Tech modern diner

OpenTable recently released its second “Technology and Dining Out” report, which aims to tackle what consumers want from tech before, during and after the dining experience. First done in 2015, this second report was based on a March 2017 survey of more than 4,700 OpenTable users across the U.S. While users of this service are probably more accepting of technology than the average diner, we can still glean useful insights into the future of tech at the dinner table.

People still love dining out

Whether it’s to achieve a dazzling Instagram post or to work around a busy life, Americans are still dining outside the home as part of their weekly routine. More than 70 percent of respondents eat at a full service restaurant at least once a week (a fraction do this daily!). Nearly one-third of respondents order food for pickup every week, and 12 percent order food to be delivered weekly. Counter service restaurants capture 40 percent of weekly business from these respondents.

Given the high frequency of dining out that doesn’t seem to be slowing, businesses have a huge opportunity to engage with consumers at mealtime outside the home. Enter technology.

Integrate tech, but do it tactfully

Love it or hate it, most diners are attached to their devices even at the dinner table. The survey found that people were more likely to check their phones when dining alone, but around half still checked their phones a couple or multiple times during a meal even when dining with others. If you single out the 34 and under group, these numbers jump even higher, and still these respondents still found room for tech to grow into their overall experience.

A majority said that they thought tech could enhance their experience in a bigger way at full-service, limited-service and counter-service restaurants. But context is key – diners don’t want to stick robots and tablets in at every stage of the meal (i.e. a majority of diners are annoyed when others use devices at the table). Businesses have to know where and when to integrate tech into the dining experience – and the survey shows the biggest opportunities in personalization.

Use tech to create unique and personalized dining experiences

Before meal time even starts, diners are using technology to figure out where to dine. The survey showed that word-of-mouth and recommendations from search engines and review sites are still king when it comes to making a selection (one of the reasons why we created a review app to connect with our sensor). With all these tools at their disposal, diners can find the food, atmosphere, price and location that best fits their cravings in just a few minutes. But these behaviors aren’t all that new – what else would they want technology to do besides help them find a spot?

Survey respondents want tech to not just make dining out more convenient, but they want it to make their meal highly personalized. A staggering 72 percent would use tech to choose their own table or seating area, 45 percent would want the restaurant to know if they’re celebrating a special occasion and 22 percent would want a restaurant to know their favorite drink or wine ahead of time.

One finding that was especially poignant to us was about one-quarter of respondents wanted restaurants to know about their dietary preferences before walking in, which is up 7 percent from 2015. If you isolate the 34 and younger group, the number jumps to 36 percent, “indicating that special dietary requests are more prevalent and important than ever” in OpenTable’s perspective. The more businesses can be aware of personal needs and preferences, the happier diners will be.

The survey concluded with open responses from diners and asked, “if you could wave a magic wand and improve anything through technology, what would it be?” The responses may be even more powerful than the survey questions themselves because they lay out a number of fantastic ideas for new products to aid in this personalization, such as:

  • “An AI or Cortana-like digital assistant who can choose place to eat and what to eat for me and my friends based on our preferences, conditions, current feelings and plans.”
  • “A menu with reviews, number of orders, typical prep time, and nutrition content.”
  • “Have my meal choice saved so next time it knows what I had last time and I can choose to order the same thing or make a recommendation based on my preferences.”

While we waved our magic wand to build a device that would tell us exactly what’s in our food, there is clearly even more opportunity to leverage technology to create a unique and memorable dining experience tailored to each diner’s preferences.

What would you improve about the dining experience with technology? Let us know on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.