How to Choose Restaurant Technology: An Operator’s Guide
At this point, discussing how modern technology enhances our lives is almost redundant. Not to downplay it, it’s just that we’ve got phones in our pockets with more computing power than the original lunar module, which put a human being on the moon! This technology makes things faster and more convenient across all industries and recreation. It automates our daily processes and gives us access and insight into some of the most disparate places imaginable. For restaurant operators, the benefits of technology are vast. We all know this.
The problem then isn’t whether or not you should be using technology (you should!). The question is, how to choose restaurant technology you need. There’s a lot out there, with many advertised features and many brands purporting to all do the same thing. This guide aims to help you in this effort, to help you identify your restaurant’s needs, the technological features most relevant to your efforts, and questions to ask, to help make the most informed purchase possible.
Identify your Restaurant’s Goals
The first step in understanding which technology will be most useful to your restaurant, you need a clear understanding of your goals. Setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) gives you something actionable towards which you can aim.
Perhaps you’re trying to reduce ticket times, generate more revenue or enhance the guest experience. Maybe you’re hoping to recover your restaurant from a slump or to supplement your efforts for the winter months. Maybe you’re looking for something more operational, like enterprise-level metrics or employee management tools. If you can identify what you’re trying to achieve, you won’t waste your time on technology that won’t get you there. Remember also that it’s OK to have multiple goals. To make goal-setting most effective though, you should follow the SMART construction for each of them.
Identify your Bandwidth
The next step in choosing restaurant technology is to gather a clear understanding of the resources you currently have. Use this chance to identify your budget, the appropriate time you’d need for a technology roll-out, payroll and the like. We’re not going to sugarcoat it: restaurant technology will require some upfront investment and training. However, if you know your budget up front, you can often find more affordable financing options, like SaaS model software, which will alleviate some of the cost. You’ve got to know what you’ve got on hand to understand what you need in the bigger picture.
Know the Parts of Your Restaurant and Their Technology
Your front-of-house is the forward-facing portion of your restaurant. It’s here where guests come to place an order, be seated or to pick up their orders from online. In other words, if they see no other part of your restaurant, they’ll see this area. You want it to be efficient! Front-of-house technology centers around those crucial guest interactions, from payment processing guest or table management.
The point-of-sale system (POS) is part of the front-of-house operation. It’s the device that a server would use to ring up a customer, and would record all of those transactions. There are many competing POS products on the market, some with a robust feature set and others more basic. While your budget and preferences may vary, an essential barometer for a useful POS is whether or not it will integrate with your back-of-house software (we’ll get to that).
Guest and Reservation Management
Guest management technology is the other component of your FOH setup. This technology manages the way guests place reservations and are seated at your restaurant. You’ll want to look for something with booking and waitlist capabilities that allow you to create a “widget” on your website through which guests can make a reservation. With a powerful guest management device, you can keep all your traffic in one place. Your host has a broad-view towards everything that’s happening and can prepare accordingly. Additionally, with guest management technology, if a guest cancels their reservation, the listing will automatically disappear and repopulate on your device.
Another area where these FOH devices can help is seating efficiency. With a FOH device that automatically prompts servers where to seat guests, it frees them up from much of the busy work that takes away from the customer experience. It also minimizes that chances that your servers get double or triple sat. Ultimately, a good guest management system helps keep your lobby and waiting area as smooth and seamless as possible. And of course, if you can find a FOH device that integrates with your kitchen, it’s even better.
FOH Technology Features You Need
To benefit your restaurant as a whole, look for a guest management device that will integrate with your back-of-house technology. These integrations help create a “smarter” restaurant overall, keeping all stations informed of one another. For example, a guest management system with integration to the KDS will be able to show your hosting staff the status of off-premise dining orders, so that when guests or third-party delivery partners come in to pick up the food, the host has a precise understanding of where the food is. This helps keep your FOH staff at the host stand, instead of wandering back and forth between the kitchen. Furthermore, when large parties get sat (say, a 10 top), your kitchen staff can get notified on the KDS so they know what to expect.
A device that can collect and store customer data in a guest book will help enhance a guest’s dining experience and enable your ability to personalize to them going forward. A guestbook can store customer data and information like names, emails, food allergies, and entree histories, allowing you to create specialized promotions as well.
Take-Out and Delivery Tab(s)
With the popularity of off-premise dining, features within your technology that facilitate a delivery strategy is essential. Look for a guest management system with a dedicated “takeout” or “delivery” tab which specifically segments out orders that come from off-premise. With these features, your host won’t need to zip back and forth between the stand and the kitchen to check on these orders, keeping them where they need to be: with incoming guests.
