Episode Summary

In this episode of Restaurants Reinvented, host Jen Kern sits down with Richard Shank, Sr. Principal & VP of Innovation at Technomic. They dive deep into the future of the restaurant industry, focusing on three main pillars: the kitchen as the nucleus, the role of AI, and the evolution of customer loyalty programs.

First up, the kitchen. It’s not just a place to cook; it’s the heart of the restaurant. Richard emphasizes that all systems, from front-of-house to back-of-house, need to sync with the kitchen to ensure a seamless customer experience. 

Second, AI isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a tool that can help with predictive analytics for demand and labor planning. But, Richard warns, don’t let machines make all the decisions. Human redundancy is key.

Lastly, customer loyalty. It’s not just about points or free meals anymore. It’s about creating a seamless, positive experience that starts the moment a customer walks in or logs on. Richard suggests that the industry needs to rethink loyalty to truly engage customers.


💡 Name: Richard Shank, Sr. Principal & VP of Innovation

💡Company: Technomic, a Winsight Company

💡 Noteworthy: Over 12 years in the industry, focuses on new data products and custom research for restaurant operators, particularly in customer experience and pricing analytics.

💡 Where to find Richard: LinkedIn

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Key Insights

🍔 The Kitchen as the Nucleus

The kitchen isn’t just for cooking; it’s the core of the restaurant. Richard Shank emphasizes that all systems, from front-of-house to back-of-house, must align with the kitchen for a smooth customer experience. The idea is to unify all operations around the kitchen, making it the central hub. This approach is not just about food preparation but about fulfilling customer orders in a way that meets or exceeds expectations. The kitchen’s efficiency directly impacts customer satisfaction, making it a critical focus for restaurant operators.

🍔 The Role of AI in Restaurants

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more than a buzzword; it’s a tool for predictive analytics in demand and labor planning. Richard points out that while AI can significantly aid in decision-making, it shouldn’t replace human judgment. The integration of AI requires careful planning to ensure it complements existing processes. It’s about striking a balance between machine efficiency and human intuition to create a seamless customer experience.

🍔 Rethinking Customer Loyalty

Loyalty programs are undergoing a transformation. It’s no longer just about points or free meals; it’s about creating a personalized experience for the customer. Richard suggests that the industry needs to innovate in the loyalty space, focusing on personalization and strategic rewards to truly engage customers. The old models are broken, and there’s a need for a more nuanced approach that goes beyond mere transactions..

Episode Highlights

The State of Food Service Tech Report

Jen Kern opens the conversation by discussing Richard Shank’s presentation on the state of food service tech. She mentions how Richard’s insights resonated with her, especially after her private meetings with operators and discussions during FSTEC. The report sets the stage for the episode, outlining the major themes and challenges facing the restaurant industry

The Importance of Decision-Making Redundancy 

Richard talks about the concept of “decision-making redundancy,” especially when implementing automated tools and AI in restaurants. He stresses the importance of having a human element to counterbalance automated decisions, ensuring that the technology serves the restaurant and not the other way around. 

If you’re going to be rolling out a lot of automated tools that are, you know, built on either generative AI or predictive modeling versions of AI. It’s important for you to build in a human redundancy factor.

 – Richard Shank

The Complexity of Tech Integration 

The conversation shifts to the challenges of integrating various technologies in restaurants. Richard mentions that many larger brands struggle with this, often due to shaky foundations. The key is to simplify the tech stack and ensure all components are integrated properly. 

The shaky foundations are where we see the larger brands really struggling because they’re trying to connect all the things.

– Richard Shank

The Future of Restaurant Innovation and Loyalty 

As the episode nears its end, Jen and Richard discuss the future of innovation and loyalty in the restaurant industry. They talk about the role of data and the emergence of new loyalty companies that promise more personalized experiences for customers.

“The data’s there, and the data’s coming, and so, all the smart people listening, here’s the opportunity — innovation and loyalty, right? Smart, strategic innovation and loyalty that, yes, absolutely has to come down to personalization.” 

– Richard Shank

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