Use these tips to find the best solutions for your restaurant.

Restaurants don’t want to spend time and money to update their technology. As a matter of fact, I would go as far as saying they are downright averse to it. Restaurants want to make great food, create amazing experiences for their guests, and make money. Deal with technology? Not so much.

And, who can blame them for their technology aversion? The old-school tech companies are perceived as expensive and hard to deal with, while the new school start-ups are constantly bombarding restaurants with an overwhelming number of new and improved “solutions.” Consider for a moment all the systems a restaurant owner and manager interacts with on a daily basis—point of sale, reservations, payments, payroll, scheduling, delivery, customer analytics, apps, and more. In fact, one restaurant owner recently showed me her email inbox, and she had no less than 50 emails from different companies trying to sell her the latest and greatest new technologies—all in the span of just one week.

While the hospitality industry is, in fact, seeing a boom in innovations, restaurants are indeed hungry for ways to stay competitive and stand out from the crowd. So, while you may be tempted to send those 50 emails straight to your spam folder, I encourage you to take a fresh look at what’s out there. While not every innovation is a good one, the truth is that there is a lot of exciting and new technology that can genuinely help you take your restaurant to the next level.

Here are some tips to help you spot the right technology for your restaurant.

1. Is It Easy-to-Use?

No matter how great a technology solution is, if it’s overly complicated for you and your staff and your customers won’t use it, it will be dead on arrival. Making sure technology is easy-to-use sounds like a simple enough principle, yet it can be easily overlooked and lost in the promise and excitement of what a new technology system can do for you. However, the excitement can quickly turn to disappointment once it’s discovered that the technology has a steep learning curve for employees and the solution is not as user-friendly as expected.

If you can answer “no” to these two simple questions then your new system is likely to meet the “easy-to-use” requirement: Will it take more than 30 minutes to train the staff to use the technology, and, does the system require new hardware?

Efficiency and productivity need to stay top-of-mind for owners because the technology is ultimately going to impact day-to-day processes and business operations, and having to invest too much time in training staff to use a complicated platform hurts business in both the short- and long-term. It is key to ensure that any new platform is intuitively designed and does not require new hardware or significant changes within existing processes. A good example of an “easy-to-use” integration solution is Omnivore, a leading cloud-based company that develops technology solutions to enable seamless connections with restaurants’ existing POS hardware. Also, an extra measure to take is to seek out new technology that is supported by your current technical partners who can advise and guide implementation and adoption. By keeping a priority on ease of use, the implementation of a technology solution will be a smoother transition that benefits owners, employees and customers. More importantly, engage your team, get feedback from users, and learn from them before you make the jump to something new.

2. Does It Enhance Personal Customer Service?

People don’t go to a restaurant to be serviced by robots (at least not yet). Unless you’re a quick-service restaurant trying to churn out food like a factory for the madness of a midweek lunch hour rush, you are going to want to make sure your technology enhances quality personal customer interaction. Not only is quality customer service good karma, it’s a key factor in driving revenue in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

According to research, almost 9 out of 10 U.S. consumers say they would pay more for a superior customer experience. It is absolutely okay to use technologies to automate and improve tasks your staff do, especially operational tasks like taking payments, inventory, seating logistics, and more. The time saved on these tasks can be used for more face time with your guests to create a better experience. On the other hand, you should be cautious about automating service tasks your customers truly value. For example, a fine-dining restaurant probably will want to avoid an app that allows customers to order food from their phone since this takes away from the personal customer service experience.  

Technology focusing on personal customer service will include tangible benefits, such as allowing servers or bartenders to spend more time with customers, providing in-depth data about payment transactions and demographics, and freeing up restaurant operators to focus on customer retention. As the saying goes, “It is far more expensive to gain new customers than it is to keep existing ones.” In fact, studies have shown that the cost of making a new customer is six to seven times more costly than keeping an existing one.

3. Will It Drive Revenue Growth?

Based on a 2017 study, difficulty measuring return on investment (ROI) is the number one challenge for restaurants when looking to adopt new technology. It’s important to note how the platform assists in cutting costs or acquiring new customers using various channels to promote advertising and marketing. Quality technology should be beneficial in the short term and pay for itself in the long run with the features that it can provide. Before investing in new technology, assess your ROI potential by identifying the type of return you are expecting. Will this be by reducing expenses, growing sales, or both? Next, do a quick back-of-the-napkin calculation on what the ROI is. If you find yourself struggling to find the ROI, it’s a good time to take a step back and consider if this is the right technology for your restaurant.

4. Does It Improve Security and Protection?

Once you know the tech is a good fit, security should also be front and center. With over 15.4 million U.S. customers victimized by credit card fraud in 2016 and the threat increasing over the last few years, it’s a necessity that the new technology provides improved security. This is especially important when it comes to updating your payment technology. Look for enhanced fraud protection and compatibility with smart-chip Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (EMV) cards that are now being used nationwide and globally. For restaurant owners, it’s a good practice to be informed about the latest industry trends so you know the right questions to ask. For example, when implementing a mobile payment solution, ask if the payment data transmission is encrypted and if the data is secured through tokenization. The bottom line is insecure technology can mean poor customer service, higher levels of legal liability, and overall monetary losses.

5. Is It Affordable?

Lastly, how do you determine the affordability of a new technology solution? While affordability will vary depending on each restaurant’s experience and appetite for technology, you can determine affordability by looking at the costs as a percentage of your overall revenue. Here are some numbers to get an idea of your peer spending on technology—at the high-end 18 percent invest 4 to 6 percent of revenues; in the mid-range 65 percent invest 1 to 3 percent; and 17 percent spend less then 1 percent. 

Costly upfront fees and long-term contracts to implement new technology can also be a red flag in the decision making process. At the end of the day, the right technology should be able to pay for itself, and it shouldn’t break the bank.

In today’s modern world, technology is the present and future face of the restaurant and hospitality industry. With 58 percent of operators saying IT budgets will increase in 2017, staying up to date on relevant technology and trends is important to thrive in the restaurant and the hospitality industry. The point of innovation has never been to slow down or hold back. Incorporating new technology is a business investment for your company. For the decision maker, it’s wise to remain mindful that the technology you choose to implement is worth investing the time, money, and resources to make your business grow and remain profitable.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology