Times are difficult for restaurants and f&b-oriented businesses right now, with many owners looking for new products, ways of working, services, markets and tools in order to maximise their opportunities. When it comes to technology, there's little doubt that modern systems and customer-centric products are the way to go, but the plethora of apps, booking systems and software on the market can sometimes be confusing.
To help you evaluate and choose the best technology for your restaurant, we have created some points to consider.
Okay, so you thought we would start with a list of features, right? Of course that's important but we'll come to it later. It is vital that the tech you choose brings with it people you can work with. It is simple, really – you're looking for a technology partner, to work with you for the journey. Follow your instincts on this one: does the vendor respect your business? Do they understand the pressures you are under and what you are trying to achieve? Most of all, do you like them? Sometimes going back to basics and listening to your gut-feel will pay dividends.
We love technology, as you'd expect, and are really excited by the opportunities the digital world offers. Modern technical innovations allow new products to hit the market very quickly, which means some new entrants to the restaurant software market look very swish but sadly lack a deep pedigree in the sector. You only want to buy a new system once, so look beyond the glitz and ask the vendor a simple question: how deep is your understanding of restaurants? The answer may surprise you, although not in a good way.
We all react differently to information presented to us, so the user interface (that's just a techie term for what you see and use on-screen) must work for you. Vendors interpret customer need and present their resultant functionality in very different ways, so look at a variety of systems and choose one which looks and feels logical to you. If it feels clunky (another technical phrase there), then you'll never like it. And that means you'll regret buying it. Look for something which, to you, is a pleasure to look at and use, and of course does what you need. Now, that brings us on to...
This one is obvious, really. What does the system do, and does the answer to that question fit your list of requirements? You did make a list of requirements, didn't you? The ideal system for you should meet your needs, plus give you added value in the form of benefits you didn't know you could have. The product you're evaluating should be a source of “wows”, not a never-ending stream of unfathomable drop-downs and micro features. Ask about the vendor's approach to development, too, because a decent provider will be constantly innovating, without cluttering.
If you are changing your system or adding one for the first time, you may as well go for something contemporary. We have already established that “modern” needn't mean unusable – far from it. But the trend these days is for web-based subscription models, which include the product, upgrades and support all-in-one. In very simple terms, avoid anything where software has to be physically installed on a computer by disc or download and support is some kind of bloated annual contract. In terms of pricing, again, choose what works for you. Some established players charge a commission on each booking put through the system which is very much a “pay to play” arrangement but which often causes customers to resent what they see as an erosion of hard-won revenues. Others charge a flat monthly fee which is ideal for budgeting and contains no hidden nasties; there are also hybrid models out there. Choose what works for you.
When it comes to restaurant technology, one size doesn't fit all even if the vendor says their system is the best thing ever. There is a lot to consider around functionality, the way the system works, the people behind it (and their pedigree), and of course the price. Make a list of what is important to you and contact a few vendors to arrange a demo or trial (actually, their response and speed will tell you a lot), and follow your gut instinct. Remember, eighty percent of the features and benefits found in restaurant booking & management systems are the same, irrespective of who provides them. It is the twenty percent, however, which should influence your buying decision.