Fireside Chat: Rick Rigley, Vice President of Delivery at True Group
FanFood's Fireside Chat series features interviews with our advisors who are veterans in the sports tech and marketing space. We cover topics from fan experience and stadium tech trends to business strategies and tips on how to run smooth gameday operations.
Rick spent over 20 years at McDonald’s and was instrumental in making cashless technologies and credit card readers in every location and was a pioneer in creating the McDonald’s mobile app. Right now Rick Rigley is one of FanFood’s advisors and Vice President of Delivery at True Group. We sat down with Rick to talk about the biggest issues and trends he sees in the food industry and how modern technology is changing the landscape.
About Technological Trends in F&B
There were some big, monumental trends facing the food industry and what are the ones that are forefront in your mind, especially when it comes to technology?
I think in the food and restaurant business in general, there are just so many choices. That is a huge trend. That leads to a few things from a customer standpoint. Customers are in control. So convenience, quality of experience, and the food itself are paramount. If you don’t really have all those three things, probably you’re going to struggle.
What is the most exciting technology trend that you’re personally seeing in the food industry?
That’s a really good question. The food industry is so broad. I think everyone is focused on digital and convenience end of things. And I think probably because there is so much choice out there. So helping people make those choices is important. You see stuff like Yelp or TripAdvisor that are doing an adequate job. There may be a better way to skin the cat out there in the future. But, it is also overwhelming how much choice there is.
You see stuff like Yelp or TripAdvisor that are doing an adequate job. There may be a better way to skin the cat out there in the future. But, it is also overwhelming how much choice there is.
In what ways are restaurants and coffee shops being forced to change and adapt as mobile technology becomes more and more relevant?
If you go back 20 years, most restaurants were cash-based. So if you go across the board, there were very few places that took credit cards or any kind of electronic payment. Now you’re seeing almost the reverse, where there are mostly smaller restaurant and food concepts that are cashless only. They don’t take cash. So it is completely flipped on its head. It wasn’t that long ago when no one wanted no-cash payment because it was viewed as expensive. Now it’s totally turned around, where convenience is number one. It’s just easier for me to not carry a wad of cash around in my pocket as a consumer and pay for things with my mobile phone or using my credit card.
It wasn’t that long ago when no one wanted no-cash payment because it was viewed as expensive. Now it’s totally turned around, where convenience is number one.
About the Food Experience
What are some things that are universal in the food industry that are just never going to change, no matter how much technology develops?
Well, the food itself. People like food that tastes good, and they tend to shy away from food that doesn’t taste good. The same thing could be said about service. It’s really the experience from the standpoint of delivery to the customer; the getting the food on the plate. It’s hot, it’s tasty, it’s what they expected, and it’s delivered in a timely manner. I don’t have to go chase my server down and get what I want or stand waiting around for what I want. It is different from buying a sweater. With food, it’s immediate demand. You are fueling stomachs, so you’ve got to provide that experience.
I think also there’s something to be said that eating is kind of a communal experience. We get together to eat. I don’t think that’s ever going to change, no matter what.
Right. Well, I hope so. (Laughs) It’s kind of funny, the things that people used to do in person that they don’t do anymore. In some ways, it makes life easier, but in a way it’s unfortunate because human interaction are as important as anything else we’ve got.
Sure. I’m a millennial and when I get together with my friends, it’s for food. And when I see my parents when they’re in town, we’d go out for a nice dinner. I don’t think that will ever change. With that in mind, what are some ways the food industry can better incorporate technology to better engage and serve their customers? It sounds like you had some experience doing this at McDonald’s.
I don’t think the answer to that question is to bombard people with more — for lack of a better term — spam. I think that from a marketing standpoint, you have to be smart and selective about what you do so that you’re not annoying. I do think that you can certainly leverage technology to do things like making sure people got what they asked for. To the accuracy point, if you think about quick service restaurant experience where you go pull up through the drive-thru speaker post, you may not have a high-quality audio connection. So maybe there’s a crackly sound or background noise.
We’ve all been there. You have that interaction between the person inside the restaurant who’s doing their best to hear what the heck you’re saying. They’re not consciously trying to screw up your order. And you feel like you’re shouting. You said fries and then they thought you said Sprite. It can be a frustrating experience. But the customer having the ability to just pull up something on their app and enter exactly what they want is not going to make this experience perfect.
