Relative to other industries, restaurants were slower to adopt new technology in the early 2000s but they sure made up for lost time in the 2010s.
Fueled by technology advances (e.g., mobile and cloud computing), the need to make their businesses more efficient and staff more productive to compete, and lofty growth ambitions, global brands with large multi-unit operations and independent restaurants alike began adopting software, and lots of it.
And then, once 2020 came along, restaurants were forced to quickly innovate their way through unfamiliar guidelines, staffing shortages, rising wages and food costs, supply chain issues, and consumers’ increased appetite to engage through new channels (e.g., digital, delivery, drive-thru), all further accelerating technology adoption.
Which leads us to today—where, specifically, have operators invested in technology? There are several ways to slice the restaurant technology pie. Let’s dig in.
At a high level, most restaurant technology falls into one of the following categories:
- Operations Management
- Point of Sale
- Guest Experience
- HR & Financials
- Business Intelligence
To create a roadmap for your own technology investments, we’ll drill deeper in the sections below.
Effectively managing operations involves understanding and controlling the key factors that contribute to profitability in each restaurant location, while also ensuring consistent execution of critical procedures and training staff to do their jobs well.
Given the thin margins involved in operating a restaurant, predictably managing the two of the most expensive costs to the business—food and labor—is essential to ensure you’re not digging a deeper financial hole every time you open a new location.
On the food cost side of the equation, restaurant operators are looking to more effectively manage purchasing, inventory, recipes, food waste, vendors, and sales forecasting. Technology investments in these areas can improve profitability in a range of ways including ensuring you have enough inventory on hand to meet demand, providing visibility into actual vs. theoretical food costs, and knowing if your suppliers are giving you the products you were expecting (vs. substitutes) at the prices you expected to pay.
With rising wages and rapidly changing labor laws, managing labor with increased precision is also an imperative. Restaurants have invested in tech to optimize and automate staffing, with a goal of scheduling the right number and mix of employees for each shift while staying in compliance with local laws and regulations.
In recent years, the industry has seen accelerated adoption of software that improves the consistency and quality of work happening in every location and the productivity of field and store teams. Operators are investing in technology to enable more effective task and audit management; food safety and temperature monitoring; corrective action routing, tracking and resolution; incident management; and overall compliance with brands standards, standard operating procedures, and rolling out strategic initiatives.
Learning & Development
In this industry, turnover is especially high, costly, and disruptive. Operators are investing in software to get new hires trained and “shift ready” as fast as possible, track their performance, and enable ongoing development for their next role as an incentive to remain with the organization.
Point of Sale
A dwindling number of independents may still be getting by with an old-fashioned cash register, but for most of the industry, point of sale (POS) platforms are a table stakes technology investment geared to optimize that pivotal interaction and transaction with customers. It’s where your menu of products (including LTOs and special promotions), employee training, and technology comes together to present a key opportunity to engage customers and ensure a smooth and positive experience.
The information and insight captured by the POS system is also a gold mine that can be used to learn more about your customers over time. And this info feeds key operations management processes like sales forecasting, inventory management, and food prep.
Guest experience systems are customer touchpoints that provide different ways to engage with guests and attract new ones. Tools in this category range from digital menu boards, loyalty and rewards, online ordering and delivery, review and reputation management, survey and feedback collection, local search and discovery, reservation and table management, and other capabilities that help hone the customer experience and engage them in new ways.
HR & Financials
The nuts and bolts of any business, finance and human resource software is core technology to restaurant operators of every size. Platforms include accounting, payroll, and HRIS, the latter of which includes a range of capabilities to support the employee journey from applicant tracking to onboarding to collecting and storing of all pertinent employee data.
With a growing restaurant technology stack comes data–lots of data. Restaurants are now capturing a treasure trove of potential insights that can put their organizations in position to more effectively steer the business by identifying issues and opportunities earlier. The challenge that most operators face is that all of this data remains locked up in potentially dozens of disparate systems.
That is the promise of business intelligence platforms: to make it easier to combine data sets in a way that not only makes it easier to access but also makes it possible to intelligently prescribe the right actions to the right people across the organization. These solutions can also uncover unforeseen correlations in data that deliver novel insights that can drive strategic decisions.
What’s next? With powerful advances in AI and machine-learning, the next decade is sure to usher in even more change and opportunity to leverage technology to run your restaurant business, no matter how you slice it.
David Karel is Chief Marketing Officer at Crunchtime. With over 25 years of B2B and technology marketing experience, David has served in a range of leadership roles for Zenput, LinkedIn, Clari, Bizo, and SuccessFactors. Originally a New Yorker, he and his family live in the Bay Area.