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MURTEC 2023: Insights from Top Restaurant Chains and Tech Leaders

At this year’s Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference—MURTEC—retail experts and executives from around the restaurant industry came together to share insights on the latest industry trends and projections.

After a challenging 2022, this year’s theme focused in on the deeper integration of existing information technologies to leverage greater operational efficiencies and personalization for customers, that “the time has come to go all in to make an industry-wide push toward more innovative uses of tech that has actually been around for some time.

Of course, ensuring IT security comprises one of the major barriers to those integrations. When any business transitions to new systems, decision leaders need to be certain it won’t either compromise its existing systems or put itself at greater risk of leaking critical business and consumer information. 

That’s why Fortinet and ‘Roving Reporter’ Courtney Radke, Retail & Hospitality Field CISO at Fortinet, came to MURTEC to uncover some of the major trends.

Radke starts his survey of the event by speaking to Chad Leedy, Vice President of Franchise Development at Interface Systems. When asked what technologies and trends were driving the restaurant industry forward, Leedy spoke first to the customer experience: “Restauranters are trying to find that balance of operations and technology while really focusing on the customer experience.”

“[After the experiences of COVID], what they’re finding is they really have to go back to the key tenants of CX [rather than] just throw technology in to solve everything,” Leedy continues, adding that restauranters need to ask themselves what drives their business and what their particular customers want in order to have the goals and vision necessary to properly direct their tech innovations. 

Playing off of that note, Radke asked Leedy what the barriers to tech adoption were, specifically the risks of adopting too quickly: “You see a competitor you admire adopt a technology and think ‘we gotta go do that,’ but you have to consider what your [current] technology stack is and whether it is going to integrate well,” contends Leedy. 

It comes back to the need to be patient, nuanced, and strategic when looking at making such major changes to your business, a point Carl Udler, Sr. Director of Marketing at Hughes would echo later during the event.

That goes for restaurants or other retailers: technology is not a substitute for knowing what your particular business needs, what your customers need, what your employees need, and what your brand development goals are. 

Radke’s next expert, Dallan Elk, Vice President of Information Technology at Zaxby’s Franchising, was rather focused on the potential of AI (a subject that has received a lot of buzz in the last six months) while echoing the themes on the importance of the customer experience. 

Fortinets Retail Hospitality Field CISO Courtney Radke alongside Dallan Elk at MURTEC 2023

Yet, because there is a lack of intimate knowledge on either the capabilities or proper implementations of AI technology even in 2023, challenges abound for figuring out where it might fit in with your brand. Cautious Elk, “It’s definitely clear…that the native speech on artificial intelligence isn’t quite there. It impacts the journey of the guest. As soon as you hear a robotic voice [it might off-put a customer].”

However, while ‘robotic’ kiosks may not be able to replace all of the functions customers have grown to be accustomed to in restaurants today, Elk contends that AI can help to make communication between ‘real’ employees via technologies such as native translation that much smoother.

Moving over to IV Dickson, Chief Innovation Officer at SageNet, he was most excited about using ‘geo locating’ technologies to better understand traffic patterns around one’s business and to learn how customers are interacting both inside and outside.

“You really [want to understand] more about the transaction of the customer journey while they’re there beyond just the PoS data…How are they interacting with the restaurant? How are they using mobile devices?” Dickson notes.

“[You really want to be able to] capitalize on that data when they’re in the brick-and-mortar space,”
he concludes, bringing it back again to the importance these innovations have in improving that customer experience first and foremost. 

When asked what the greatest barriers were, Dickson touched on a theme that has long been a major one in the tech space: what to do with all of this data.

“Getting to the data this is maybe most important to that transaction while they’re in the restaurant is maybe the biggest challenge,” he contends. 

“The other one is dynamically understanding how to present data to the consumer when they’re in that restaurant,” he continues, given that customers are only there for a few minutes and that ‘creating a brand affinity’ within that space has to be lightning quick.

Radke then had a chance to interview William Stanton, Director of Cloud Engineering and DevOps at Jersey Mike’s Subs. When asked what excited him the most, he also noted AI, but rather for back office support to support operations in making automated decisions. 

When it comes to integrations, he notes that the sheer volume of API and third-party integrations out there are all secure together; in other words, to see these integrations as a holistic process where a business needs to try and keep the wider IT picture in mind.

Karl Goodhew
Fortinets Retail Hospitality Field CISO Courtney Radke alongside Karl Goodhew at MURTEC 2023

Radke then moves to Karl Goodhew, CTO at BurgerFi, to ask what trends stand out to him. He emphasized the need to, again, focus on the customer, balancing what they need and want with the operational needs your business needs to operate securely and safely.

Specifically, Goodhew speaks to the way tech can speed up processes without replacing the human element, rather repositioning your ‘real’ employees to a more hospitality-focused role, elevating the customer experience.

Radke wraps up his tour with Tom Seeker, CIO at Earl Enterprises. When asked what he thought was going to change the industry, his answer was clear: anything that helps to understand the customer better while making rapid, real-time adjustments and changes to meet their needs.

When asked about cybersecurity, Seeker noted that the greatest concern is employees and customers introducing threats unwittingly (Radke notes that 70-90% of breaches involve human error).

However, he concludes on that all-important theme of personalization, noting that data can tie ‘data to faces’ to create better customer solutions in a way previously the domain of only the most expert customer agents.

Across the event, several themes stood out including a multitude of key takeaways. To recap, the message of the day was ultimately fairly straightforward: when looking to integrate new technologies, you first need to know your business and your customers as intimately as you’re able with the tools currently available to you.

Once you move to execution, you have to choose the right tools for the job, whether that’s AI’s real-time translation services (say, if you have a customer base that is multilingual) or stronger support for your operations teams.

Lastly, each stage of the process has to be done with security in mind: with the sheer volume of data and services out there today, IT threats are set to multiply exponentially. 

In that sense, IT security isn’t a goal with a finish line, but a continual strategic posture that requires decision leaders to be both alert and adroit when considering risks, always integrating the appropriate training and safeguards to reduce the risk factors presented by simple human error. 

It may sound like a lot, but it all builds on long-established principles of good business: offer your customer what they need as efficiently as they can, and you’ll generate loyalty.