Technology is moving so fast that it’s hard to not only keep up, but also keep informed. Here are four of the latest services that can help restaurant operators in different areas of their business:
We’re all hearing about the cloud, but what is it?
As with everything in the virtual world, it’s there but it’s not. The cloud is an ability to store and manage data.
But it may help to visualize a cloud, up in the sky, where you can place your information and reach up and retrieve it when you need it.
The advantages of having your information on the cloud are multiple:
- It’s not on your computer, saving you hard-drive space.
- It’s backed up.
- Any information can be accessed from anyone in your chain. So if your menu’s on the cloud and you’re in Minnesota, a manager in Florida can also access it.
- The same goes for your customers. If your menu is in the cloud and you make it accessible; anyone can see it. Be careful, however, of mixing private and public data. If you have private information, either don’t include it in the application that you are making public or simply put in some security to make users/customers login to application, says Chris Ruff, CEO of UIEvolution , a company that provides connected services.
- You can provide more information for customers. Not only is your menu, for example, available, but they are also abel to click on dishes and read all the ingredients, nutritional information, information on allergens, etc.
- You can provide a better experience for guests, by sharing customer information through affinity programs, building stronger loyalty programs, and creating specials that are more targeted.
- Internally, it means everything can be managed centrally so updates or changes need only be input once, rather than at each restaurant.
- It saves money. There are some initial startup costs to moving onto the cloud. You may have to change some processes internally, which can mean some training is required. There may also be some new software costs, and there can be ongoing costs.
What can you put in the cloud? Pretty much anything, and the space is infinite. Restaurants should start embracing it now, says Ruff.
“[Restaurants] have to see technology as part of their business going forward. It’s not all or nothing. They don’t have to say one day, ‘Hey, we’re all cloud now.’ You’re going to have to make these investments over the next one to five years.”
The cloud, he points out, for those of us who are confused about the difference between the cloud and the Internet, is that the cloud is the bigger picture—it’s what allows us to use the Internet and its services.
And this is true whether the restaurant is part of a chain or is an independent mom-and-pop, he says, because the simple truth is customers are starting to expect access to your menu, and your restaurant, whenever they want it.
“But I would argue that if restaurants don’t have these tools, their customers are going to leave them,” Ruff adds. “Having things online is going to be almost a requirement.
A dislike of telemarketers is almost universal, but in these days of cell phones, marketing to consumers via their hand-held devices is not only easier, but also more effective.
And the main reason is that it’s no longer about a phone call: Text messaging is now the way many people prefer to communicate. In fact, according to Quora, a statistics website, around 7 trillion texts were sent in 2011.
But how do you collect and then communicate with hundreds—or maybe even thousands—of your customers?
RVA Mobile Marketing  is one company enabling you to offer text message marketing. The company offers three different services to businesses through its Izigg platform . Through all of them you can:
- Build a cellphone database.
- Send messages out to your entire database.
- Create coupons to incorporate into messages.
- Create a message then schedule a time for it to go out.
- Track message effectiveness.
Contacting customers—or potential customers—via text messaging is easy. Announce everywhere when you are offering a special text deal—maybe a free appetizer with dinner or half off a bottle of wine. Include it on your Facebook page, Twitter, your website, and don’t forget inside your actual restaurant.
Consumers who read the announcement then simply text a key word such as “wine” or “Tuesday” to 90210 and then receive a text that they show at their next restaurant visit for the special deal.
You can also include offers at the bottom of other texts—one that announces that a table is available or on the bottom of a delivery order, for example.
Once someone has sent a text to you, you have his or her number, from which you can build an unlimited database.
Restaurants not using text messaging are missing an opportunity, says Bert Martinez, president of Bert Martinez Communications , Houston, Texas.
There are really no downsides, he adds, especially since more and more consumers own smartphones, on which texting is very easy. Texting is also inexpensive for restaurant, he adds.
But if you do run a text-message-based marketing campaign, don’t bombard your recipients, Martinez cautions.
“Restaurants must be careful to not overwhelm customers with multiple text messages a day, too many in one week or messages that are too long. They must be timely messages, succinct and to the point, as well as useful to customers and something [that] will make them want to come to the restaurant,” says Brian Geary, spokesman for And Plus , a mobile development company in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The most important part of text message marketing is that text recipients have “opted in” to receiving the messages, he adds.
And don’t always try to sell customers something. “Maybe send an information text one week and a discount text the next week,” Martinez suggests.
“I encourage our customers to recognize that phones need to be fun, visual, and, most of all, action-oriented,” says William E. DeLamater, founder of AppCreatorPro , Huntingtown, Maryland.
