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Top 5 LA restaurant technologies

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With DineLA Restaurant Week wrapping up barely a week ago, I thought it might be appropriate and fun to highlight some of Los Angeles’s top tech innovations I've seen at restaurants around town.

1. Sprinkles cupcake vending machine

Although I have yet to visit the Sprinkles “Cupcake ATM” in Beverly Hills (five others throughout the country and four more to come), I’ve heard great things about it. The machine’s cupcakes are freshly baked and stocked every day. It’s even restocked throughout the day to ensure that cupcakes are available at nearly any time, day and night. It uses a digital touch screen to place the order (credit card only) and a mechanical arm to transfer your chosen cupcake to the platform behind a revolving door that opens with your cupcake in the signature cardboard box. Based on the hype, a steady stream of users’ photos on the site and endless requests to bring the concept to other cities, the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM has been well received. Check out these other LA specialty food vending machines: Box Brand Burritos and Beverly Hills Caviar.

2. The Misfit Restaurant & Bar’s mobile ordering system

My trip to Greece in 2009 is the first time I saw wait staff submitting customers’ orders through a handheld device, rather than writing them on a notepad and then typing them into a computer off to the side. I was amazed by this innovation and surprised I hadn’t seen anything like it stateside. Since then, I’ve only seen a few restaurants with the technology – The Misfit in downtown Santa Monica was the first. When I went in its opening months a few years, I totally geeked out over the implementation of the technology I thought only existed in Europe. Of course I had to pick the waitress’s and manager’s brains about it. So far, they said, it had been well received and made processes much more accurate and efficient. Customers are general fans, too, because the digital devices mean orders are submitted to the kitchen faster and eliminate forgotten orders or misread handwriting.

3. Enplug’s digital display software

Enplug’s social media-focused digital display software isn’t limited to restaurants and foodservice joints, but many Los Angeles (and national) locations have embraced the technology. The Culver City-based startups’ software allows business owners to turn any TV or monitor into an interactive display with customers’ real-time social media posts about the business (check ins, tweets, tags, etc.), as well as digital menus, weather updates and more. Other business users include bars, gyms and retail stores. The technology allows businesses to increase social media interaction 500 percent, says Enplug co-founder and CEO Nanxi Liu says. “Instead of hiding social media talk online, businesses can have it right there in their restaurants. It’s free marketing, and their customers become brand ambassadors.”

4. Belly rewards card

While rewards and frequent-dining cards aren’t anything new or innovative, the Belly card and relatively new smartphone app seem to be popping up in more and more restaurants around Los Angeles. I walk to 7-11 for a midday snack: there’s Belly! I pick up food post-workout at M Café: there’s Belly! Within a mile from my house in the Montana neighborhood of Santa Monica, more than a dozen places accept the Belly card or app. How does it work, you say? Just like any loyalty program, it rewards customers for their patronage and social interaction but it does to minus the paper punch cards and generic rewards. Like Enplug’s software, it also encourages social media interaction between the customer and business. According to Belly, “We offer a program that fits each business’s personality, culture, brand, and objectives in order to foster more personal relationships with their customers while simultaneously delivering meaningful customer analytics.” A win for the customer and the business.

5. McDonald’s double drive-through

Drive-through fast food isn’t anything new either. Drive-through windows have been around since the 1930s, when they were pioneered in the US before spreading internationally. It’s been about 40 years since McDonald’s opened its first drive-through location, in Sierra Vista, Ariz. But when was the last time you saw a double drive through?! The McDonald’s on Wilshire near Bundy is the first and only I’ve ever seen. The Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s in Chicago, which opened in 1983, is the first location to test out a two-lane drive-through. Although it’s simply a duplication of the existing technology, the concept is still super innovative in my book. In theory, it speeds up the entire drive-through process by getting orders into the kitchen sooner, but the side-by-side ordering platforms still narrow to one lane up to the one pick-up window.

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