Technology has long been lauded as the saving grace of an industry that relies heavily on efficiency, but amidst all of the marketing, hopes, and hype, it can be hard to tell what the big picture of restaurant tech really looks like for operators on a day-to-day basis. In an enlightening independent study, NCR Silver took a closer look at the technology operators find the most crucial in their stores, and where they’re running into problems. With 35 percent of operators reporting they are more dependent on tech now than they were only a year ago, industry professionals across the board are looking closely at how technology directly impacts a restaurant’s bottom line.

The short story is that things are looking good: operators report seeing that technology has a direct impact on increased revenue, increased efficiency, and increased customer-brand connectivity. The longer story, though, is more nuanced: 83 percent of respondents said the costs of maintaining or upgrading technology was a major obstacle, and more than half stated they lack the staff to manage IT upgrades.

So, based off of these challenges, what are the tech priorities that operators (and tech providers) should be focusing on? NCR’s general manager, Chris Poelma, says that amidst the overwhelming options for products and solutions, operators should have one particular goal in mind: Finding solutions that are straightforward and offer support to increase productivity with minimal requirements for training and upkeep. “Operators should embrace technology that gives them time,” Poelma says. “Embrace mobility. With the right provider, it can be very empowering—it gives businesses more time to bring in more customers and make it easier, and I think technology has gotten that right.”

In addition to streamlining mobile operations—whether in the form of advanced remote EMV or a food truck extension of a brick-and-mortar store—he says that focusing on social media is an easy way for operators to leverage technology and build on pre-existing tech strengths like interactivity. Luckily, improving social media interaction requires minimal know-how and economic investment—it just requires vigilance and a plan.

“We had several questions around social media, and as an operator, many of your patrons embrace these social media and ratings sites, even if you don’t,” Poelma adds. “A big opportunity in the market is for operators to be responsive and get up-to-speed on the social media market.”

As one solution, operators and managers could implement software to notify them when certain keywords are posted on their social media sites, allowing them to respond quickly to any customer concerns and manage their brand’s online image effectively.

While operators can take small, independent steps like this to get more out of the technology they already employ, the results showed that operators are still looking for tech solutions that come with a little guidance to ease training and optimize usage. According to the study, the No. 1 thing operators are looking for—and the number one thing tech solutions should provide—is 24-hour, simple, relevant technology support so that operators can integrate efforts in a way that increases efficiency, not confusion.

 “Operators need this kind of 24/7 support, and they need the provider to understand their business and know their product like the back of their hand,” Poelma says.

As operators work to find the balance between the new efficiencies and costs that technology brings, more options are becoming available for simple, integrated solutions with straightforward service and support, giving operators hope that today’s mixed-bag of offerings will soon be filled with nothing but advantageous solutions for a growing industry. To best utilize the flood of new technology in the business, restaurants can look not only for internal improvements to increase returns from tech investments, but also toward products and companies that focus on tailored, personalized, around-the-clock service. 

By Emily Byrd