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New Technology at the Drive-Thru

by Dave Cowdrick | Nov 08, 2013

How many of us have bought what we thought was the latest and greatest electronic device only to find out that 30 days later another more advanced copy was being sold? Frustrating, isn’t it? Yet, when we think about it that next generation device will have upgrades or new features you might never even use. Maybe the newest feature is cool to have but at the end of the day you just want to text, get email, access the internet and make calls. How many iPhone users actually use Siri?

 

When technology meets the restaurant business we find this to be a problem that takes on exponential proportions. Operators of successful restaurants are very cautious of tinkering with what is working. Yes, it might be nice to have that extra report or a “cloud” based whatever, but how does it make the operator more money and how difficult will it be to integrate into an already massively complex operation? These are the real questions that trip-up many new technology products as they meet the real world of the restaurant owner.

QSR’s are especially interesting when it comes to technology because the drive-thru produces some very measurable data that can be manipulated and acted upon to produce improvements at that part of the restaurant. Yet, operators are reluctant to make those changes because an ROI might not be proven or the overall cost is just too high or integrating something new at the drive-thru interrupts an already fairly efficient part of the business.

However, if you run a QSR you probably are a franchisee of a major brand and the franchisor is and should be consistently looking at ways to make your business better. If they aren’t you should be upset! Sometimes those changes require the franchisor and the franchisee to think about how these new things are going to affect the whole store. Digital menu boards are a great example of this. How tempting is it for the franchisor to ditch printed materials for thousands of locations and all the pain that goes with that and put up a digital menu board? However, with that change comes some other considerations like how the content of that digital board will be managed and how it is controlled to maintain brand consistency. Additionally, there is a risk that if a digital menu board goes down due to power failure or device failure is the front of the house or the drive-thru out of commission? Then there’s the cost! Can the savings from not printing and distributing menu slats and plastic pictures of food offset the cost of the digital menu board? The mind of the franchisee spins with these kinds of questions and at the very moment he gets some time to focus on it, the phone rings and his shift leader just quit.

The cost pressures on the restaurant business never seem to stop coming. More questions about healthcare costs for employees or the specter of another minimum wage increase or a regulation about throwing food in the trash! It seems government is trying to make life hard for a business that might look easy from the outside but isn’t once you own one. Technology innovation in the restaurant space needs to show the operator how it can make his/her life easier or make them more money. It really is that simple. So many technology advances have failed because they tried to do too much. Yet others failed because they just didn’t do enough.

The POS companies are struggling with the same issue. Seasoned franchisees know they don’t need an expensive database to manage their business. Yet when POS systems started integrating with accounting software and labor management systems and payroll and inventory they got much more interesting. Now, those systems really were adding value by saving the operator time and helping them make more money. Even the seasoned operator acknowledged this. As franchisees acquired more stores and became multi-unit operators, the need for this kind of data management became much more critical.

So where will the next innovation come from and what problem will it address? Delphi Display Systems has an interesting proposition for franchisees. Looking at the drive-thru as a whole unit of business, the customer-facing equipment package is a disparate conglomeration of boxes and speakers and lights and sensors and yes, even mirrors. Most of the equipment is made by different suppliers who may or may not know anything about the drive-thru business and most if not all of the equipment was made to stand alone. Delphi takes a different view of this issue. We’ve committed to providing the QSR drive-thru operator with the key pieces of equipment needed to run an efficient drive-thru all in one neat package. This single-supplier approach gives the franchisee an integrated, upgradable approach to drive-thru equipment with one place to go for it. The technology part is interesting in that it ties data capture into one database providing the operator with an actionable dashboard of the key metrics affecting this business. Like the POS companies that added functions which in turn added value, Delphi has done the same kind of thing at the drive-thru. Now, a customer can build their drive-thru with a Delphi digital menu board, a Delphi speaker post with a Delphi speaker and the customer talks to a team member listening with Delphi headsets and the order is confirmed on a Delphi order confirmation display. Cars are timed by a Delphi timer and those reports are integrated into the dashboard. The software that ties all this together is a cloud-based system that can be accessed remotely 24/7.

Looking at the entire drive-thru business as a package of integrated equipment is a new idea in the QSR space and perhaps one that franchisees will find has a great deal of value. The technology that now allows companies like Delphi to offer this is becoming much less expensive making the installation costs of this hi-tech equipment not nearly as daunting as it was even 5 years ago. Combine that with having one source to go to when equipment needs servicing or upgrading, Delphi is hopeful franchisees will soon see that all drive thru’s can be made better with packaged technology provided from one source.