Top industry executives share technology headaches, solutions at inaugural Future Restaurants conference

More than 120 attendees from top U.S. chains, as well as emerging concepts, gathered at the inaugural Future Restaurants conference held in Austin, Texas this week to learn best practices for coping with a tidal wave of disruptions facing the industry. Among the biggest issue discussed at the event, hosted by New York-based conference operator Worldwide Business Research, was the omnipresence of third-party delivery companies.

Though last-mile operators market themselves as restaurant partners, some chain leaders argued that the four big delivery companies have become rivals as they are starting to act more like restaurants. They own valuable consumer data and offer perks and loyalty programs to keep diners on their apps, leading to mounting third-party commissions.

Wow Bao, on the other hand, believes automation is the future of restaurants.

President Geoff Alexander said the emerging 11-unit brand uses self-serve kiosks and animated cubbies to provide diners a start-to-finish digital experience. The fully automated front of the house system reduces labor costs, while improving order accuracy, he said.

By having lower staffing needs than traditional fast-casual restaurants, Alexander said the Chicago-based company, created by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, is perfectly “set up for [future] growth and ease of execution.”

Another perk: kiosks allow the brand to capture customer data, which is crucial in an economy driven by personalized digital marketing.