Tech helps restaurants post record sales

A gluttonous Christmas dinner won’t quell our appetites for plates of expertly prepared food, according to a new report by the National Restaurant Association that forecasts record-high restaurant sales in 2013.

Restaurant sales are expect to hit all-time high of $660 billion next year, up 3.8 percent over 2012. More diners means restaurants will need more workers, and industry employment is expected to reach 13.1 million and post its strongest employment gain in eight years, according to the restaurant association.

The promising projections are welcome in an industry that has only recently sprung to life after being hammered in the recession.  But the strengthening economy isn’t the only factor prompting diners to trade in a night at home with dirty dishes for a night out at their favorite eateries. New restaurant technology that makes dining out a faster and easier experience is encouraging more time-starved customers to eat out.

According a National Restaurant Association survey, 54 percent of restaurant owners say they will invest more in technology in 2013. Already, many Bay Area restaurants are at the forefront of the industry’s technology revolution, leveraging the area’s many startups and app developers to digitize every aspect of the eating-out experience. The king of online reservations systems, OpenTable, was founded in San Francisco. NoshList, out of Pleasanton-based Firespotter labs, and TimeView, created in San Francisco, are apps that manage waitlists, update customers on waiting times and alert them when their table is ready.

Consumers are pushing restaurants to adopt technology at a rate faster than ever before, according to Todd Redd, vice president of strategic communications for software application company SAP. Redd, whose comments appeared on industry blog RetailWire, wrote that each type of restaurant will respond differently —  fast food will get even faster and more convenient, casual dining will invest in technology to make eating out more efficient and sit-down restaurants will have their own apps that enhance the overall eating experience.

In addition to online reservations and waitlist apps, hot tech trends include swapping cash registers for iPads; replacing paper menus with a digital menu board; mobile ordering and payment options; tableside checkout; and mobile devices that allow waiters to order directly from the customer’s table. And don’t forget the endless string of apps that offer restaurant reviews and discounts to make it easier for diners to be sure they’re getting the food they want at the best price.

Technology promises to catapult restaurants into their most prosperous year in 2013, but even a smorgasbord of time-saving apps and can’t turn McDonald’s into a high-end steakhouse. But in the Bay Area, where a vibrant high-tech industry collides with a vibrant foodie culture, diners are certain to have their tastebuds spoiled in record time.

Save room for dessert.

Photo: Umami restaurant general manager PJ Patton, right, uses an iPad to add a customer to a waitlist using the NoshList app. San Francisco. Credit BANG staff photo.

Heather Somerville Heather Somerville (222 Posts)

Heather Somerville is a business reporter covering venture capital and startups for the Bay Area News Group.