Emerging Restaurant Technology Trends: Part II – Virtual and Augmented Reality

In Part II of our Restaurant Technology Trends for 2020 series, we are going to explore Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)

While Virtual Reality immerses the user in an altered environment or other-world experience, augmented reality enhances the user’s current environment by adding virtual images or digital details. Using a head-mounted display (HMD) or headset, virtual reality immerses you in a computer-generated world. An example of augmented reality, on the other hand, might be Snapchat lenses or the game Pokémon Go.

From the ordering process to employee training and entertainment, these two high-tech trends are changing the very nature of the restaurant industry.

Hyper-realistic Menus

Ultra-realistic menus are on the rise and include 3D AR versions that are now available on Android as well as Apple smartphones. These virtual menus allow a guest to see menu items as they will be served, leaving the guess work out of ordering. This is exceptionally helpful for people traveling to a foreign land or dining at a local restaurant that serves food they are unfamiliar with such as mochi from Japan or moules and frites from Belgium.

Bareburger Snapchat Filter
Bareburger Snapchat Filter

Restaurants incorporating this technology: A few of the many restaurants tapping into AR menu innovation include Domino’s, Subway, and Dunkin. Bareburger used AR technology to create a Snapchat filter that delivers customers a virtual experience of menu items. Guests simply scan a Snapcode, Snapchats version of a QR code, and a virtual meal is placed on the table in front of them.

Businesses in the forefront: QReal, previously known as Kabaq, may be a start-up, but it is one that has already distinguished itself as a leader in this segment. Check out examples of their ultra-realistic menus here on VRScout and you’ll see why restaurants are considering this high-tech menu option. In addition to enhancing a diner’s experience, these types of menus are perfect for Instagram and Snapchat platforms.

3D Projections

Displaying 3D projections in a restaurant has the ability to take guests to another world and create an unprecedented experience. As those in the industry know, guests are now looking to be “wowed” not just with the incredible creations that come out of the kitchen, but also with the dining experience. According to Forbes, 84 percent of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in their revenue.

Imagine, after being seated at your favorite corner table, seeing a tiny, thumb-size chef hauling ingredients around the table and demonstrating how meals are prepared. Le Petit Chef creates this experience for guests by displaying 3D projections onto the dining table. In 2015, when Skull Mapping shared the idea, they made a video to show restaurants what the possibilities were with this concept. When the video was posted on YouTube, it went viral. There are currently over 30 million views on social media.

Le Petit Chef
Le Petit Chef – Image from Skullmapping

Restaurants incorporating this technology: Currently, there are over 50 restaurants around the world that have installed Le Petit Chef, much to the surprise and delight of their patrons. One of these is HOPS Culture in Aspen, CO. The little chef can also be seen on Celebrity Cruises and at Pepsi Headquarters in New York, to name a few.

James Harvey, GM of Hops Culture, described the experience that Le Petit Chef brought to their restaurant when they incorporated it during three months for a winter pop-up event. He explained it as a fine-dining, four course, interactive 3D meal that both guests and staff loved.

“The owner, Alex Cesaria, from Milan, Italy, wanted to bring something different to the Aspen dining scene. He found out about Le Petite Chef and the technology that took Belgian artists 8 years to create. As the evening begins, guests are seated in a dark room. Staff shares a bit of the history surrounding the technology and then the little chef appears on their plates, displayed from projectors above the tables, and begins to make the first course—a bouillabaisse. Once completed, the plates light up and servers deliver the dish to the guests. This is repeated for three more courses, ending with fireworks on the table.”

For this experience, Hops Culture charged $150 for adults, $125 for a vegetarian option, and $80 for children. Guests could also add on a beer and wine pairing for an additional $50.

Though sad to see it go, Harvey noted that the little chef is staying “in the family” and will be appearing at the owner’s other restaurant in New York, IL Piccolo Ristoro.

There are several other aspects of the restaurant industry that AR & AV have altered for good.

Digital Tours

Starbucks developed a virtual tour-guide app for their new Shanghai Reserve Roastery. Consumers download the app and, by pointing their smartphone at different pieces of equipment and features, they are led through the various steps in the coffee making process. For those unable to download the app, they can scan various QR codes throughout the space.

If the art of coffee making doesn’t excite you, perhaps you’d like to take a virtual hacienda tour with Patron Tequila where you can explore their agave fields as well as their distillery.


Several prominent players in the hospitality industry have incorporated virtual and augmented reality into their training programs. This includes food-safety training and immersive simulations that teach employees the art of customer service.

While it’s evident that utilizing this type of training offers several benefits such as better prepared and knowledgeable employees and more time-in-a-day for already time-crunched managers, what may surprise you is that good training programs have been linked with improved levels of job satisfaction and the intent to stay.

Honeygrow, a fast-growing fast-casual concept based on wholesome, intelligently sourced food, uses 360 video as part of its employee orientation program. The training includes an overview of company culture, employee training, and consists of live action with integrated 2D and 3D animations as well as an interactive game.

Their interactive VR training was developed by Klip Collective, an art practice led by video artist and projection mapping pioneer, Ricardo Rivera.


CKE Restaurant Holdings, the parent company to brands such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., is using VR technology to create virtual stores for “engineering planning purposes.”

According to a study conducted by ARC Document Solutions, VR is the most important emerging technology within the construction industry. It enables expanding restaurants to tweak designs before construction begins, reducing material costs, and minimizing expensive mid-stream alterations.

Stay tuned for more insights on what we can expect for restaurant technology in 2020. Part III will explore Robotic Process Automation.

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