Many restaurants are utilizing technology that allows staff to process payment directly from a customer’s table when they’ve finished their meal. It’s convenient and offers the consumer a little bit more peace of mind, instead of handing their card to a stranger. It also speeds up the payment process, so guests aren’t left at the table awaiting their server to bring the check. As an alternative, some allow paying directly at the kiosk, further simplifying the guest management process.
Your back-of-house is where your staff creates the orders, so most of this technology will deal with food. This technology aims to make things easier, more automated and consistent in the kitchen, benefiting both staff and guests alike.
Kitchen Display System
The technology you’d typically employ in this station of your restaurant would be a kitchen display system. This technology helps route orders, from the POS. Through a convenient display screen, the KDS prompts the chefs when to start cooking certain items, and when to move them to the next station.
This software guarantees a level of consistency and quality in your restaurant, a massive benefit if you’re managing multiple sites. Recipe viewers also help with onboarding, simplifying the process and maintaining an identical standard across the board.
BOH Features you Need
As in the example mentioned above, your restaurant technology is really at its best when it’s all integrated. With a full integration between FOH, BOH, and POS (that’s a lot of acronyms!) every part of your restaurant is informed by another, creating a synergy that saves you time and helps generate more revenue.
Clear Video Display
Your back-of-house technology is useless if your staff can’t understand it! Whether in your kitchen display system or your recipe viewer, seek something with high quality, video display. With so much happening in the kitchen, the last thing you want anyone to be worried about is squinting into a fuzzy screen.
The kitchen environment is extreme. Seek technology that can stand up to these rigors! You want devices that won’t lose their functionality under heat and can have grease spattered on them on occasion. Don’t be afraid to ask your sales rep about the kind of “abuse” your technology can handle.
These features take a lot of the guesswork out of the operation for your cooks, prompting them when to begin different parts of the order. It results in a swifter process overall, with less chance for food to sit and wait under a heat lamp while the rest of the order finishes.
Restaurant Data metrics and the analytics they provide help good restaurant operators become smart restaurant operators. When you can monitor a robust set of restaurant metrics, you can identify chokepoints or jams in your workflow. This data helps you pinpoint solutions and set actionable goals for improvement. Look for a KDS with data features which you can customize and access from anywhere.
Back-of-house technology should give you real-time accessibility that you can check on the fly. For example, a recipe viewer is helpful for training but is even more useful for those heated moments when orders are flying in. It’s the same with your data and reporting mentioned earlier. Having that safety net, that ability to peek under the hood at a moment’s notice makes good back-of-house technology great.
With so many consumers clamoring for off-premise dining options, operators have to keep up! One way that your back-of-house technology, specifically your KDS, can help in this process is via capacity management. Put simply: these features help “blend” the incoming off-premise orders with your walk-ins without one disrupting the other. The software takes a “reading” of the existing activity in your kitchen. From this, it generates an accurate quote time to give back to the off-premise customer. Your walk-in orders continue as usual, and the off-premise guest can show up at the quoted pickup time. No one is left waiting.
When discussing your operations, we’re talking about some of the more nuts and bolts features of your restaurant. More specifically, they include how you manage the resources you’ve got on hand, like your staff and inventory, as well as the higher-level processes therein.
Inventory Management Software
Inventory management software helps you keep track of your resources on hand. From your ingredients to other physical items like napkins or silverware. Where these come in handy are when they can automatically prompt you for another purchase when your supplies are low. An inventory management system also helps you spot places where you might be wasting, as well as help you make informed decisions on how much to purchase in the future.
Scheduling software is designed to keep shift workers aware of their scheduled hours. Usually, these products will be web-based. This software maintains awareness with the entire staff regarding each other’s schedules and helps ensure consistent, automated communications when necessary. Should someone need to make an adjustment, a good app will let users comment and send messages, directly through the interface.
This software helps you compensate your employees for the time they’ve worked. It provides an accounting of clocking in and out and assists them with direct depositing funds into their bank account. Besides the time it saves you bookkeeping, payroll software will also determine taxes and deductions to withhold. There’s so much to do when managing a restaurant, automating as much of the payroll process as possible will save you scads of time and keeping all these records secure and accessible.
Enterprise Portal – Data Insights
An enterprise portal gives you access to the restaurant data and metrics mentioned above, but from anywhere. This software allows you, whether managing one or multiple sites, to keep an eye on their operations even when you can’t be on site.
Features of Operations Technology you Need
Ease of Use
With everything else going on in your restaurant, you want to opt for software that’s as seamless and intuitive as possible. One way to get some insight here is to use technology review sites like Capterra. The site usually breaks these reviews down by category, allowing users to post star ratings based on different criteria. Look for ones that rank high in intuitiveness and ease-of-use.
Since many of these are software, rather than hardware, SaaS pricing may be available. Leasing software is cheaper than actual equipment. With SaaS, you oftentimes download the software or use it on the web.
