Looking at the many tech trends affecting full-service restaurants, two overarching themes emerge. One is the use of technology, particularly mobile devices, to enhance the guest experience—prior to the meal, at tableside, and beyond. The other big theme is restaurateurs’ need for consistency and repeatability throughout the enterprise, in areas encompassing everything from pricing, menus, and reporting to regulatory compliance.
Cloud-based solutions can, and in many cases already do, provide critical support in both of these key areas. For mobile initiatives, cloud applications are the “go-to” backbone, simplifying connections and support for tablets and other smart devices that are increasingly being used by managers, employees, and of course, guests.
At the enterprise level, cloud solutions provide centralized control of changes and updates, which are automatically provided to every point of sale, manager’s workstation, kitchen system, and connected mobile device in every location. In short, with a cloud-based delivery system, the version your users access is by definition always the most current one.
It’s also important to note that cloud solutions are neither new nor untried technologies for full-service restaurants. They have had a decade or more to prove themselves, evolving from the early days of ASPs (Application Service Providers) to today’s portfolio of solutions. These include POS, labor and inventory management, loyalty and gift programs, reporting/analytics, loss prevention, and table reservations, just to name a few.
The maturity of cloud solutions means user concerns about data insecurity, or their ability to operate when Internet connections go down, have already been addressed by the major cloud technology vendors. Today’s solutions have built-in resilience, meaning restaurateurs can still conduct mission-critical functions like ringing up checks, accepting payments, and managing time and labor, even while temporarily offline.
Using Mobility to Boost Guest Engagement and Intimacy
Cloud solutions and mobile initiatives go hand in hand, creating numerous new opportunities to interact with guests. Restaurants deploying mobile apps allow guests to savor daily specials, or make reservations—all before they get to the restaurant. Connecting these apps to loyalty and reward programs tied to guest databases gives the restaurant the ability to extend the experience beyond the meal. Smart marketing and communications help establish an ongoing relationship with guests, encouraging repeat visits—a crucial key to long-term profitability.
Many full-service restaurants are also exploring mobility’s utility during the meal itself. Equipping servers with tablets lets them to take more accurate orders at tableside, instantly sending information to kitchen management and POS systems.
The latest generation of mobile solutions allows tablets to be used by both associates and guests. High-resolution screens can display appetizing pictures of items and specials, along with rich content about ingredients and preparation (e.g. gluten-free, organic, locally sourced, etc.). In addition, active tiles on screen can provide updates on local sports scores as well as information on events and area attractions. Guests can use links that allow them to sign up for the restaurant’s loyalty program, or to check their point balance if they are already members.
Simple controls built into cloud applications give servers the ability to “lock out” guests from employee-facing and managerial applications when they leave the tablets at the table, or make them available via freestanding kiosks in the bar area.
Restaurants can get even more out of their mobile device investment by using them as the gateway for a range of managerial functions, equipping them with dashboards tracking key metrics such as sales, inventory, and labor figures. Managers can even monitor live video feeds tied into restaurants’ security systems. When employees know entrances and value-added areas of the establishment are “covered” by video cameras, with images that can be transmitted in real time to both on-site and off-site managers, they will be much less tempted toward theft or other illicit activities.
“One and Done” Consistency
Consistency is the not-so-secret ingredient behind a restaurant’s success. Menu items, pricing, and service need to be reliably replicated every day, in each location. Because cloud solutions provide centralized “one and done” control over key operational systems, they are becoming business basics for growing companies.
Take payment and data security compliance, top of mind due to the October 2015 EMV liability shift. With traditional on-premise systems controlling the POS and financial management systems, upgrades and security patches need to be undertaken almost literally at each payment terminal. In contrast, cloud-based delivery vehicles ensure that PCI compliance measures and other security upgrades are applied quickly and consistently, enterprise-wide.
Pricing and menu maintenance also benefit greatly from centralized control. A location manager who makes even a small pricing change on a popular item may not realize the impact of his actions on profitability, or ripple effects on inventory and menus. Centralizing control over these and other variables gives restaurants the tools they need to not only grow but to grow profitably.
When a restaurant does want to make changes at the unit or regional level, for instance when trying out a new item or a special promotion, centralized cloud-based reporting systems can provide detailed performance analysis, complete with ongoing testing as the item is tweaked and perfected. The “winning” version can then be replicated at other locations, with recipes, pricing, and promotional material carried along in one neat bundle.
Cloud-based solutions are already key elements of the tech infrastructure at many restaurants. Their ability to support fast-growing, fast-changing mobile initiatives that promote greater guest intimacy, along with the consistency and control they offer via an expanding portfolio of applications, means they will stay on the menu at full-service restaurants well into the future.
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.