It's a fact that sounds obvious, yet when properly considered, is staggering: two thirds of Australians own an iPhone, with more of our time now spent online rather than off.
Nowadays, we live out of the palm of our hand. Everything is able to be controlled remotely and autonomously from home, office, or social spaces. We operate our businesses, book our activities, research our questions, and socialise with friends all from our smartphone or tablets. It goes without saying that we value more than ever the ability to be fully mobile, independent, and connected all at the same time.
The same applies for the world of dining. Now, more than ever, a consumer fully expects to be able to engage with a restaurant or cafe online - to research a cuisine, peruse the various offerings, and book online. The days of face-to-face, or even verbal, enquiries are over.
Eugene Lee, of the Restaurant & Catering Industry Association of Australia, is an expert in the future of dining technology in Australia and around the world, and his warning was clear: it's time to get on board with mobile devices, or risk being left behind.
And yet, according to Eugene, only 30% of Australian restaurants have websites. Of that 30%, only a minority have mobile-optimised sites. So what are the remaining factions missing out on, and why?
Eugene started his talk by pointing out that 4 of 5 dining decisions are made on a mobile device. Where should we go for dinner? What type of food do we feel like? How much do we want to spend? Having the ability to compare and contrast via sites such as Zomato (Urbanspoon) and Dimmi through categories such as price, location, and cuisine have refined the decision for the consumer - so if your venue is not present, you may be out of the race altogether.
The incorporation of mobile devices into the hospitality industry goes further than just consumer experience, however it's an invaluable tool for business owners as well. Syncing security footage, point-of-sale (POS) information, and dining figures directly from your venue to your phone means that you can be managing from afar, whenever and wherever you want. Restaurateurs are finding their hours morphing and changing under their new working arrangements, as they spend less time at the venue, and more time working remotely. It's a bittersweet arrangement, with business owners realising that whilst they are able to physically leave their business more often, they are able to mentally leave their business far less.
The mobile dining gadgets are both inspiring and endless: imagine being able to preview your customers ordering habits and favourite dishes without exchanging a single word? The whole dynamic of returning customers would shift.
Or simply and easily assimilating data to view at a glance your most successful menu items? Your losses on food spoilage would be huge.
Imagine being able to receive an alarm of your restaurant's cool room at 1am from your bed at home? No more nasty surprises in the morning.
And imagine your customers being able to place their orders, and pay, without even having to leave the beer garden? Goodbye unpaid bills, or long queues to order.
With the forfeit of privacy comes a whole new world of streamlined hospitality.
Eugene predicts emerging mobile technology will also swing the power over a venue's reputation back into the restaurant owners' hands. Until now, review sites such as Yelp have housed the potential to ruin a business based on unfair reviews. Future technology, however, evens out the playing field with customers now the entity under scrutiny. Business owners can easily access information such as punctuality, regularity, average bill, tips, and dietary requirements.
But as they say - you've got to be in it, to win it. So step one is to ensure you have an up-to-date and mobile optimised website - it will open your venue up to the greatest customer audience platform of all: the Internet.