Restaurant software: Cherished asset or forgotten hero?

by John Jones | Nov 28, 2021

Having new software is a wonderful feeling, isn't it? Everyone likes to get something new, for the thrill of new possibilities and the sense of progressing as an organisation. But what happens once the novelty has worn off and attentions turn to other things? In this short blog we discuss why restaurant management software is a financial asset needing to generate best value, and how to ensure that is achieved.

The chances are, when restaurateurs are in the market for software, they evaluate different products against their buying criteria, such as functionality, price, reputation and availability of support. Doing so becomes all-consuming for the duration of the procurement exercise, but once the purchase order is in the restaurant owner can sit back and await the implementation of their shiny new software. 

The day comes: software is installed, data is migrated, staff training held and the initiative winds down, with the staff becoming the main users of what we hope is a feature-rich, business-enhancing asset. Over time, the software becomes a mainstay of the restaurant, bar, café or pub and it settles into a cosy normality where it is neither seen or heard: it simply becomes a silent member of staff, doing its thing in the background and referred to unceremoniously as “the system”. 

In many ways, that's exactly what great software should be: efficiently getting on with its job, unnoticed and uncomplaining. 

The thing is, should restaurateurs settle for an asset which fades into the background after time and is regarded as a success just because it hasn't failed, or at best does the basics very well? We don't think so. Software is a huge investment, not just in financial terms, but also in evaluation, implementation, disruption and training time. 

So, having made such a huge investment, it seems a shame that the system's functionality (and therefore inherent ability to justify its place on the asset register, or just plain add value) is partly or wholly forgotten. Those lovely features (such as in-built marketing modules, waiting lists and party planners) which wowed the owners and staff on sales demo day can be forgotten, with users understandably reverting to just using the basic functionality due to the inevitable pressures of the day to day job. 

Worse still, once the software has normalised and the novelty worn off, there can be a creeping propensity for users to misunderstand existing functions or simply not know the software's full capabilities, ultimately leading to locally created work-arounds which need not exist. As new generations of hires come and go, and in many cases the original software project leader departs for pastures new, these practices become cemented in the staff culture and trained-in during their onboarding, often accompanied by such words from the trainer as “we have to do it this way because the system isn't very good” (or any variation on the theme). 

Inevitably what was once the business's flagship new investment becomes the subject for review, and the whole question of replacement software rears its head again – much to the delight of a myriad of business-hungry software sales executives and the dread of the busy restaurateur. Evaluation, procurement, implementation and training all over again.

Restaurant software should be seen as any other asset, with a long and healthy life within the business. So what steps can be taken to ensure the above cycle doesn't start? Here are our top tips:

Buy the right software in the first place

Sure, it is only when software is thoroughly in use that its features and failings become apparent, but some diligence when shopping around will pay dividends in the long term. Make a list of must-have features, and don't forget the less glamorous elements such as the vendor's support regime, contract length, security and costs. 

It goes without saying that restaurateurs need to invest in software which is built on contemporary technology and not end up with something containing ancient underpinnings, dressed up to look fresh. We wrote about what to look for in this blog article.

Appoint a product champion

The chances are that each restaurant, bar, café or pub has within its staff-base a tech enthusiast, so harness their interest in software and make them the product's champion. They become the go-to person for information about functionality because they know the system inside out; they monitor usage, conduct formal and on-the-job training and act as liaison officer between the business and the software vendor. Just make sure the champion documents their processes (in case they themselves leave for pastures new) and strikes the correct balance between this role and their substantive one.

Draw a map

Don't leave the using of software to chance. Map out the product's functionality and decide which of it is important to you, then include those elements in a check-list of training topics. Identify functionality which creates risk if used incorrectly, or that which can add value and train this in.

Read the map

Understand which functionality is being used, and which is under-utilised. In the first instance you can draw on the skills of your software champion to establish anecdotally the user journeys and report back, but software vendors will also be in a position to provide a factual data-driven map of the system's most utilised features.

Find a partner

When choosing a vendor, it is critical to work with one which has a partnership-centric approach to the relationship. That means them going beyond the sending of invoices each month and the occasional update: we would expect a commitment to ensuring the ongoing best use of the product, by proactive monitoring and ongoing training.

Have your say

If the vendor truly has a partner-oriented philosophy, they will be delighted to include you in any discussions around future development. That's a great opportunity to influence the product roadmap and play a vital role in testing new features (and your staff will love that, too). 

Review twice a year

Make sure your software is regularly brought back to the forefront of staffs' minds, so it doesn't fall into passive use. Gather formal user reviews and feedback twice a year, and assess whether the product is still fit for purpose and working for you.

Wrapping Up

Implementing new software is an exciting time, but one fraught with financial or opportunity costs. Once the novelty has worn off, the software normalised and users' interest waned, software can be forgotten and its opportunity to add a return on investment overlooked. In the worst case scenario, perfectly good systems can be viewed as ineffective or troublesome, simply through a lack of understanding and generations of oddball user behaviour cemented into standard ways of working.

Rather than treated as a fire & forget exercise, software should be seen as an asset which provides ongoing value, so restaurateurs would do well to review its usage regularly, appoint an internal product champion, design meaningful training and work with vendors to avoid the procurement cycle occurring every few years.

favouritetable is the leading technology provider for food an drink businesses in the UK. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class, easy-to-use and commission-free systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue.

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