Restaurant software: time to consciously decouple?
During a recent end of the week pub quiz, team Favouritetable was struggling with the answer to a critical question which would see us win the game. “Which celebrity couple famously ‘consciously decoupled’ in 2016?” boomed the quiz master, a question which frankly left us stumped.
Try as we might, we just couldn’t remember the answer but instead strayed into a discussion about decoupling, and – more specifically – decoupling from restaurant software. The relationship enjoyed by Favouritetable with its customers is very strong and our ‘churn’ rate (i.e. customers who leave us) incredibly low, which got us thinking about the issue generally.
What should customers wishing to leave their current restaurant software provider do, and what pitfalls should they avoid? Here are some tips for restaurateurs wishing to leave their software provider and find something better.
There are any number of reasons why customers would wish to part company with their software provider, from business closure to dissatisfaction with the reservation system concerned. In the case of the latter, this usually comes about due to a gap in expectations and what is actually delivered by the software vendor. The lesson here is that restaurateurs must decide what they want from their software – and evaluate products thoroughly – early in the process, to avoid disappointment later.
Our advice? Build a great relationship with your restaurant software provider and there’ll be much less chance of an acrimonious split further down the line. Follow your gut feel and don’t overlook the obvious, because restaurant software companies which have real people available at the end of a phone right from the get-go are going to much easier to deal with if you need to exit later on.
The small print
First off, we’re not lawyers and what we’re writing here is a generalisation. But if a restaurant decides that the relationship with a software provider must end, it is very important to check the small print.
Probably the most important thing to establish is the nature of the contract. If it is a rolling one-month arrangement – usually with no notice – great, you can exit whenever you like. There may be a requirement to inform the vendor and it makes sense to stay until the end of your current paid-up month, but after that, you’re free to go.
On the other hand, if you signed up for a month-by-month contract with notice, you’ll need to give – er – notice. Don’t try to skip this, because you really do need a clean exit with no conflicts involving the supplier. No hard feelings is the way to go here.
Things get a little heavier if you signed up for, say, a 12 or 24 month contract and you want to quit before it has ended. Unless there is a specific clause you can call upon to justify leaving mid-term (a clear failure by the vendor such as a data breach or business-damaging system down-time might be two examples) then you’re duty bound to see out the contract to its end. Actually, in the absence of any material failure on the part of the vendor, we think it is pretty reasonable for restaurants to have to stay the course because – presumably – they have been enjoying discounted pricing by the vendor up to this point, mitigated by the security of a long term customer commitment. Restaurants who change that commitment are, in effect, having it both ways.
Bear in mind that where software companies have provided a discount enjoyed by the restaurant yet the restaurant now wishes to leave, the software company may ask for the discount to be clawed-back on the grounds of breach of contract by the restaurant. That would be fair in legal terms, but very ‘heavy’ in our view.
Speaking of penalties, check the terms and conditions for any punitive clauses relating to early severance. It could be that the vendor has a flat financial penalty rather than a claw-back regime – three months fees is not uncommon.
Whatever you do, don’t just stop the standing order/direct debit and leave without adhering to the terms you agreed to. That will just put you in the wrong and the software company on a mission to ‘win’ – after all, by this time the relationship will have completely broken down and all goodwill lost. You really don’t want that.
Sometimes software providers will use heavy tactics to stop restaurant customers leaving their reservation systems. The problem as we see it is that ‘making’ customers stay because of a legality really misses the point, because nobody wants unwilling customers. At Favouritetable we want, and we have, the most willing customers in the world. On the rare occasion that something doesn’t work out and a customer need to leave, we will help them find the right system for them and it is all done with good grace. Cal us old fashioned, but we’ll take that label any day over more dubious descriptions.
Your restaurant reservation and booking system, however good it is, is useless to you without data inside it. Your records of customers, their addresses, preferences, bookings, payments and whatever else you record should be guarded above all else, because without this information you will be left with gaping void in your business. Your data is your restaurant’s DNA and as such must be safeguarded above everything else.
We mention data because, if you decide to leave your current software vendor, your very next priority is to confirm how and when you will receive your data from the outgoing company. This is critically important because your new software provider will need to import it into their software so it is there fore you when they switch on the reservation system on day one.
Make no mistake - the data held on your behalf by your restaurant reservation system provider is yours, period. Going full circle to where we began, make sure that the route to exporting data in the event of a ‘conscious decoupling’ is established right at the start of the relationship. Think of it as pre-nuptials, if you will. Some restaurant software companies (which we won’t name here but they know who they are) will very quickly drop the customer service charm on receiving a cancellation notice and do everything possible to make customers stay, including using the data as a type of ransom. Thankfully these are rare instances, but restaurateurs who are hit with such scenarios usually find that the merest mention of a call to the Information Commissioner’s Office will do the trick.
Sometimes things change or things don’t work out. The best relationships are based on understandings agreed right at the start and sit upon firm foundations of mutual trust established very early on. Restaurant owners should know what they are signing up to, and be expected to honour the contractual obligations they signed up to, even if they feel the product isn’t working out for them (and that’s reason enough to try before you buy). That said, honourable software companies will show empathy and not burn bridges just because a customer is wavering – in fact, the very best will investigate other solutions and leave the door firmly open. Be wary of software companies with opaque attitudes to data ownership and release, because data ownership is absolutely critical.
One final point: the answer was Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, making team Favouritetable the winners again.
Favouritetable is contemporary, easy to use restaurant management software designed to increase bookings, efficiency, revenue and profits. Loved by restaurateurs and UK-based, it's the best value next-generation restaurant management software on the market.