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What telecommuter hasn’t used McDonalds or Starbucks as an office away from the office? I know I’ve spent plenty of hours under those famous golden arches while on the road. The unsecured guest Wi-Fi flows as smoothly as the coffee, and there’s usually plenty of elbow room. For a long time, free Wi-Fi was the extent of my thinking about restaurants and connectivity.

One day, I started to receive targeted Panera Bread coupons on my phone and my local, non-chain coffeehouse began advertising its “coffee club,” where you are encouraged to order by mobile app in exchange for rewards. The more I looked, the more I saw restaurants swimming in connectivity that went beyond Wi-Fi.

As the IoT has transformed industries like healthcare, finance, retail, manufacturing, and even education, MSPs should not overlook other opportunities that might be hiding in plain sight, like your local steakhouse or pizza parlor.

You want fries with that?

With the IoT firmly planted in other industries, it was only a matter of time before it came to the fryer.

“It’s difficult to imagine any restaurant that wouldn’t benefit from a low-cost, 24/7, real-time temperature monitoring and notification system,” Ray Almgren, chief marketing officer at Swift Sensors told Upserve’s “Restaurant Insider.” He speculates that government regulations will soon require these IoT systems.

To learn more about restaurants, connectivity, and opportunities for MSPs I reached out to Nicholas Tella, Director of Information Security at renowned culinary college, Johnson & Wales, which produces some of the world’s finest chefs and restauranteurs. The first question I wanted to ask Dr. Tella is how is connectivity changing the restaurant business?

According to Tella, “Wireless technology is leveraged to enhance the customer experience and improve operations,” offering examples like the point of sale systems. He also added that restaurants are increasingly turning to tabletop tablets where a customer can review a digital menu, place an order, and securely pay.

To use a recognizable, national restaurant chain as an example, Chili’s has implemented a tabletop “swipe system” for paying one’s bill. No waiting for 10 minutes for a waiter to bring back your credit card. Now, you can just swipe and go. 

“These systems are also Near Field Technology (NFC) enabled; where a consumer can utilize Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet, and others to pay,” explains Tella. Also, Door Dash or Grub Hub deliveries are likely ordered through either an app or a webpage.

Tella says that wireless solutions are also helping with inventory management, organizing customer reward programs, or targeting promotional messages to mobile devices with coupons or enticing offers. It also has back office implications, like scheduling staff so that peak shifts are covered.

We haven’t yet scratched the surface of true in-kitchen applications, from cooking sensors to freezer systems, and ingredient measurement. Today’s commercial kitchen is transforming into a sensor-filled IoT workshop.

A side of security, please

Hackers like to find the weakest spots, and while banks and hospitals have been fortifying their defenses, Tella warns that restaurants shouldn’t let down their guard either.

“Security and payment card industry (PCI) compliance should not be an afterthought. If credit card transactions and the handling of consumers personal information is taking place, then there is tremendous risk placed on the small business.”

Connectivity means that for restaurants, “the works” is more than a type of pizza. Tella explains that it also means strong cybersecurity practices which should include: “Secure Wi-Fi technologies, firewalls, antivirus software, data encryption, and monitoring for potential attacks.” For a restaurant more accustomed to serving super burgers, this super security can be jarring.

“It can be overwhelming for a business, as they most likely do not have the requisite skills and knowledge to handle all the security and compliance requirements they are subject to,” Tella acknowledges. This is where there is a genuine opportunity for MSPs to become partners in the kitchen.

“Outsourcing certain services like IT can relieve the pressure. It makes sense that a dedicated provider would have the skillsets and knowledge to aid businesses who need an IT infrastructure to operate, but do not have in house resources,” Tella says. While there are some MSPs with strong national footprints specializing in restaurants, that often leaves independents and regionals in the lurch.

“An MSP can provide all the requisite skill sets, meeting all the technology and security and compliance requirements the industry faces. The business can focus on its core competencies and business goals, without having to worry about their IT infrastructure, security, and compliance requirements,” Tella says.

As technology reaches the kitchen, restaurant opportunities increase for MSPs

Tella foresees a future of almost fully automated restaurants, functioning like a vending machine. Convenience store chains like Sheetz and Thorton’s already have mini-restaurants in each unit, where customers can order food from touch-screen kiosks. As someone who has used these before, there is something empowering and satisfying about having such power over your meals. Want more mayo or onions? It’s just the press of a button away.

Tella also envisions computer systems that record every customer’s order. When they return to the restaurant, the system will display their previous orders and AI-infused technology will recommend new dishes based upon ingredients recorded.

Amazon Alexa technology will interface with restaurant applications to order takeout, determine wait time, get on a waitlist, or make a reservation. Another example is Dominos Anywhere platform, which allows customers to order from any hardware device through multiple apps such as Google home, Alexa, messenger, and text.

IoT technology is transforming restaurants in the same way as other industries. MSPs should “Super Size” their offerings to take advantage of the opportunities restaurants represent.

Photo: Zachariah Hagy / Shutterstock

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Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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