Remember pulling up to the Jack in the Box drive-thru in the 1970s and placing your order through an over-sized talking Jack head where the voice on the other end sounded like a grown up from a Charlie Brown cartoon. You had no idea what the person on the other end was saying or how your order would turn out. Times have changed and the evolution of technology in the fast food industry is picking up the pace - and making the fast food arena one full of strong franchise opportunities.
You've probably seen touch-screen kiosks and self-checkout lanes in grocery stores and post offices. They give customers more freedom, ease long lines and, in some cases, cut labor costs. They're also popping up in fast food restaurants such as Jack in the Box, Burger King, McDonald's, and Carl's Jr., among other systems. These contactless payment kiosks often include colorful, animated touch-screen menus that give customers the option to browse through the entire menu, customize their order, and then pay with cash or a credit card. Something many customers really like. And there's even more on the horizon. McDonald's has been experimenting with drive-through speaker systems that connect to order-takers in a remote call center. Of course, technology can't always replace the human touch. If customers need any help or simply don't want to use the kiosks, there are always eager employees on hand.
And these advances in technology are not limited only to use in the front of the house. These technology tools are becoming a key ingredient in running the whole place. Everything from ordering buns and burgers to scheduling shifts, more and more day-to-day operational issues are being orchestrated via technology tools. For example, software providers now offer systems that can automatically generate the purchase order for the tomatoes, when you're running low, by utilizing inventory application software. Other systems can track refrigeration temperature, humidity, and even energy usage - preserving those ever-important perishables. Still other software programs can handle scheduling employees, tracking their hours, and even training them in proper food handling.
It may sound complicated, but they're relatively easy to use and today's younger generation, working the frontlines, has the techno-savvy to understand and operate these new tools.
Meanwhile back at the franchise corporate office, fast food executives are pouring over the reams of information and matrices being automatically generated and sent their way via web-based tools and systems that collect nearly every bit of data you could imagine. Utilizing this information helps them track trends (like comparing store performance or regional buying habits) and project future moves (like adding to or deleting items from the menu).
The fast food segment of franchising is competitive to be sure. But staying on top of technology and its emerging tools can provide a number of potential edges for those interested in getting involved in this segment.
Of course some things will probably always require the human touch like adding just the right seasoning and ingredients or knowing just when to flip the burger.
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