January 28, 2023

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The 21 Digital Disruptors Shaping Restaurants in 2022

Rom Krupp

Founder and CEO, OneDine

The year was 2018. Rom Krupp cleared the table and got dystopian for a moment. What if the restaurant industry never existed? Could a tech company approach food as an all-new sector? Krupp not only thought it was feasible, but fundamental to where consumers were taking restaurants. An industry built on guts was beginning to understand the value of data, as Krupp’s 2012-founded Marketing Vitals was proving out. But the next great disruption was unfurling within the structure of restaurants themselves. “The industry that we’re going to build will serve people food the way today food is being served,” Krupp says.

This was the starting point for OneDine, a company that’s capabilities web out into a lot of areas. At its center, though, it’s a platform that supercharges existing POS systems to enable contactless ordering and payment, to optimize labor, eliminate fraudulent chargebacks, and create a “triple-win for servers, managers, and guests alike,” the company says.

What Krupp, who has been in the business for 26 years, recognized was a lack of agility among POS devices.

As he explains it, “a ground-up rewrite of looking at the restaurant industry as a brand-new industry. Not one trying to adopt all of the things that have been adopted for the last 40 years.”

Krupp doesn’t believe restaurants need a brick-and-mortar tech stack anymore. Consider a project OneDine recently tackled. It completed a baseball stadium setup—23 concession stands, eight kiosks, 12 handhelds for VIP suites, 7,000 QR codes, and 180 pickup cubbies. But the key was OneDine did so without installing a single piece of software in the building. Everything runs from secure browsers.

“Cloud-based POS are not really cloud-based POS, they’re cloud-based databases,” Krupp says, “which means the POS is running locally but the database is running in the cloud; but there’s software running in the building. That means you have to upgrade it, version control it. We don’t. Even the software is running as a web service. So there’s nothing really deploying to the field. And that’s a brand-new way to look at the industry, which is you don’t need actual software to run the physical locations.”

OneDine early on created handheld tablets that interfaced with a merchant’s existing tech stack. It was a solution focused on labor and creating a contactless and efficient ordering and payment process for servers and diners. It established PCI and EMV compliance and eliminated fraudulent chargebacks.

However, this was just an opening shot. OneDine expanded to incorporate additional contactless payment tech, mobile menu browsing, and curbside order and payment options to help restaurants generate off-premises revenue. AI surveys, guest preference tracking, and offer management eventually made their way into OneDine’s 360-degree solution as well. It then expanded to accommodate multi-merchant venues (like malls), hotels, airports, retail establishments, and event venues, such as the stadium case.

In Krupp’s two-plus decades working with restaurants—he spent 16 years with Custom Business Solutions before Marketing Vitals—he’s seen the space evolve from POS’ infancy in 1996 to now. And what’s happened since, he says, is commerce has become increasingly decentralized. That began in the early 2000s as online ordering arrived. Krupp himself was involved in launching the integrated system for Jason’s Deli from the internet into the POS in 2000.

Restaurants quickly had different channels for online ordering and different ones for digital menus. It was an OK concept when that slice of business represented a “few percentage points here and there,” Krupp says. But in 2018, the world had morphed to 30–50 percent of sales for countless brands sector-wide.

So given how many transactions were now decentralized, the amount of effort it was taking operators to manage commerce ballooned into a massive, and often messy, undertaking.

“Because everything was still anchored in the POS systems,” Krupp says, “and the POS system was built to run the brick-and-mortar; they were never built to run kind of an Amazon concept. An ecommerce concept. Commerce is not only happening in multiple channels for you as a brand that you can control—commerce was also happening in channels you couldn’t control.”

Krupp is referencing streams like third-party marketplaces and Google ordering.

Again, going back to the ideation of OneDine, Krupp says he didn’t look at the industry’s evolution only through the lens of labor. There were a bevy of solutions working to help restaurants maintain new channels and improve flow.

Krupp says efficiencies in throttling and quoting times, and just managing kitchens in general, flashed on the horizon. “When you have multiple commerce channels, POS, on-premises, off-premises, third-party, not only do you have six or seven vendors to do commerce, but how do they know to quote the delivery driver the right timing and not effect negatively the people who showed up in the building and are sitting in the tables?” Krupp says.

