Inamo's Noel Hunwick on how restaurant technology is evolving

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Inamo's Noel Hunwick on how restaurant technology is evolving

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Technology-driven restaurant Inamo is opening its third London site in Camden this week. BigHospitality caught up with co-founder Noel Hunwick to to talk about the group's expansion plans and how technology can enhance the restaurant experience.

Why did you decide to open in Camden?

As we already have two West End sites we thought it was a good opportunity for us to explore a different area of London. We can see ourselves expanding in and outside of the capital, but we want a good bedrock of restaurants close to home first.

[This site] is a complete new-build, directly opposite Mornington Crescent Tube Station, and once we saw it we fell in love with it. I think we were one of 20 operators trying to get hold of the site, so we are delighted to have won through on that.

What’s new at the Camden site?

A big difference is that we’ve got two decent sized outside areas here. There’s seating for 66 at the front and seating for 18 on a heated roof terrace. We’ve got pretty illuminations in the trees at the front, a 30 ft. garden wall, and illuminated trees in the style of cherry blossom on the roof terrace. There’s also a new robata grill at the front, and at least six dishes from the menu that are prepared on that.

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Are you using any new technology?

A new feature is that guests can customise images displayed on the table surface, which now looks like a series of polaroid pictures have been scattered on the table. People can send up to 30 images or messages to us in advance, and then have their holiday snaps or birthday pictures scattered across the table, which is nice.

We’ve got some new window animations that are fun. There’s a projector-sensitive film across the four main windows and some of our Ina-mob characters are animated across them. There’s also some illuminated urinals, so the gents toilets glow!

How would you like technology at Inamo to evolve in the future?

We’re working on something where you can see what music’s currently playing in the restaurant with the artist and artwork, and maybe a jukebox function.

We definitely want to bring in some new group games and potentially some social media integration. I quite like the idea of Inamo-stigram, where you could have live images put on to the table. But obviously some things have to be thought about a bit carefully in case anyone posts anything they shouldn’t.

Do you think the wider hospitality industry is starting to embrace technology?

It’s an interesting question. When we first started in 2008 I thought that we needed to get a move on in case someone came up with a similar idea, but very few people really have.

I think hospitality is quite a fragmented industry, so it can be relatively slow to adopt change and new technologies. In terms of POS suppliers there’s an unbelievable number of different people offering different options. So you don’t have that many completely dominant forces in hospitality, there’s a lot of choice.

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How do you see this changing?

You are already seeing an increasing amount of technology used in quick service restaurants and transport hubs to streamline service and offer more choice. For example, the ordering kiosks at McDonalds and the freestyle machines in Five Guys where you can choose different drinks.

In higher-end restaurants there are a lot more apps and mobile payment. I think you’ll also start to see more restaurants doing unusual technological things like 3D printed meals.

I think there is increasing acceptance of tech. I remember when we first opened in 2008 smartphones and tablets didn’t exist. People would say to us that restaurants were a social space away from technology, so attitudes have changed a bit in the last eight years.

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What’s nice about our technology, and why we steer clear of things like virtual reality headsets at the moment, is that it’s a communal experience. We’ve projected the software that’s on the tablets on to the tables so you can order as a group rather than everybody staring at a device.

If you’re in a restaurant on your mobile phone its more isolating and can be perceived as a bit rude. That’s an important difference with our technology, it’s a shared experience.

Are you looking to expand?

Absolutely. The key is for us to get Camden up and running and have a good six months of trading there, but we would like to open more sites. I think we could definitely do a couple more in London but then it would be great for us to look outside, probably starting with major UK cities. Also, a couple of opportunities outside the UK have been floating around, so we’re not going to rule those out. 

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Small Talk

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