Selecting the right restaurant software for your business can be overwhelming, especially considering the number of available options. Whether you are upgrading your current system, choosing for the first time, or searching for general restaurant software knowledge, it can be hard to know what to look for and what questions to ask when making the best decision for your restaurant.

As a software engineer turned restaurant operator turned restaurant delivery system Chief Product Officer, I’ve been on both sides of buying and selling software. I have learned the hard way that there are certain functions to look for so that you end up with the software that realistically meets your specific needs.

Here is a list of five important questions to consider when looking to purchase restaurant software from any provider. 

Can I see the software in action?

This is one that seems simple and straightforward, but many software companies don’t allow or have the capabilities to offer demos before you buy. I’ve learned that it is extremely important to see how a software actually works before you decide if it will work for you and your team. Don’t make a quick decision and move forward with a large purchase before you get to see the software in action. Just because software can technically do something doesn’t mean it is designed and implemented to functionally do what it claims to do in practice. 

Do I own all of my own customer data? 

As we move further into the age of digital technology, it is becoming increasingly important to know your customer (and internal) data in order to have a leg up on the competition. Most softwares offer some form of data but not always direct access to it in a way that can be analyzed for a restaurant’s specific needs. In the example of a restaurant operator, you need to have access to information such as which customers are repeat customers, which menu items do they frequently order, and what did one-time customers order that potentially influenced them not to return. Data is key to understanding customers, marketing to them, and building relationships. If businesses do not own and have access to all of their data, it can lead to a reliance on marketing dollars rather than utilizing other available resources and information. 

What is the total cost of ownership?

This includes recurring fees such as subscription costs, maintenance fees, and integration costs. It’s important to understand what is included in the price and what is not. However, this answer isn’t as simple as what the subscription for the software costs for your business. When looking to purchase a new software, the intention is to boost a business and make things easier by changing the way it is operated. The cost of software can be a net positive if you include what a business saves for doing things differently and unlocking revenue streams that you didn’t have before. 

For example, if a restaurant were to integrate Empower Delivery, they may be paying for the software subscription but the revenue generated from an increase in efficiency and the costs reduced from the move away from third-party delivery can far outweigh any software costs. Ask yourself what is the cost of not using the software? 

What experience does the vendor have in the problem domain?

After years in the tech space, I have realized that those who create and build the technology for restaurants do not experience the problems that operators will face when using the software firsthand. It’s important to ask this question to find out if issues that may (and likely will) arise while using the software have been experienced by the creators. 

Software like Empower Delivery was created by those directly involved in using the system. Things that didn’t work when put to the test were tweaked, modified and fixed. You want to ensure your software provider is an expert in what they built as well as the real-world application, so unforeseen circumstances have been addressed long before you come across them yourself. 

Where are there gaps in manual vs. automatic capabilities of the software?

This question ties back to the first in this list, in that you want to make sure the software actually does what it says it is going to do. In past experiences, after purchasing software and then finally getting to actually use it and implement it, I found that many of the capabilities the software claimed to do still required manual input. Efficiency is highly important, especially in the restaurant industry, and you want the software to create a significant decrease in manual work where automation is available. 

To pull in another example from a restaurant, if software claims to automate self-delivery, does it find a driver, set the delivery time, assign the sourced driver, and move through the delivery process? Or do you still have to input the information you hoped would be taken care of when you purchased the software? 

These five questions are important to ask a potential restaurant software provider, and while there are always more questions to ask, these will give you a good baseline idea of what you can expect from the system you choose. 

Brian Howenstein is Empower Delivery’s Chief Product Officer. Howenstein is a product-focused software engineer, entrepreneur, and innovator with more than 15 years of experience building high- performing systems to solve customer problems, unlock new possibilities, and challenge the status quo across multiple industries. He was one of the early engineers that built ClusterTruck’s revolutionary software system.

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