By Brian Anderson, Director of Technology, Modern Restaurant Concepts
It is a very exciting time to be working with technology, particularly in the restaurant industry. We are starting to see a plethora of new products and solutions come to market for everything from labor management, sensor platforms, predictive analytics and invoice automation to loyalty and payment processing. Restaurants typically operate on small margins with high costs associated with food, labor, and rent. Tech companies see this as an opportunity for automation or data-driven services to help restaurant operators gain efficiencies through the automation of manual tasks and helping them make decisions based on real data. This is commonplace for industry verticals like manufacturing, airlines, hotels, and many others who have had access to supply chain data, order data, tickets sold, rooms booked, and all costs associated with their operations for years.
The restaurant industry has been a little trickier to predict until recently. With access to endless compute power through cloud platforms like AWS and Azure, machine learning algorithms as well as mountains of data from POS systems, labor scheduling platforms, accounting and back office applications and other data like customer loyalty, social media, and more have allowed tech entrepreneurs to build solutions that stitch these threads together to offer real-time predictive data as well as tools to help streamline operations and save costs.
We have also seen new solutions for payment processing with EMV, NFC, and customer loyalty programs woven together to create omni channel consumer experiences for transactions in-store, online, and through mobile apps.
You can now get your food the old fashioned way by showing up at a restaurant ordering and eating there, so 20th century, or place your order for in-store pick up, curbside pick up, or delivery from any number of third-party platforms like DoorDash, GrubHub, or UberEats.
Let’s dive into sensors briefly. The cost to market has come down dramatically and you can buy a sensor for just about a few dollars. You can integrate them with BI tools for additional data streams or use them for notifications for your oven if it is left on or your walk-in cooler if it starts getting too warm. Operators can be notified to check on the equipment to avoid repair costs or inventory loss. You can also use sensors to track how many bodies come in and out of your restaurant to compare these counts with sales data, you can monitor where people congregate to improve restaurant design and even monitor employees to improve kitchen layouts or food production.
BUT... none of this stuff will work well unless you have a strong foundation in place. Most restaurants built in the last decade were not designed with a tech-forward approach in order to utilize all of these new tools. Ask yourself these questions. What is the internet speed at your business? I would recommend no less than 100mb but would encourage you to buy the most bandwidth you can afford. Do you have backup internet? What would your business do if it lost water or power? You would be limited at best and most likely dead in the water. The same applies to the internet; make sure you have an auto failover solution for backup internet so you can continue to access all of these new cloud-based tools.
And last, are your operators ready for additional tools and data? If you don’t have standard procedures in place for labor management, inventory management, and training you will not be successful if you try and layer on more technology. Technology is not a replacement for solid operating practices, it is a tool to enhance these practices and provide your teams with additional information to consider when making decisions.
Build a strong foundation before you layer on additional solutions. Install the fastest internet connection you can and make sure you have an automated backup internet solution. Consider using cloud managed hardware for your firewalls, switches, and WiFi access points for easy visibility and remote management. This will give you a strong backbone to build on. Finally, prepare your teams, make sure you have the basics in place for inventory, scheduling, cost management, training, and daily operations so they are prepared when you turn up the tech.