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Imagine this: your 5-tiered wedding cake in all its glory. Even before it’s baked. Next, think about 3-dimensional images of the dishes you’ll feature at your wedding buffet: succulent braised beef shanks, golden roasted chicken breasts, delicately baked ocean trout, buttermilk whipped potatoes, and beautiful bowls of bright salads. Watch magical platters of luscious cheesecake, tiramisu, or fruit tarts appear before you. If you can imagine all of this (and understand its significance), you’ll be ahead of your peers in understanding the significance of the AR/VR revolution in restaurant online ordering.

All things considered, restaurants are already leveraging these technologies to transform the customer experience. Positioning virtual reality in the food and drink space is a natural progression, given its focus. After all, the act of eating and drinking is extremely sensory in nature. VR/AR just adds an extra layer of value to the experience.

Today, let’s look at how virtual reality is disrupting the restaurant scene, and why you should pay attention to this technology as a potential revenue growth tool and branding pillar.

The Current State of Virtual and Augmented Reality In The Restaurant Industry

The most enterprising restaurants stand to reap substantial benefits from the AR/VR revolution. Not only does VR still have that cool sci-fi factor in its favor, but it’s also a capable tool that helps you differentiate from your competitors. Currently, virtual reality is in its growth phase. All in all, it’s not quite to the “really, you don’t have that!?” point yet, however.

Let’s take a look at some ways restaurants are already using virtual reality. Next, we’ll take a look at some of the future implications and applications of this technology.

3-Dimensional Menus and 4-Dimensional Dreams: The Ultimate AR/VR Revolution In Restaurant Online Ordering

The virtual reality experience: A feast for your eyes and appetite

VR/AR has the capacity to be both functional and playful through 3D menus. Enabled via smartphone or in-house headsets, AR menus give customers 3-dimensional views of your restaurant dishes.

Done well, it’s a breathtaking exercise in sensory restaurant dining. Take Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery, for example. The famous NYC bakery recently introduced the world’s first augmented reality menus to its main storefront. Customers can come in, grab a tablet, and see 3D images of all of the cakes on the menu. They also get to see what their cake will look like against various backdrops. The Kabaq-based technology lets customers rotate, zoom, and see closeups of their cake.

However, Magnolia isn’t the only brand using AR menus. A variety of restaurants have also jumped on the Kabaq bandwagon. For example, New York-based burger joint Bareburger is using the VR tech in its online ordering system to give customers a view of menu options before they ever step into a Bareburger location.

That said, VR is pretty limitless in how it impacts customers. Beyond its initial value as an entertainment tool, VR also has important social ramifications. For example, millennials will be the key demographic sharing, commenting, and engaging with the technology. The importance of this demographic? Millennials now make 60% of their purchases online.

Food Education For Both Employees And Customers

Augmented reality: Help your employees learn better and your customers make better choices

While the experiential marketing elements of AR — like 3D menus — are certainly impressive, we mustn’t discount its educational possibilities. AR can completely transform the employee onboarding process by providing visual demonstrations of how to operate machinery.

The use of AR as an education tool for customers isn’t entirely new, either. In 2017, YouTube user napkinmoments showed the capabilities of Apple’s VR kit by using it to display the nutritional value of a banana. Prior to that, Nestle launched a food education VR truck in 2011.

At any rate, more brands are beginning to understand the value of AR. In 2015, Patron Tequila launched a 360-degree video utilizing Oculus Rift technology. The video shows the inner workings of the tequila making process — from harvesting to distillation.

Meanwhile, India’s largest beer chain, The Beer Café, leverages Blippar (the world’s largest image recognition and AR platform) to let users know the origins, alcohol content, and taste of their beers.

The industry of food education and AR goes well beyond the restaurant scene. Project Nourished helps consumers overcome unhealthy eating habits through virtual psychotherapy. Dating someone in another continent? Project Nourished makes virtual dining an enjoyable experience.

Gamified Experiences For Customers

Fun + Branding: The Route To Increased Conversions

Again, finding ways to leverage experiential dining is a crucial means of creating happy customers. Of course, this practice can vary among restaurants. You don’t have to put a ball pit in the middle of your elegant restaurant to entice customers, however.

The digital age has created unique drivers of success. Fully immersive, multi-sensory experiences can generate huge revenues for restaurants. Take, for example, branding games.

Giving the customer a fun, exciting, and entertaining experience while simultaneously promoting your brand is a win-win scenario. By 2020, brand will overtake both product and pricing as the key determiner of business success.

Not convinced? In particular, 61% of consumers say that they would rather purchase food at a restaurant than a grocery store, simply because of the experience.

Additionally, 73% of diners believe that tech is what’s needed to improve this experience!

In line with this expectation, Yahama now leverages a VR experience to let consumers see all of the components inside their bikes. Meanwhile, Alibaba lets users walk through virtual stores to make online purchases. Think that the news is boring? The New York Times lets readers experience their stories through 360-degree videos. And, for the ultimate in pre-dining entertainment, check out Skullmapping, which allows diners to see an AR rendition of their favorite dishes being prepared.

So, How Can The AR/VR Revolution In Restaurant Online Ordering Benefit My Business?

Experiencing the VR/AR revolution in restaurant online ordering in NYC.

We’re glad you asked!

Burger King recently launched an app allowing users to virtually burn ads from burger competitors. Not to be outdone, KFC launched an escape room game where employees must make chicken “the Colonel’s way” before they can leave the kitchen. Of course, the Colonel narrates the game with his own brand of diabolical laughter. Who can top this?

