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    Integrations: A Restaurant’s Recipe for Success in 2019

  • Restaurant operators have a dizzying array of single point tech solutions.

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    Restaurants can now capitalize on off-premise orders, thus creating a new revenue stream that wasn’t previously available.

    For a restaurant operator, the point of sale (POS) system has quickly become the hub of restaurant operations in what seems like only a few short years. Yet, history shows that restaurant technology has been building steam since 1973.

    More than 45 years ago IBM introduced the first POS system. One year later, in 1974, William Brobeck & Associates introduced another POS system to the restaurant industry; this one leapfrogging over IBM’s mainframe-based technology to one that was microprocessor-controlled. Using that technology, McDonald’s became the first to create operational efficiencies by moving from paper tickets clipped to a spindle for short-order cooks, to customer orders being placed at the register and printed to the kitchen. A quarter century later, cloud computing made the first POS system more widely available in the 2000s.

    Since then, advances in restaurant technology more resemble a Chess Olympiad, where hundreds of players are engaged at the same time, or the fast-paced action of blitz chess, where moves are made at lightning speed. Technology in the food industry has moved from one company outpacing another to multiple technologies being introduced at the same time, providing restaurant operators a dizzying array of single point tech solutions.

    Technology built for success

    For restaurant operators, technology solutions can be found for every aspect of the business. Point of sale technology was just the start. Now, managers and operators use their technology stack to track inventory, better control waitlists, access real-time data, manage an online reservation list, and so much more. Yet, many of the current tech introductions exist in a vacuum; they remain siloed, complicating the restaurant operation instead of providing the original operator purchase intents of increased customer satisfaction, improved efficiencies, and boosting sales.

    Throughout 2019, restaurants operators will reach a point, if they haven’t already, where they want all their technology investments connected and seamlessly able to communicate to one another. For example, restaurant operators will no longer be content to change their kitchen display systems (KDS) when they want to change their point of sale. Restaurant operators and managers also want data points pushed to and from their different implemented tools. What they don’t want is a limited return on their technology investments that cannot be integrated. Today’s restaurant solutions must be operator-centric, customer-facing and have flawless compatibility with other restaurant operational components.

    Key benefits of integrated technology

    Today, forward-thinking solution providers have designed their technology for compatibility, giving restaurant operators an edge on success. Now, the entire restaurant business ecosystem can be connected, and with the right integrations, will come many benefits, such as:

    A well-connected front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH). By fully integrating point of sale systems, loyalty programs, scheduling software, kitchen display systems and guest management systems, operators can increase efficiencies while improving the dining experience for guests.

    Better customer service and experience. Integrated technology tools keep diners happy. Better controlled inventory means a favorite dish is less likely to be unavailable. In addition to decreasing walkaways, correct meal timing also increases satisfaction and ensures repeat customers when meals arrive at the same time for each member of a dining party.

    Optimized restaurant operations. Friction between FOH staff and the kitchen is lessened during busy dining times, table turn time is decreased, and food waste is curtailed. With technology that provides detailed metrics about what’s going on in both areas—like providing the chefs with the number of waiting parties or vice versa, providing the hostess with order times.

    Higher employee satisfaction. Less clicks on multiple systems, better coordination between FOH and BOH leads to increased happiness in both restaurant operational areas. This provides for easier, calmer operations.

    Accurate, real-time and historical data reporting. Without the need to manually reenter data into several different systems, a restaurant can decrease errors in its reporting through proper integrations. Operators can tie that operational data back to specific customer visits and pinpoint exact choke holds or operational inefficiencies.

    One of the biggest benefits to effective integration is technology investment protection. When restaurant managers and operators demand software tools that can integrate with others they use, they are less likely to be influenced by a fast-talking technology salesperson peddling their “revolutionary” standalone tool that provides little return on investment. Sustainability is the goal, not quick obsolescence.

    Asking the right integration questions

    When it comes to effective technology integration restaurant operators are quickly learning to ask the important questions:

    • How many integrations does your technology platform have? And what does your network of integrations look like? (Ex. Does your POS integrate to my scheduling software? Does your KDS integrate with my guest management system?)
    • What was the shortest and longest go-live times with the integrations you have completed?
    • Is the system integration scalable for future restaurant expansion? And, will the system performance lag as the restaurant scales?
    • How well will the system integration work with legacy systems I may already have?
    • Tell me about your customer support after the implementation.
    • Can you give me three customer contacts for the integrations you’ve done so that I can visit with them about their experience?

    Getting an answer to this last question should be non-negotiable with any new vendor being considered. Many start-ups now tout their trendy integration abilities, and that number grows daily. Implementing applications successfully takes knowledge, skill and expertise, those three aren’t banked overnight. Getting different systems to communicate with one another is an investment of time and money for both the restaurant operator and the vendors involved. Choosing a vendor that has been in business for many years and has successful, confirmable integrations will be crucial for success.

    Demand trend pushes technology integration forward

    We are at a major shift in the industry. The whole notion of off-premise dining and third-party delivery partners like, UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates and others has been taken to a new level. Smartphone ownership in the United States now stands at a surprising level: 77 percent and that has only propelled this evolution forward. We are living in an on-demand world where diners want food when they want it, and where they want it. And, they want to know exactly when it will arrive. While connecting with the many different channels available to customers today appears challenging, a much sought-after benefit awaits restaurant operators: increased revenue. Restaurants can now capitalize on off-premise orders, thus creating a new revenue stream that wasn’t previously available.

    Successful restaurant operators must address this industry evolution if they not only want to survive but thrive in this new on-demand world; integration is the key to that success. Figuring out how to automate that delivery process and make it more efficient for the restaurant, and informative for the customer, will create even more operator impetus to integrate these disparate channels into a restaurant’s POS system.

    Restaurant operators are now actively seeking solutions that are open to integrating with other partners in the industry. For example, operators want to leap ahead of competitors by offering delivery drivers and customers real-time information versus arbitrary numbers. Instead of relaying to a driver: “Your food will be ready in approximately 30 minutes.” A well-connected restaurant system can look at what’s happening in the BOH operations, evaluate all orders in process, calculate the exact time of pick-up, then push that information to the third-party delivery partners.

    Putting on the technology hat

    As consumers become more adept at ordering food and having it delivered through mobile apps, restaurant operators are thrust into a rapidly changing world of technology. For many, it’s not only changing the way their business is run, but it’s changing at such a rate that demands savvy partners who can guide restaurant operators down the integration path that can prevent pitfalls, setbacks, and time lost that can never be regained. Yes, 2019 is going to be an interesting year for restaurant operators. Develop the right technology partnerships and  success is more certain than ever.

    Lee Leet is the CEO of QSR Automations and founded the company in 1996. QSR has become  an industry leader in technology stack integrations, after developing industry solutions that advance restaurant innovations and empowerment. ConnectSmart Kitchen, a kitchen automation solution, and DineTime, a guest management platform, to help restaurants efficiently manage resources, time, staff and the dining experience have all been created by QSR.