#SFSNYC: The Restaurants of Tomorrow

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Everyone has at least heard of apps for booking reservations or ordering food from restaurants, but there is a deeper transformation underway within the industry.

At Street Fight Summit in Brooklyn this week, Perry Quinn, SVP of business innovation development at the National Restaurant Association moderated a panel on how the restaurants of tomorrow are taking shape.

Joining him were Ilir Sela, CEO of pizza-delivery app Slice; Cristina Botero, founder of fast-casual restaurant Inday; and Eli Portnoy, CEO of Sense360, a provider of competitive intelligence, who discussed ways the evolution of the restaurant world touched them.

Sela, whose app lets people order pizza from pizzerias, said he is trying to help local shops win at a time when big pizza chains “have been crushing it on the technology front.” Though names such as Dominos are well-known across country, about 60 percent of the category is made up of local pizza shops, he said. By bringing local pizza restaurants together on Slice, Sela believes they can show they can be as innovative as the major brands. “There needs to be a united front,” he said.

Slice aims to educate pizza shop owners on what technology can do for them in a real world way to help them improve their delivery business. Sela said he also wants to make sure that local shops see that they are not wasting their time by adding technology to their operation. “These restaurants get called all the time by folks trying to sell them things,” he said.

It is important, Sela said, for technologists to understand what small businesses need and what their level of sophistication may be with technology. For some pizzerias, a fax machine is the pinnacle of technology they regularly use. “We have to start there, then move them up the ladder,” Sela said.

Botero, whose New York-based restaurant serves fast-casual Indian cuisine, said the changes coming to the industry reflect the convenience consumers expect. “We are used to having everything at our fingertips,” she said. That includes access to health and wellness despite the constraints of living with a busy schedule. “More people want to have delicious healthful food for lunch but not everyone can leave their desk,” she said.

Though the need to embrace more technology is clear, Botero said her restaurant must be strategic about what they make use of. “There are some parts of the business where we think the old school way is better,” she said. Aspects of delivery might be outsourced and tied to technology, Botero said, but catering continues to be done in a traditional manner. It all comes down to balancing innovation with the familiarity that local restaurants strive to offer their customers. “We want to improve on the technology side of things, but we also want to engage with customers,” she said.

Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor.  Photography by Shana Wittenwyler.