How about a quirky take on Google Cardboard? McDonald’s in Sweden lets its customers turn their Happy Meal boxes into DIY virtual reality kits! After eating, they simply fold their Happy Meal boxes along pre-inked lines, insert two lenses, and slide their smartphones into the makeshift headsets. Next, they get to play a variety of VR games to their heart’s content. Meanwhile, a NYC Taco Bell chain launched pop-up arcades with VR tacos and shark attacks in 2016.

The aim isn’t just to increase brand recognition (although that’s important). You want to provide an experience customers won’t forget anytime soon. When people leave that Taco Bell arcade, KFC game, or take off their McDonalds DIY VR kit, you want them to remember the experience you provided. if they do, they’ll be back for more.

If you think only the big names can leverage AR/VR as a means of product differentiation, think again.

In particular, local restaurants are beginning to offer their customers wide selections of VR experiences. Want to experience a beach sunrise while eating your fried chicken? Done. You can also explore space while eating your favorite BLT sandwich. The key is to incorporate the experiential factor into online ordering. Give your customers the ability to visualize their food, even before it’s delivered.

Next, we look at how restaurants can leverage VR internally.

Onboarding and Training

Get employees excited about learning!

The implications of augmented reality in the kitchen are massive.

Picture this: taking your employees through complicated kitchen routines without exposing them to intimidating kitchen conditions. The uses here are profound. You can teach safety procedures by introducing elements of virtual danger into an AR onboarding process. You can also teach employees how to cook or craft specialized drinks: since the ingredients aren’t real, actual resources won’t be wasted. The sky’s the limit with backroom AR. In particular, chain restaurants can create virtual training routines, essentially freeing managers to tackle more customer-centric initiatives.

Plus, AR has some serious attention-grabbing capabilities.

We’re already seeing widespread use of VR/AR in this regard. Walmart has invested in a VR kit for every store. Google now uses VR to teach people how to make coffee. Even sports teams are getting in on the action.

That being said, the costs are difficult to justify at this point in time.

In fact, many of the implications of AR/VR are more suited for future uses.

The Future of Virtual and Augmented Reality In The Restaurant Industry

With so many applications, VR and AR certainly have bright futures in the restaurant industry.

However, there are three barriers to mass adoption of AR/VR:

  • Cost: AR/VR tech is often prohibitively expensive, and most solutions require custom-built software.
  • A restricted choice of vendors: There are only a few vendors dominating the AR/VR space.
  • Equipment: While AR can be leveraged on a smartphone, VR tech needs specific equipment.

However, as the tech evolves in sophistication, costs will begin to decrease. Additionally, new vendors will soon enter the arena. So, let’s talk about why there’s a bright future for AR and VR in the restaurant industry.

1) Consumers are Ready to Consume New Tech

30% of diners are more likely to use restaurant technology this year than they were last year. We see this trend with online ordering. Eight years ago, only 10% of restaurant business came from online orders. Today, 86% of consumers order food online at least once-a-month (51% once-a-week!). Additionally, online ordering is expected to rise by 12% annually over the next 5 years.

That’s an incredible statistic.

Bottom line: Customers crave tech.

31% of diners report that the restaurants they eat at are lagging behind in technology.

Finding ways to leverage progressive technology is going to be key for restaurants that want to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Currently, adding AR experiences to your online ordering capabilities is possible. However, in the next 10 years, it’s going to be necessary.

2) Eating Is Both Visceral And Visual In Nature

Let’s face it: eating is a highly visual experience. We like our food to look and taste good. AR and VR tech plays into our deepest food fantasies. The ability to layer additional visual experiences on top of an already sensory experience promises to be a critical game changer for restaurants. Using AR may be a great way to pull in customers hungry for an experiential ordering experience.

Bear in mind, however, that AR and VR are going to be drivers for future restaurant marketing. Since AR can be paired with smartphones, the social implications are massive.

Social sharing, social engagement, and mobile marketing are all part of the lifecycle of a customer’s dining experience. When you add unique overlays and visual elements to that experience, it makes it more shareable.

Bottom line? We expect AR and VR to figure heavily into restaurant online ordering in the near future.

3) VR and AR Can Increase Employee Training Success Rates

Finally, we expect AR/VR to play an important role in employee training. So, are AR/VR technologies more effective than human instructors? The jury’s still out on that one. However, we can’t deny that AR and VR give employers the ability to train workers in ways that weren’t previously possible.

For example, you can virtually train employees off-site, which can decrease in-house costs. You can also use AR/VR to educate employees about dangerous tasks, without risk to their lives. Of course, you can also use it to help introduce employees to some of the more complex elements of food service, such as portion sizes and bartending.

In fact, VR has been shown to improve our ability to estimate portion sizes. Apply that to employees and it could lead to cost reductions down the road.

You Can Join The AR/VR Revolution In Restaurant Online Ordering

Virtual reality and augmented reality aren’t going away anytime soon. While they may not have penetrated restaurants en masse, they are promising technologies that restauranteurs can’t afford to ignore.

As we’ve seen, technology can be an important branding pillar in the restaurant industry. Remember this: Online ordering, digital marketing, and the restaurant apps we’ve come to rely upon were once “progressive technologies.”

How 9Fold Can Help You Stay Tech Savvy

9Fold continues to build a robust online ordering platform that lets you win customers away from third-party platforms. With our system, you can build your own unique, incredible, branded online portal. It’s cheaper, more effective, and certainly more cost efficient than putting your brand solely in the hands of a third-party portal.

Ready to get answers to your questions? If our article on the AR/VR revolution in restaurant online ordering has been helpful,  contact us to learn more.