaping our own vision of the future, though, we must look to the past, says Tom Galvin of Galvin Design Group.

Tom Galvin, Galvin Design GroupIn 1978 I was working with a rock and roll band by the name of Angel that used a hologram as part of the stage show. The use of that technology was truly leading edge at that time. Several years ago, a tribute to Michael Jackson used this same technology to bring the King of Pop back to life during performances.

Twenty years later, I was part of the corporate team developing the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando. Several of us were tasked with coming up with ideas to help create the ambiance that's now a standard part of the Hard Rock experience for specific areas of the property. In my case this included all of the kitchens, bars, the arrival/check in area and the lobby space. My thought was to include an interactive space that spanned both the check-in area and the lobby. While checking in or hanging out in the lobby, guests could see a hologram of top-notch musical acts such as the Beatles. While it would have definitely delivered a wow factor, the feature was omitted due to budgetary reasons.

In 2003, I was fortunate enough to work as a consultant to Darden Restaurants while the multi-concept operator was developing its Seasons 52 concept. This concept set out to prove that a restaurant could serve a menu of better-for-you meals that were still decadent. As part of the progressive customer experience, front-of-the-house staff used handheld devices to check on a meal's calorie count, take the order and settle the guest's check. Seasons 52 turned some heads with its approach to technology because not many, if any, U.S. restaurants were using it despite the fact that it was common in Europe at the time.

Envisioning the Future

Fast forward seven years to 2010, when I was serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen Hospitality School. For one class, I invited a panel of industry experts to participate in an exercise with the students. Together we would try to come up with our vision for the next big restaurant concept that would hit the U.S. market.

After an hour and a half of lively and contemplative discussion, here's our idea: We projected the operator would use a space that previously housed a restaurant. Instead of customers coming in to order their food, they would do so via the internet or by using their smartphones. The class felt this approach would reduce the amount of labor necessary to run the restaurant and it would limit construction costs.

One interesting trend of late is a variety of delivery-only restaurants opening. Like the concept described above, customers order their food online and it gets delivered to them. In other words, these concepts have no front of the house to staff or maintain. This also reduces the operation's insurance costs.

So, let's turn back to the original question: What's in store for the future of the restaurant industry?

My 39 years of experience points toward continued use of smartphones in restaurants and other foodservice operations. Operators will marry their guests' use of smartphones to a hologram at each table. Using voice-command technology, a three-dimensional figure will walk the guests through the menu and take their orders. Guests will also settle their tabs tableside using payment information stored in the restaurant's database. In other words, a cashless future may not be too far off.

Predicting exactly what the future holds for the foodservice industry is a complicated business. That's because a variety of factors, many of them unknown to us today, will continue to shape our business. One thing's for certain, though, new applications of non-foodservice technology will play a greater role in how
operators serve customers in the years to come.

Just let history be your guide.