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    Tech Playing a Larger Role in Foodservice

    Social media, loyalty programs more regularly affect dining decisions.

    CHICAGO – Posting pictures of food to social media sites has expanded from foodies to the mainstream, as 13 percent of those who have dined out in the last month and use social media have posted a photo of their food or drink, according to research firm Mintel in its latest Technology in Restaurants report. This is equivalent to 29.2 million Americans.

    In contrast, only 14 percent of social media users report posting about any purchase, and just 39 percent of them report posting their own updates at least a few times per week.

    Overall, even without photos, consumers are engaging with restaurants online, with 14 percent having posted a positive comment on a brand's social media page. Mobile devices also have found a place inside restaurants, as 28 percent indicate they would stay longer at a restaurant if charging stations for electronic devices were available. However, only 17 percent of survey respondents are influenced by a positive review to eat at a particular restaurant.

    The question is how foodservice operators can use technology to enhance diners' experiences and establish customer loyalty in the competitive and sometimes fickle world of dining out, Mintel said. Its research suggests that combining traditional loyalty programs with today's technology may be the best bet.

    Sixty-nine percent of respondents indicate they prefer loyalty programs that issue points toward future purchases. At the same time, despite a stated preference for loyalty programs, 42 percent say loyalty programs that track ordering habits make them feel like they're being watched.

    "Brands must walk the fine line of providing enough value to customers in exchange for their information," said Bethany Wall, foodservice analyst at Mintel. "Mobile apps and other technologies by operators and third parties have made it easier than ever for consumers to find information such as nutrition and locations, make reservations, order, pay, leave reviews and feedback, and participate in loyalty programs. In return for these conveniences, restaurants can use these apps to collect great amounts of information that can be mined in order to determine the best way to reach and communicate with consumers."

    Buy-one-get-one-free deals are the most popular type of deal (46 percent), followed by value meals/dollar meals (33 percent). Men are more swayed than women by free Wi-Fi (31 percent compared to 27 percent) and a big-screen television (20 percent compared to 15 percent). Women prefer loyalty cards more strongly than men (42 percent compared to 31 percent) and an at-table tablet to ask for food, refills and extra napkins (21 percent compared to 19 percent).

    "Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the restaurant space," Wall added. "With recent advances, restaurants can create a unique, fully customizable experience for consumers, as well as provide faster speed and improved convenience. The key is to be unique, responsive and creative and to provide a benefit that exceeds the hesitation of the customer. Getting them in the door is just the first step, but keeping them coming back is the real key."

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