And this is where OneDine staked its future: recentralize commerce and build a platform that brings all of it into a single cloud. With it, they could know what’s happening in the building, outside, in real time. Every table, guest, and third-party. In turn, restaurants won’t have to throttle in a way that had become all too common—an effort to stop people from ordering. Krupp says “throttle” remains a misused practice that can refer to slowing down the business. “For me, throttling is moving it around to optimize revenue. If you try to place an order for 12:30 and based on your mix and the time and how busy the restaurant is, I’ll tell you it’s 12:42,” he says. “You’ll probably complete the transaction and come 12 minutes later. I can squeeze that over and have that low in the kitchen where I can actually do it. We’re not throttling away business, we’re throttling it to optimize the kitchen to be busy all the time.”

Naturally, when COVID hit, these topics lit up. Brands had to rely 100 percent on off-premises. Ghost kitchens were thrown into the pool. Now, restaurants didn’t just have to throttle their own brands; they had to throttle multiple from the same station and equipment. “We had to create a system that was built for commerce and modern time,” Krupp says, “and it didn’t exist.”

“Think about how many vendors and how many partners and how many places you have menu curation and databases,” he adds. “All of that is trying to figure out in real time what’s happening. It cannot work. It just cannot. You hit the limitations of the old digital technologies of restaurants. POS as an anchor doesn’t work anymore.”

To put it plainly, the engine driving the industry was flawed. “The key here is the commerce cloud to really be the one engine to drive 100 percent of commerce,” Krupp says. “Because then all of the features up to that can work. But without that commerce cloud you can build a million features and it won’t work. That’s why you have to have 100 percent of the business transact through the commerce cloud.”

The opposite charts as follows: Use a POS to enter orders and collect payments, and nothing else. Deploy a third-party kitchen technology and third-party reporting platform. The same for labor and inventory. “But everything has to go to that engine because that’s the engine that controls the kitchen at the end of the day. And that flaw is what creates every downstream problem,” Krupp says.

On the B2C side, OneDine wanted to funnel information just as it did with systems. Generally today, because consumer data is distributed, you can have 100 customers of the same POS companies or online ordering platforms, and 100 profiles. Or 100 times a restaurant needs to set preferences and 100 different systems to conduct machine learning.

With one commerce engine, though, Krupp says, there’s a lone identity for every consumer that translates across. “Then when you go to a new restaurant that you’ve never been and you tap in with your phone or you go online to place an order, the moment you interact with anybody in the same commerce cloud, the preference engine, the recommendation engine, the filtering, is applicable to you on the first visit ever,” he says.

OneDine isn’t selling guest data, but rather using it to improve experience and offer benefits in that direction. It’s not unlike how Amazon’s recommends products across a variety of merchants.

“The advantage of a single wallet, a single address book, a single diet care preference, is tremendous to create a better experience for the guest,” Krupp says.

An example he gives is of a customer who walks into a Cheesecake Factory. What if the moment they sat down they could know what they want to eat in 30 seconds, despite the encyclopedia-thick menu? “The restaurant just gained 7, 8, 9-minute table turn times without even introducing and self-ordering or self-payment,” Krupp says. “They did it just be making it easier to decide what to eat.”

Peering into the future, Krupp says it’s going to take three to five years to unpack the innovation and adoption COVID unleashed on restaurants. “We’re still 95 percent inbound sales,” he says. “People are trying to still catch up to COVID.”

So “the next big thing” is likely further out than some think. Presently, however, Krupp believes the industry is fast-tracking toward handhelds. Accelerate those five years and he doesn’t believe there will be a restaurant in the country not taking orders tableside and accepting payment.

Afterward, turn the dial to payment. “I think that’s where the world is going to be,” he says. “Trying to find a way to eliminate credit card fraud to the point where we can drive the credit card companies to go to a sub-1 percent rate, that’s where it’s going to go.”

“The good news is this industry will never stop innovating,” Krupp adds. “I’ve built a career here. Twenty-six years. I’ll probably be doing restaurant tech until the day I die, just because, I get bored and I build new stuff all the time. That’s what I’ve done. There’s never going to be boredom in this industry.”