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The Risks of Restaurant Tech

What will become of all that data?


The “Internet of Things” — a term referring to devices and appliances that are connected to the internet — has been coming to restaurant tech for years, ever since OpenTable convinced restaurants and diners to make reservations online nearly two decades ago. The newest foodservice tech offers to track all sorts of data, from what repeat customers order to how employees are spending their time. But as a new report from Pacific Standard points out, the risks inherent in technology connected to the internet are not adequately presented alongside the rewards. As delivery apps, reservation services, POS systems, and time clocks gather user data, it’s unclear who owns that data — or what it may be used for.

At this year’s National Restaurant Association show, inside a tech pavilion hosted by Microsoft, start-ups and established companies with new products sold restaurateurs on apps that tracked seemingly everything: From “every second” of an employee’s day to whether or not a customer was a vegetarian based on every order they had ever placed to when an espresso machine might need servicing. This data is useful to restaurants for worker productivity, marketing purposes, and efficiency.

But what’s hazy is who has access to the data and when, and whether it can be sold to third parties. User data could be used to upsell to restaurants, according to Pacific Standard. A coffee machine can track how many bags of coffee beans a cafe goes through each day to automatically reorder coffee when the machine gets low. The technology can even call for repairs when it breaks down. But this same data can be used by the coffee machine company to suggest a model upgrade, encouraging restaurants to spend more than they otherwise might have. Pacific Standard calls this convenience with a side of extortion.

According to an AT&T representative reached after the conference, restaurants should have a digital presence but should “measure all digital and connectivity efforts from a risk view.” In the worst scenarios — data breaches like the one that affected every Chipotle location in the country a few months back — customer payment information is leaked and identities can be stolen. Surprisingly, the NRA’s conference failed to offer restaurateurs guidance on how to protect user information or prevent data breaches. But it still seems that the rewards outweigh the risks — provided that restaurateurs keep both in mind.

The ‘Internet of Restaurants’ Is Coming for Your Info [Pacific Standard]
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