When it comes to operations management, an ability to use the software on a variety of platforms proves extremely handy to a restaurant team. Seek software that offers an accompanying mobile version of their service. An app provides you maximum flexibility and convenience, whether you need to check quick business insights or coordinate a schedule.
Questions to Ask
When evaluating technology, it may help to ask yourself some specific questions. You can ask them for any piece of tech or software big and small. You want technology that answers the following items with “yes.” If it does not, then frankly it’s not worth your investment. Ask yourself, will this technology:
- Reduce labor in my restaurant?
- Simplify processes for my kitchen staff?
- Reduce errors?
- Assist in managing my site, or sites, more efficiently?
- better serve my customers?
- Help to grow my business?
- Require extensive training and time to roll out?
- Enhance the customer experience?
Identify KPIs and ROI
Now that you’ve set some goals, taken an accounting of your restaurant and broken down some of the different types of restaurant technology and their features, it’s time to talk about returns. The ROI on restaurant technology is significant and multifaceted, so identifying some critical areas for growth will help inform some of your purchasing decisions.
Right off the bat, restaurant technology opens you up to higher revenue. With everything working in tandem, you waste less food and time training and onboarding. With your processes automated in the back, you can create a calmer kitchen and lower ticket times, effectively allowing you to manage more guests. You seat more guests. Your marketing efforts improve through data and reporting, and you can pinpoint specific, actionable areas to improve. The ways restaurant technology will stimulate growth are numerous, and many restaurants have reported significant increases in revenue as a result.
Higher Food Quality
There are numerous ways through which technology will improve your food quality. Coursing features help your cooks optimize every order in the kitchen, automatically prompting them when to begin different parts of the order so that all food finishes at the same time. For example, if a steak takes 9 minutes to cook, and a piece of chicken takes 6, a KDS will prompt for the steak first, and then for the chicken after 3 minutes. The food all finishes at the same time. Overall, guests are receiving their food hot, fresh and on time because everything’s automated.
Recipe viewers keep help you maintain a high food standard, and consistency across your sites, while inventory management systems ensure you’re always using the freshest items possible. Many will automatically prompt you when an item is nearing its shelf life, so you don’t have to compromise and whip up a “special stew” to sell it off quickly, or risk serving expired food.
Lower Ticket Times
Automated technology, routing, and meal pacing keep your kitchen at it’s leanest and meanest. Essentially, it removes all room for error and takes the guesswork out of the preparation. You finish your items more quickly because there are fewer jam-ups in their processing. Furthermore, when you’ve got your KDS integrated with your POS, it removes the chance for a dropped ticket. The kitchen receives the order instantly, routing it to the applicable station, further quickening the process.
Turn More Tables
With all the time-saving measures in your restaurant, from the front to the back-of-house, you’re always making the most of your time — and your guest’s. Automated communication between different stations ensures a smooth flow of orders. Furthermore, technology like pay-at-the-table speeds up the checkout process, allowing guests to get out more quickly when they’ve finished. You’re never wasting space with flustered guests awaiting checks or food, and can seat more overall!
Get More Reservations
The opportunity to place a reservation puts guests at ease. They can secure a table at your restaurant without a fight. A restaurant reservation system allows them this convenience, and often a little promotion for your restaurant. If someone is out and looking for available reservations in their area, these services can put your restaurant on their radar in that crucial time when guests are making an on-the-fly decision. Guests love the convenience and will come back for more, while you stand to earn more revenue and customer loyalty.
Diminished Food Waste
When you’re producing all your food with machine-like accuracy, you’re wasting less of your valuable inventory re-making meals that have “died” underneath a heat lamp. This software is just one of the ways restaurant technology helps cut food waste. Through sound inventory management techniques and automated workflow, you stand to waste far less.
You save money on nagging, recurring costs like ink and paper with restaurant technology. Without having to comp meals, you save inventory. You save time when onboarding new staff. You don’t over-purchase food items because you’ve got your inventory monitored. Your team shouldn’t miss shifts because they have communication apps where they can see their schedules and be held accountable. And, you’re in control of your operations because you can analyze performance from anywhere. Ultimately, restaurant technology seals up many of the slow leaks that can keep restaurants in the red month after month.
Lower Wait Times
With guest management software features that automatically prompt servers when and where to seat guests, you ensure the maximum possible seating efficiency. This efficiency will create shorter lobby wait time, and you can work under the knowledge that you’re utilizing your available real estate to its fullest. Guests can usually tell when their server is stressed and overworked, adding tension to their night that was supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable. With a smart waitlist management solution, restaurants can easily avoid this scenario.
When it comes to restaurant technology, your potential for growth is as varied and as vast as your options through which to do it. By identifying your own restaurant goals, you can learn how to choose restaurant technology that will benefit you most.
About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is a Content Marketing Specialist at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write about technology. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.