I got a Fitbit in 2014. It was my first experience of a wearable device – before that I’d seen fashion shows featuring outlandish spacesuits or t-shirts that would one day allow you to walk through the London Underground system like some sort of wizard, with ticket gates flying open as you approached. Much as I loved the idea, it didn’t seem very likely.
But the Fitbit changed everything for me. Along with the Apple Watch, it proved that a device on your wrist could do more than tell the time – it could let you know that you hadn’t had enough exercise, or that you’d hadn’t slept properly.
In fact, the restaurant industry was quick to give the Apple Watch a purpose – in 2016, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group announced that they intended to use Apple Watches for alerting managers that a customer had arrived or that a sommelier was required.
But when we did our Restaurant 2025 research, the appetite for using wearables was relatively muted in some areas. It would be interesting to see if this has changed as wearables have become more mainstream.
Surprisingly, considering that the Apple Watch was readily available when the research for this report was done, only half (51%) of operators liked the idea of being able to accept orders and/or payment from guests using their wearable devices in conjunction with the restaurant POS:
Consumers were slightly more enthusiastic about ordering and paying using a wearable device. 18% said they’d definitely use wearable technology to order or pay for food and drink and 41% said they’d like the option, but 41% said it would not improve their experience and they’d find it invasive. However, this is in line with other research we have carried out – (for example Is Cash Dead in Hospitality?) – which suggests that while half of consumers would readily embrace mobile payment, half tend to want to stick to traditional cards and cash.
The most popular use of wearable technology among restaurants operators was being able to send promotions or other marketing messages to guests on their wearable devices. 58% of restaurant operators found this appealing. Whether consumers would welcome this, however, needs to be explored.
Also popular was the use of wearable technology for allowing staff to clock in to their shifts/to the restaurant POS. 53% of operators thought this was appealing:
48% of operators liked the idea of monitoring staff activity using wearable technology. However, 30% of operators found this idea unappealing, making it the least popular use of wearables among restaurants.
Personally, I quite like the idea of setting my wearable device to say “nothing over 400 calories for me today, thank you” – admittedly I’d probably just override it 99% of the time but I like the idea of it. Only 46% of operators thought it was an appealing idea, however:
7. Wearable technology for recognising guests?
The most significant finding in our Restaurant 2025 report was that consumers liked the idea of technology allowing them to be recognised in a restaurant without having to show a loyalty card. 51% of operators liked the idea of using wearables to do this – for example a device buzzing to let the manager know that the party of 10 celebrating a birthday had arrived, or alerting a server to let them know that this customer was a regular, or the host being able to tell that a guest was approaching thanks to the guest’s wearable.
These are just some of the ideas for how wearables could be used with the restaurant POS to improve guests service and efficiency. Let us know if you’ve seen any others. It will be very interesting to see if uptake and desire increase as wearables become more mainstream.
Download the Restaurant 2025 report if you would like to read more about other emerging technologies that will impact on the food and beverage industry: robotics, artificial intelligence, biometrics, facial recognition, 3D imaging, voice activation, virtual reality, drones, and 3D printing.