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New book outlines the path restaurants can take to ‘digital maturity’

Follow-up to 2021’s “Delivering the Digital Restaurant” explores how restaurateurs can tap into the full potential of digital operations

Two years after releasing their seminal book on digital innovation in the foodservice industry, Delivering the Digital Restaurant: Your Roadmap to the Future of Food, restaurant tech experts (and Nation’s Restaurant News Speakerbox contributors) Meredith Sandland and Carl Orsbourn have released a follow-up that leads operators deeper into digital innovation.

Delivering the Digital Restaurant: The Path to Digital Maturity, now available digitally and in paperback, offers eight chapters exploring how restaurant operators can evolve from digital tools as a post-COVID necessity to e-commerce platform uniquely in tune with the wants and needs of consumers. The book taps into expert interviews and insights to illustrate the potential of digital and includes worksheets at the end of each chapter providing tips and encouraging self-reflection from readers.

“Thankfully, we've seen a huge bounce back in dine-in, and that has been fantastic, but there's been a permanent change to how consumers eat in America,” Sandland said of how the industry has evolved since she and Orsbourn released their first book. “The amount of delivery that they consume has leveled off at a much higher place. It didn't go up and then back down. It went up and then stayed up, and [we’re] trying to help the industry understand this isn't just an emergency, do-what-you-can-to-survive [situation]. This is a permanent change in our culture, and you need to figure out how to become a digital restaurant.”


Meredith Sandland (right) and Carl Orsbourn.

Orsbourn estimates that 70-80% of restaurants today are at the stages outlined by the first two chapters in the new book, “Be Found” and “Convert Fans.” The latter six chapters take operators from digital infancy to maturity: “Mine Data,” “Optimize Throughput,” “Grow Topline,” “Be Guest-Centric,” “Disrupt Yourself,” and “Holistic Technology.”

Many brands today are simply dealing with the sheer number of tech solutions available to them. Orsbourn said the average operator has 15-20 pieces of technology and spends 3-5% of their revenue on tech.

“If you were to ask the average restaurant executive this year what is the focus, a lot of them will be saying it's around cost optimization and being able to find a more efficient business model to do all of these various different channels in a better way,” he said.

“You don't have to solve all of this in a day; you don't have to solve all of it in six months,” Orsbourn added. “Focus in on where you find yourself. Optimize yourself as best as you possibly can, really make the right selection decisions. Embrace the technology. Make sure all of your teams understand how to use the technology. Measure yourself in all the right ways and then move on to the next stage.”

A fully realized digital strategy, the coauthors said, is one in which operators are acting much like e-commerce giants such as Amazon, leveraging data and digital promotions to craft an accessible and convenient foodservice opportunity for guests. 

“What is the e-commerce funnel? What does it look like? How do you measure it? How do you think about data going from one step to the next, and how do you use that information to then ultimately drive your sales?” Sandland said. “That's a very different way of thinking from a brick and mortar.”

Also very different from brick and mortar? The next restaurant category Sandland and Orsbourn expect to see emerge from the digital revolution, akin to the fast-casual explosion of a decade ago.

“I think what's coming is a digitally native restaurant. It's one that's been designed for e-commerce, it's been designed for delivery,” Sandland said. “And because of that, it will bring more value and more convenience to consumers than they can get from any other category.”

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