restaurant technology

Restaurant technology: What to invest in & what to skip

By Mo Chaar

The restaurant industry is an ever-changing technological landscape. The pandemic has shifted guest expectations and restaurants are now required to be tech-savvy and offer online ordering, pay-at-the-table functions, third-party delivery, and more. However, with restaurants already struggling in the current climate, most businesses don’t have the financial resources to invest in expensive restaurant technology to meet these demands.

The key to investing in technology without breaking the bank is to invest in the right technology: tech that will save money in the long run, cut down on current costs and, ultimately, streamline operations to help boost the bottom line.

When assessing tech solutions, restaurants should focus their attention on tech that plays an essential role in their operations. There are three phases of technology that can be implemented: technology that is essential to survival, technology that will propel the business forward, and technology to invest in once there is additional cash flow.

Technology must-haves

One of the most crucial aspects of restaurant technology is the Point of Sale (POS), a robust system serving as the foundation for restaurant operations, such as ordering and reporting. While added features can offer a plethora of benefits, investing in the right POS is imperative to optimizing business success. Integration options are key — modern, innovative POS systems allow integrations with ordering and payment tools to help restaurant operators streamline communication from the various platforms and provide reporting in real time. 

A contactless payment terminal is essential to reduce high touch points, follow health and safety protocols, and meet customers’ evolving convenience requirements. Without a contactless payment terminal, restaurants will be limiting their customer base and risk rapidly falling behind the competition. Online ordering was also expedited due to the pandemic, as customer behaviour has dramatically shifted away from in-house dining. Many customers will continue to opt for the convenience of online ordering despite restaurants reopening.

QR codes have seen a huge surge in both popularity and necessity this past year. While they may not seem essential, they offer an easy and cost-effective way to reduce high touch points, allowing guests contactless access to menus and other key information. This added convenience has evolved into a guest expectation that is sure to outlast the pandemic.

Phase two of essential technology focuses on technology that can be implemented to propel the business forward. This technology includes gift cards, loyalty programs, order and pay-at-the-table technology, mobile apps, and kitchen display systems (KDS).

Gift cards and loyalty programs are great ways to gain traction and can be easily implemented to encourage business and repeat guests. Order and pay-at-the-table technology is an easy and cost-effective option as they can be built off the pre-existing online ordering systems and readily available QR code technology. Kitchen Display Systems cut down on human error and streamline communication between front of house and back of house. Additionally, these digital tools replace traditional paper chit systems and support more efficient food preparation, helping to eliminate food waste and save money.

The last phase includes technology that can be implemented once a restaurant has additional cash flow, such as self-ordering kiosks, reservation systems, and social media. These nice-to-haves will depend on the type of restaurant and their individual needs. Self-ordering kiosks and reservation systems are not expected by guests but can provide added convenience. Social media is very important in building a customer base and reaching new audiences. While it is not necessarily costly, it does require a large time investment which can be challenging for restaurant owners who need to focus their efforts on more operational elements of the business.

Tech to skip

The latest restaurant technology can be intriguing and exciting to have, but it’s important to look at it with a critical eye and determine whether it’s actually necessary or simply a shiny new toy to play with.

Finding the right tablet for a restaurant’s needs can sometimes be challenging but it’s worth noting that it’s not always worth investing in the latest tablet to hit the market. While some apps and POS systems will require the purchase of a brand-new tablet, it’s important to think about whether the benefits outweigh the cost. Not only are the latest tablets an added expense, but they are also often fragile, easily breakable, and have the potential to accidentally go home with an employee. It’s important to assess whether you need the latest iPad or if a more cost-effective and replaceable Android tablet is a good alternative.

Third-party delivery apps or delivery marketplaces are another area to carefully assess as they incur massive fees from restaurants and are difficult to manage. These costs have to be weighed against their ability to bring in new customers. A more viable and cost-effective option is to focus on an in-house online ordering platform that lives on a restaurant’s website. This enables restaurants to own the customer relationship and gives restaurants greater insight into data around repeat guests so they can build a loyal following and customize the experience.

Digital advertising can be beneficial but doesn’t make sense for all restaurants. The restaurant space is crowded online and there is tough competition for clicks, meaning restaurants need to commit a significant financial investment in order to compete. Splurging on pay-per-click ads and banner ads may not deliver the ROI to justify the expense. 

It’s also important to be aware of expensive software licenses that will nickel and dime customers. Some account software and apps require restaurant operators to buy expensive licenses to get basic features. Switching to a provider that offers more features and freedom of choice to integrate into the tech suite that best suits a restaurant’s needs is an easy solution that will save money.

The last component that restaurants can skip on is anything too gimmicky. While burger-flipping robots and delivery by drone may make a catchy media headline, now is not the time to bet on uncertain technology. It’s a good rule of thumb to wait until the kinks of new technology have been found and ironed out before purchasing them.

The right tech for your business

Ultimately, the right technology for a restaurant is going to require taking a closer look at the type of business that is being built. Avoiding the frills and nice-to-have technology at the beginning can help cut down on unnecessary costs and help restaurants focus on building a loyal customer base.

A solid foundation is the most important investment that can be made.

Mo Chaar is the Chief Commercial Officer of Givex, where he oversees commercial strategy and development worldwide as well as managing sales teams within North America. His experience in gift card, loyalty, and POS has played a pivotal role in the success of some of Givex’s largest partners.