The global restaurant industry is on its way to surpassing $2.1 trillion in revenue, but its technology remains far behind comparable industries. To provide some perspective, the restaurant industry is larger than the pharmaceutical industry (clocking in at approximately $1.2 trillion) and the telecom market ($1.5 to 1.7 trillion). Yet technologically, the only other industry as slow to embrace digital technology is the construction industry ($8.9 trillion).
So what’s the difference between the restaurant industry and its tech-savvy peers? In my opinion, these other industries have adopted technologies that are conducive to growth, employee development, higher profit margins, and superior work environments. In contrast, the highest-tech item in most restaurants is the desktop computer that sits in a back office and runs pricey proprietary software. It needs to go.
The solution for the restaurant industry is to take restaurant operations mobile. There are now manufacturing technicians who use tablets to calibrate multimillion-dollar machinery, taxi drivers who accept mobile payments, and doctors who crowd-source medical advice from tablets. If that’s the case, a restaurant manager should be able to run the show from a mobile device, and as I believe, that is the key to improving management, operational efficiency, and marketing worldwide.
Mobile Meets Restaurant Managers in Reality
In an industry where staff members take more than 20,000 steps per day, requiring managers to run a restaurant from a back office PC makes no sense. The manager should be interacting with customers, walking the floor, supporting the kitchen, and making decisions on the fly. If a manager is stuck staring at a computer screen in the back—or stuck working two or three extra hours per day to fit in computer work—the technology is failing.
The only technology that realistically meets the needs of a restaurant manager is mobile technology. The manager should be able to handle scheduling, inventory, hiring, inventory, finance, and procurement from a smartphone or tablet. Likewise, job candidates should be able to submit an application from a smartphone and begin job training from that same mobile screen. Once they’re on the job, they should be requesting shift swaps from their mobile phone.
If managers tackle an average 15 hours or more of recruiting work each week, technology is failing. Mobile has the power to eliminate such work and put managers back out in the action, focusing on their customers—where they belong.
Mobile Slashes IT Costs
Before the mobile revolution, big franchises spent hundreds of millions on custom software and IT infrastructure to manage their businesses. That was the only way to incorporate inventory, human resources, sales, marketing, and other functions into one system. Small chains and independent restaurants couldn’t afford this.
With mobile software powered by cloud infrastructure, all that a restaurant technically needs is one tablet or smartphone, something many restaurateurs already own. They already have Fortune 100 technology in the palm of their hands; it’s just a matter downloading the tools that will let that device digitize the entire restaurant.
From a cost perspective, mobile technology is leveling the playing field and enabling any proprietor to test software without committing to profit-gouging proprietary systems that rely on desktops, antiquated touch screens, and aging POS systems.
Mobile is the Key to Better Marketing
When restaurants operate on paper-thin margins, single-digit savings raise the bottom line. Particularly in large chains, a 1 percent or 2 percent savings per franchise could save millions.
Once you use mobile technology in marketing, however, you make the leap from savings to higher earnings. Location-based applications already allow restaurants to see who is dining, what they’ve ordered in the past, and how frequently they’ve dined. If a restaurant is also using a mobile- and cloud-based system to track inventory, suddenly they can merge operational efficiency with marketing.
For instance, if Jim, a regular diner, orders the barbecue wings during 80 percent of his visits, and the current stock of wings are nearing expiration, the restaurant can direct marketing offers his way to increase the odds of a purchase. If Jim typically visits on Thursday or Friday nights, the restaurant could target a marketing push notification to coordinate with his typical dining pattern. Jim appreciates the deal and the restaurant uses inventory that would otherwise go to waste.
While mobile technology alone could streamline management responsibilities, saving proprietors and managers countless hours of work, the costs of IT have dropped so precipitously that virtually any restaurant can now use Fortune 100 software with Fortune 100 marketing tactics. Where the top chains of the world once reigned supreme and virtually unchallenged, the entire $2.1 trillion restaurant industry can now match them thanks to mobile technology.
In other words, the restaurant industry now has technological business tools on par with what the comparably sized pharmaceutical and telecom industries use. Restaurants just need to ditch the desktops that are holding them back.
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.