Patrons may try to escape technology at restaurants, but operators need it to stay competitive

Restaurants are in a great spot.

For the first time ever, consumers are now spending more at restaurants than in grocery stores in the U.S. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is because restaurants are a technology escape for consumers. As the world moves towards technology embedded lives, restaurants remain one of the few places where people go to interact with and entertain one another.

Ok, fine. So that mom put an iPad in front of her five-year-old so she and her husband could eat in peace. And, yeah, there’s always that couple sitting on their phones.

However, although most restaurant patrons are coming to restaurants for non-technology related entertainment (except for the iPad kid) behind the scenes of your operation, owners and operators should actually be embracing technology.

The restaurant industry is growing quickly and is more popular than ever, but that also means there is more competition from better chefs, hotter concepts, and deep-pocketed investors who threaten for pieces of market share. In order to stay successful for years to come, it’s vital to understand what is bringing the customers in, what keeps them coming back, or what causes them not to return.

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to consult with thousands of restaurants over the years. Their main struggle? They know that an abundance of technology exists for them, but they are not sure what is worth its weight.

Here are three things you should make sure you are not overlooking as a restaurateur:

1.     Numbers Don’t Lie

Point-of-sale systems are essential these days, but next in line is analytics softwarethat connects behind the scenes to capture valuable data that is typically lost each night. For example, imagine knowing what your customer’s favorite drink is before they walk in the door or being able to know which dishes to suggest to a first time visitor to almost guarantee a return visit.

Software can also tell you about your servers, like their strengths and weaknesses, how their turn time compares to their peers, and who does a great job upselling. Furthermore, restaurants can also decide if their last event was worthwhile based on how many new customers attended and how many of those attendees came back in the following months.  

2.     Pre-Shift and Post-Shift

Your restaurant needs to be a well-oiled machine, which means your staff needs to be on the same page. Today’s logbooks are much more than just Excel spreadsheets emailed amongst managers. They are now cloud-based and customizable. They automatically include things like sales totals, the number of new versus returning customers who dined the previous night, notable guests, staff performance, a product sales breakdown, and even how the weather may have affected sales. They also allow the team to communicate in real time, like an internal Facebook, by leaving comments for management or tagging peers on notes about hot button items.

3.     Outside Factors

“I hate Yelp,” most people say. Sure, I get it. Anyone can leave a review, and that one guy left you a 1-star rating last week because he didn’t like the color of the paint on the walls. But go ahead and Google your restaurant name. How high up is your Yelp page? I’m guessing darn near close to the top. It’s not just Yelp that matters, but everything that provides a voice to your customers does. Focus on what they are saying and interact with them online to let them know that you are listening to them and improving. It will show previous and potential customers that you care about their experience. Software now exists that not only allows you to see reviews across all social media platforms in one dashboard, but also allows you to search all mentions of certain menu items and quickly get a general consensus about how customers feel about said menu item. 

By understanding what your customers are saying online, communicating internally with staff before and after service, and harnessing the power of analytical software, you are ready to use technology to your advantage so that your customers can escape it for a while.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, my entrée is making its way over and this baby looks Instagram-worthy. 

Expert Takes, Feature