But if it gets screwed up, it’s probably because you, the customer, screwed it up. Technology can definitely help with that. And certainly in the background right there, there’s a lot that technology can help with to make sure that you’re doing your best to predict what’s going to be sold, and making sure you have enough on hand so that when you want to ham and cheese sandwich that you don’t get the, “I’m sorry, we’re out of cheese” line. There’s technology that people don’t see that can certainly help the experience as well.
Talking about the drive-thru. I’m getting visceral PTSD, flashbacks. I worked at Chick-fil-A for four years and I was on both sides of that. I was at the window when people were mad that they got lemonade instead of Sprite.
And you know, from being on the other side of the counter, you were doing your honest best. You were probably working your ass off and hustling.
About Rick’s Experience
I’m going to kind of put you on the spot a little bit, and this is a broad question, but you had a long career at McDonald’s. Can you tell me one accomplishment you oversaw that makes you the proudest?
Oh boy. It’s tough to name just one. But I would say that the work I did in establishing cashless payment in the restaurants I’m very proud of because it didn’t just change McDonald’s, it really changed the whole industry. They were not alone in being a heavily, heavily cash-centric business model. Everybody else is in the same boat and the industry pretty quickly changed when that came to fruition. A lot of folks don’t remember it, because it was not even 20 years ago that we instituted that.
What does the future hold in this particular vertical in your opinion? What does the next five to 10 years look like?
Boy, that’s really crystal ball. In terms of the food and restaurant business, I think there is a parallel in the beverage industry. If you look at the beer industry in particular and go back to the 1950s, there were hundreds and hundreds of beer labels. There were regional, small breweries like Rheingold and Blatz. There were a whole bunch that went away when there was mass consolidation in the industry. You ended up basically with Budweiser and Miller in the US. There was huge consolidation, and there were a few things that caused that. One was the legalization of home-brewing which was probably an impetus to today’s market, but then also there were just market forces.
People said “you know what, that’s not enough.We demand more in different things.” So it led to where we are today. We’ve got back to — maybe in a slightly different way — having a huge variety of beers that I could pick from. It’s remarkable how much is out there. What I think happens — and I think the same thing has happened and will probably happen in the food industry—where if you go back a few decades the industry was pretty consolidated. And now you’ve got just a huge number of competitive concepts out there. I think every industry goes this way: you’d have consolidation and then you have people that find niches and start to break that consolidation apart.
And then what happens is the industry goes through a cycle where then it starts to re-consolidate. I think we may see that a large number of concepts out there will start to end up consolidating. Is it 10 years from now, 20 years from now? I don’t know. I think you’ll see in a certain point that trend kind of reverse so that it’s not more and more diversification. It starts to become inefficient. And then 50 years from now, long after I’m gone, it’ll probably go back the other way. So that it’s not really a technology thing, but that’s something that I think just every industry kind of goes through those natural waves and cycles.
I think we may see that a large number of concepts out there will start to end up consolidating. Is it 10 years from now, 20 years from now? I don’t know…And then 50 years from now, long after I’m gone, it’ll probably go back the other way.
From a technology standpoint, whatever it is, it’s going to be not driven by what the industry tries to dictate. It’s going to be driven by what customer preferences, needs, and, desires are. Consumers have more and more economic buying power, certainly in the US — and I think worldwide — and so they’re dictating what they like. And that may sound sort of mundane, but it’s going to be things that make people happy. So things that make my experience more convenient, make it more of a high-quality experience. It may be things, to your point about the social nature of food, that leads to more kind of social opportunities. Because if food is maybe the last bastion of people getting together, hanging out with each other, putting their phones down, and looking at each other in the eye. I think maybe technology will become a platform for getting people together. Whether it’s AI or other technologies can make that easier for people to do and maybe suggest things they hadn’t thought of.
I’d like to talk a little bit about FanFood. Obviously, you’re on their advisory board. What interests you about the company and how are they are tackling some of the challenges in the food industry?
As a sports fan and a season ticket holder in football and basketball, it’s kind of a pain in the butt to go up and stand in line with everybody else who’s looking for a break in the action to get whatever it might be: a hot dog, pretzel, beer, or what have you. To the convenience aspect of things, I think FanFood is absolutely right on target. I can stay in my seat, order whatever my heart desires, and have it either come to my seat or be able to pick it up. What’s better than that? As both somebody who enjoys food and enjoys events like that, I think it’s a need that surprisingly hasn’t been completely met yet. I think there’s huge demand out there.