Restaurant Technology - what's on your shopping list?
The nice thing for owners and managers of restaurants is that they can take whatever approach to technology they please, to suit what they want to achieve. Technology has always innovated in the sector, from the humble abacus through to paper notepads for ordering and early till systems.
Today, the pace of change is relentlessly driven by customers' expectations and the drive for greater profitability, meaning restaurateurs are able to choose from a huge range of innovations to suit their individual goals.
Here, we take a quick look at some products which could be on their shopping lists.
CRM and Marketing
Having an abundance of available data is great, but only if it gets usefully used. Information about customers once held only in the restaurateur’s head can now be recorded, managed and harvested in more robust ways, using one of the many digital Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) systems available. These specialist platforms allow the restaurant’s management team to dive deep into all the statistics they need to get a better handle on customers’ behaviours, preferences and most importantly when they might next book. By using CRM, marketing and promotional campaigns can be much better targeted.
The possibilities for crunching numbers and subsequently implementing marketing communications are endless, but using CRM has some very practical applications. Restaurant owners could, for example, announce the launch of a new vegetarian menu to appropriate customers, or let individual customers know when their favourite table is free – all driven by data. The best restaurant management systems have CRM and marketing modules built-in, but there are also many stand-alone solutions available. Remember, though, the data which comes out is only as good as the data which goes in.
Restaurateurs have always been great rewarders of customer loyalty, offering a free drink here and their favourite table there. A solid customer base which doesn’t need replenishing is the Holy Grail for all businesses, but owners have to work hard to retain customers and stop them from sniffing out the competition.
Thankfully there are systems available which put some structure around loyalty, partly in tandem with CRM. Online platforms which measure spending milestones against available rewards are finding their place in the sector, giving customers a clear incentive to return. A restaurateur may choose to run a card-based loyalty scheme, which credits the customer with points equalling prizes, such as discounts or free F&B products. But the loyalty industry is so much more than creased cards in the back of customers’ wallets – the best systems are fully digital and give customers a membership number to use at the time of booking online, thus making the entire process digital. Not only does having a loyalty scheme create returning customers fuelled by their sense of feeling special, it generates dependable revenue and a whole load of essential behavioural data. We did mention data, didn’t we?
The way customers pay for things these days has shifted, both in terms of how and when they settle up. Restaurants are increasingly looking to mitigate the impact of no-shows by taking deposits or even full payment at the time of booking, often at the time of receiving a reservation online. But it isn’t all about what the owner wants – customers increasingly expect to pay for services “on the go” and when they order, so a robust payment portal on restaurants’ websites is a must.
One of the biggest changes is the drive towards contactless payments on-site. We’re not talking about customers waving their debit card at a payment terminal; we mean making payment without meeting a fellow human. This is becoming increasingly expected by diners, with savvy restaurateurs now embedding pay-at-table systems in their technology stacks. Hand-held terminals, often combined with electronic order pads facilitate an easy option but for full humanless contact restaurateurs should consider pay at table apps. These nifty products give customers the opportunity to pay using their smartphone, often using a QR code associated with the table. Once done, the payment is made instantly and the transaction sent to the epos system for reconciliation. If this all sounds a bit soulless, take heart that the best vendors of such systems even build-in the functionality for customers to leave tips.
We live in a world where customers share their experience with their peers, be it through posts on Facebook or snaps on Instagram. Make no mistake, diners will be vocal about a poor experience but in the majority of cases just want to shout about a restaurant’s strengths from their rooftops. Reviews are the restaurateur’s friend and not something to be feared.
As well as the universal review sites such as Trip Advisor, proprietary apps have developed rapidly in recent years as restaurateurs have begun to recognise the benefit of gathering feedback and using it as a tool for creating customer advocacy. Most booking platforms now have the opportunity to leave reviews, but a new trend is for at-table feedback. Simply by showing customers where to find the feedback portal, restaurateurs can obtain instant and heartfelt feedback right at the time when diners are most likely to give it.
Electronic Point of Sale systems (“epos”) have come a very long way since the days of the abacus we mentioned earlier, with most now offering an array of features helping to create the “smart” restaurant. These systems today are no longer just about money in/out but connectivity, flexibility and data. Contemporary systems are designed to link into the restaurant’s other digital platforms, so that for example customer preferences can be recorded and sent to the CRM; allergies noted; kitchen displays added to improve order workflows; margins calculated to ingredient level; stock automatically monitored and re-ordered; loyalty systems correctly implemented and a plethora of payments accurately processed.
In what is becoming a smart-phone centric world, the best epos systems are fully web-based and portable in every way, allowing users to take the “till” to the customer or perform all of the back-end management tasks remote of the restaurant.
Discreet staff paging is increasingly used to enhance the speed of service and deliver food fresh. Simply, on arrival diners are given a small tag (perhaps instead of the large wooden spoon often used!) which emits a radio signal back to the waiting staff. Not only can the system be used to summon the them, but it provides a fool-proof way for waiting personnel to physically locate customers on busy days. Think of it as a hybrid of GPS and homing beacon for service staff.
Long seen as the preserve of the hotel sector, revenue management tools are becoming increasingly popular to restaurateurs wanting to dig deeper into their business's peaks and troughs. By the use of some very clever algorithms, revenue management systems allow the user to analyse customer flow data and identify where pricing tweaks can be made to fill what would usually be quieter slots or booking voids.
The best systems have the ability to automate this process, so that published prices can be continually adjusted online in response to availability, the arrival of bookings in real time and even the pricing of a competitive set. By better understanding the behaviours of their business, restaurateurs can create promotions and offers informed by hard facts.
Restaurant Management Software
Very much a mainstay of the sector, restaurant management software comes in many shapes, sizes and prices. Their popularity is down to one thing: the search for increased profitability. With squeezed margins and an uncertain future, restaurants the world over are turning to web-based systems to maximise revenues, optimise efficiencies, communicate better, create returning customers and take more bookings.
All-in-one solutions are offered on a Software as a Service ("SaaS") model, comprising one monthly subscription to a web-based product which will include online customer pre-ordering and reservations, graphical table plans, take-away & delivery modules, CRM, marketing, payments, extensive management reporting, table ordering and much more. Market leading vendors will constantly upgrade their software's functionality to stay ahead of the demands of restaurants and their customers.
Technical innovation goes beyond software and digital platforms, and although kitchen equipment tends to have a very long service life, many restaurants are investing in value-adding and high tech kit. The level of innovation brought to kitchens in recent years is astonishing and worthy of an article in itself, but the ones which never fail to impress us include “big screen” kitchen display units, which replace paper-based orders and give a vital boost to order work-flows and error management. Although kitchen displays have been around for a little while now in larger kitchens, they are now finding their place in all sizes of restaurants and pub kitchens.
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, how about smart appliances? Combi ovens which know what they are cooking are now within reach, together with fridges which know what they contain and adjust temperatures to suit. The latest products are fully connected and allow managers to monitor their usage remotely via smartphone apps, giving much more flexibility over working arrangements and economy monitoring.
We have saved our favourite until last. One company now supplies bottle crushers which instantly deconstruct glass vessels on a 10:1 ratio and reduce it to sand. We think that’s great for the environment; the system reduces recycling costs and produces a very practical recyclate. Plus, of course, it gives restaurants the opportunity to promote their green credentials using their CRM and marketing systems.
Favouritetable provides reservation software, pre-booking modules, take-away backed by a full manager portal and a host of restaurant-centric features. We're passionate about restaurants, which is why we have developed the best value full-function restaurant software on the market.
Call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to demonstrate what you will achieve with the right technology..