“Static content on a smartphone is the kiss of death, so keep the pot boiling by alerting customers to something they can do to enjoy your restaurant even more.”
Next: Ordr.in 
Your customers may be spending more and more time in front of Facebook these days, whether through their phone or their computer, but don’t worry, this is something you can capitalize on.
Ordr.in  is a new app that allows consumers to order food from you without even leaving the social networking site they’re glued to.
For consumers it’s easy: They hit the app directly from the Facebook page they’re on and choose a restaurant. From there they order their food, and without having to even leave their chair, their meal will soon be delivered.
It’s no harder for the restaurants. They provide their menu to Ordr.in and pay a monthly fee ($50) to the New York City-based company. The only other charge is a one-time $200 set-up fee that’s waived for the first 500 restaurants to participate.
Once they’re signed up, restaurants are included in Ordr.in’s marketing system, which promotes their menu across the Internet.
And what’s especially useful to restaurants is that a soon as a customer orders a meal, that information—“Joe ordered food from Papa’s Pizza,” for example—appears on his or her Facebook timeline.
Friends of the diner can then “like” the restaurant or can also click on two new tabs, “crave” and “eat.”
This means that every time a customer orders through Ordr.in, your restaurant is getting free marketing and free publicity because his or her friends will read about it on Facebook.
According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers say they trust recommendations of family and friends above other forms of advertising.
“Each time a customer publishes their craves and orders, restaurants get powerful marketing that can’t be bought,” says David Bloom, CEO of Ordr.in.
So far, participating restaurants are in dozens of cities, including New York and Phoenix.
There are no worries, really, about Ordr.in not sticking around for long, either, since the company is backed by Google Ventures.
Coming up, each restaurant’s site through Ordr.in will be able to be customized with colors and logos.
The easier you can make doing business with your restaurant the better, says Dave Gonynor, CEO of That’s Biz , a restaurant marketing company based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
“Restaurants are finding it important to give customers reasons to visit their Facebook page. Certainly online ordering available right from Facebook saves the customers a few key strokes to navigate to the restaurant’s website and place the order there. Long-term convenience and time savings will win.”
The music you play in your restaurant can have a huge impact on your diners—how they feel, what they order, and how much they pay and tip.
There are now companies that offer personalized music for your restaurant, taking into account everything from demographics and psychographics to traffic patterns.
Restaurants can use the music they play to meet their own needs.
In the early evening, the music selection can encourage diners to move through so the restaurant can turn tables; as the evening progresses, it can encourage consumers to linger over dinner and order dessert and after-dinner drinks.
Ambiance Radio  is easily implemented. First, you meet with the company’s team to provide information about customer demographics, ambiance, the restaurant’s energy, says Bradley Newberger, the company’s president and co-founder.
This information is fed into a computer, and it creates a music feed from hundreds of thousands of songs. This music will vary from hour to hour, day to day to create the right mood for the restaurant. The songs never play in the same order twice.
An important factor for restaurants is how music affects the morale and attitudes of its servers.
“If music is on a loop … [it will] … create a negative mood, and that will have an effect when the server is interacting with the guest,” Newberger says. “With diverse music, they will be happier on a day-to-day basis, which translates into happier guests, which translates into higher top-line results.”
Another service comes from Prescriptive Music , which offers playlists that typically consist of 300 to 500 songs.
“There are often four to five playlists to the day—lunch, happy hour, dinner, and late night,” says founder Allen Klevens. But the company’s database, he adds, has more than a million songs, with more being added constantly.
He views music as essential to restaurants.
“Customers are more likely to come back when a restaurant successfully evokes all five senses. When you dine at a restaurant, you are immediately hit with three of the senses: sight, taste and smell,” he says.
“Tapping into the sound sense creates a complete experience for the guest. People are universally drawn to music because it offers a method of communication rooted in memories, emotions and moods, more effective and powerful than words.”
Prescriptive Music has different tiers of services, but most customers choose the custom music programming option. The subscription fee ranges from $40 to $150 per month.
Using Custom Channels  is like having your own radio station—just one you can control if you wish.
Through this company, operators can be as hands-on or as hands-off as they like with picking the music that’s played in their restaurant.
“Sometimes [operators] don’t know the sound they’re trying to achieve, so we talk to them about their energy, atmosphere, demographics, etc.,” says David Rahn, Custom Channel’s president. “We can have something for them within a couple of days. We also then look for feedback from them and can make changes to it.”
The customized channels start at $500 per month, but the company is looking to create other options to provide more value for independent operators or small chains.