With marketing plans, equipment purchases, food and beverage budgets, license applications, and more, a new restauranteur has a lot on their plate.
It's important, however, not to forget about the technology that you will need. Whether you're starting a sit-down establishment, a pub and bar, or a fast-casual restaurant, there is computer equipment and software that you should consider in your startup and operational costs.
Different Technologies to Meet Different Restaurant Needs
While some technology choices span all restaurant types, others are specific to the kind of restaurant. For instance, if you'll be starting a sit-down or more formal restaurant, you might want to investigate reservation or wait management software. If your menu will change frequently, you can consider a tablet-based menu system at each table instead of incurring regular printing costs. Depending on the size of your establishment, you should consider how many point-of-sale (POS) stations you'll need to keep orders and payments moving through quickly.
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If, on the other hand, you're looking at a fast-casual restaurant concept, things like reservations aren't necessary, and the number of POS systems you need will depend more on your peak throughput expectations and number of cashiers you'll have during rush times. Other considerations include the use of digital menu boards – large TV displays with your menu – so you can easily switch from morning to afternoon to dinner offerings.
For any type of restaurant, you need to consider things like payments and inventory management. Will you take loyalty or gift cards? Are you planning on offering takeout or delivery?
How your systems communicate with one another can also be an important consideration. If you'll be hosting all of your software locally, you need a computer that can act as a server for communication out to the different areas of the house, front and back. This may also require you to have a contract with an IT support company, in case you run into issues.
On the other hand, you might want to consider a cloud computing solution. Once thought to be less secure, modern cloud-based software as a service — or SaaS — is as safe as a computer in your back office. You'll need to have a solid internet connection to the cloud, but this may allow you to also offer free Wi-Fi to your guests.
Restaurant Technology Basics
There are some baseline products beyond an office computer that your restaurant will need or should consider to keep your customers happy and your business profitable.
Point-of-sale (POS) system: A POS system does more than process sales. A restaurant POS system will intake orders and push them to the kitchen staff as well as keep data on orders and sales. Some of the things to consider when it comes to acquiring a POS system is how many you'll need (you need one for each cashier station at a fast-casual establishment, and at least two and probably more for a sit-down restaurant for wait and kitchen staff) and how much you expect this single system to do.
Knowing how many stations you need will allow you to reasonably evaluate whether you want to acquire the equipment yourself or if you'd like your POS service to provide you with terminals or tablets. If you're not sure of the number of terminals, be sure to choose a system that's expandable so you can add on at a later date. Also, ask about service and software assistance. You don't want to be left with a broken system and no one available to fix it during a dinner service.
Many POS providers now offer expandable systems that include a lot of the features outlined below. An all-in-one system may be the perfect fit for you, but be careful. If you don't like the system, or you outgrow it, you'll have more than one piece of functionality that you'll need to replace.
Inventory management: Keeping close control of your inventory is important in an industry with such small margins. Everything you throw away is money lost. The flip side, of course, is having too little inventory and having to disappoint a customer by telling them you're out of a specific item.
Inventory management software can help keep your inventory costs under control by giving you a view into what you have, what you need and how quickly you go through products. This lets you order products only when you need them and reduces waste.
Recipe and cost management: You might be wondering how this is different from inventory management. Recipe and cost management software gives you not only a repository for your recipes, but also insight into the cost of a particular dish. This helps you appropriately price dishes and drinks, and understand your profit based on menu items.
Personnel management: If you're running a small restaurant, you can probably do things like schedules and even HR paperwork without a software system. But once you get past a few employees or scheduling begins to get complicated, it just makes sense to have an easy-to-update system for time, attendance and scheduling. It’s also no secret that the hospitality industry has high turnover rates, and includes lots of forms and applications. An online HR system lets you keep the paperwork on your desk to a minimum.
Wait management: If you're running a sit-down restaurant, there are likely to be times where you have more guests than tables. A wait management system can help you keep track of guests waiting, view analytics around your busiest times and longest waits, and even notify guests when their table is ready with pagers or even text messages.
Reservations: Like the wait management system, this is really restricted to the needs of a sit-down restaurant, and may even be part of your wait management software. Be sure to think beyond customers who call in for reservations, however. With websites and mobile apps making it easy to find reservations and book them on the way, guests may pass your restaurant by if they can't make a reservation online or with their phone.
Online ordering/takeout/delivery: With almost 2 billion takeout orders placed in the United States a year, adding this service to your restaurant could be worth the time. Phone orders may not require additional software, but take note — according to a 2015 survey, online orders are overtaking phone orders across the U.S. Takeout services, such as Grubhub and Seamless, provide you with software and give you the option of using their drivers or yours. There are also takeout ordering systems, like an eCommerce shopping cart, that you can add to your website.