How Technology is Leveling the Playing Field for Independent Restaurants

Tablets and other technology help independent restaurants improve customer waitimes, streamline operations, and more.
Tablets and other technology help independent restaurants improve customer waitimes, streamline operations, and more. Thinkstock

New technology makes it easier for independent restaurants to compete with chains

When it comes to the restaurant business, even the average Joe knows that independent owners face an uphill battle to succeed in an industry where many of their peers fail. By contrast, chain restaurant locations are more likely to succeed.

Until now.

Chain restaurants typically enjoy the deep pockets and state-of-the-art technology provided by their parent companies. That technology allows them to better control inventory, pricing, revenue, staff and guest management, and much, much more.

On the flip side, independent restaurants struggle to keep up with the stronger competition and often struggle just to survive in the extremely difficult restaurant business. Many of today’s technology solutions for restaurants are siloed –for example, an operator needs to purchase a different solution for point of sale, inventory, and guest and waitlist management. What’s more, many of the popular solutions on the market today require a large upfront capital cost and/or high ongoing monthly fees.

That’s all about to change. Tomorrow’s technology is here, now, with a focus on integration and an operator-centric development approach. This means technology is being designed with independent operators in mind, and with an eye on connecting the entire restaurant business ecosystem to maximize efficiencies and give consumers a better, more personalized restaurant experience.

First and foremost, the newest technologies are addressing the issue of affordability. The model is shifting towards low upfront costs and low monthly subscription fees, eliminating one of the largest hurdles existing today. Some companies are even offering leasing options to independent operators to cover the upfront costs if they are low on cash flow. Think Restaurant Impossible, for the real world.

This is huge, because cost has prevented many independent restaurants from considering the impact technology could have on their business. In fact, Software Advice found a full 55 percent of restaurant buyers were not currently using any restaurant management or POS software at all.  

By overcoming the cost barrier to adoption, technology is well on its way to changing the restaurant industry.

Imagine this scenario: 

A party of four enters a restaurant and adds their name to the waitlist. They receive a text message confirming their place in line, and then they head to the bar for a drink. The restaurant owner knows that guests are more likely to accommodate the wait and ultimately spend more if they receive a discount at the bar, so the bartender is instructed to offer the first round of drinks “on the house.” The guests enjoy a second beverage while placing an advance-order on an iPad. After receiving a text message letting them know their table is ready, they meet the hostess and proceed to the dining area where they relax until the appetizers they pre-ordered arrive. At the end of the meal, the bar tab and dinner ticket appear on one bill, which the guests can easily split and pay via iPad at the table, without worrying about complicated math. Meanwhile, the hostess has a real-time view on her screen telling her where the table is in the table-turn process, allowing her to provide accurate wait times to the next guests in line.

This isn’t a scene from Back to the Future, and it’s not something that can only take place in a large chain establishment as a result of a heavy spend. With integrated, affordable operator-centric technology solutions, this situation is attainable by any independent restaurant owner today.

With an integrated guest management and point of sale platform, a restaurant owner can analyze data to more accurately predict wait times, test and learn what incentives drive guests to desired behaviors, and adjust accordingly. Servers can save time by entering table side orders that print instantaneously at the right station in the kitchen. They can accept payment at the table and split the bill with the touch of a button. All of this can be done on a miniature, tablet version of the main POS system to eliminate the need to re-learn functionality. Additionally, hosts can see exactly where a table is at any time during the turn, eliminating the need to leave the host stand and walk around the dining room.

The possibilities are almost limitless. And, the bottom line? Increased efficiencies, better guest service and ultimately—higher profits.

We’re at the very beginning of a major shift in the restaurant industry, one that will level the playing field for operators of all sizes. Independent restaurant owners need to stop buying from the first salesman that comes through the door and start thinking about how their POS and guest management technology can work together and, can work for them.

If independent restaurant owners start making smarter choices, including recognizing the benefits technology can bring, the future average Joe might never know the hurdles these independent restaurants overcame to ultimately succeed.   


Mani Kulasooriya

Mani Kulasooriya is the CEO of CAKE Corporation, a fully integrated restaurant technology platform and a Sysco company. Mani is an expert in the cross section of financial services and the internet and has worked in the payments and consumer internet space for the past 18 years. In his role at CAKE, Mani has advanced cloud point of sale technology to a suite of integrated technology products for the restaurant industry, making restaurant management and increasing ROI easier and more efficient. Prior to his role at CAKE, Mani worked as the Founder and CEO of Monvia, a web consulting company, as well as in executive roles at Yahoo! and Citibank.



i am an investor in a 3 shop group of casual restaurants doing about $7 million. I cannot find a tablet source that wants to do business with less than a 100 unit chain. tell what i should do but also tell me where to find it.


thanks and great question. I will have someone on my team reach out directly to you on this.


Great piece and a nice call to arms for independent restaurants to embrace technology.

I work for a restaurant technology company,, we provide software to help operators better manage their beverage programs and create tablet-based menus for restaurants.

I've seen a two-fold hurdle blocking full technology adoption in independent restaurants.

The first hurdle is the willingness to adopt new technology to improve operations.

The second hurdle is using technology to its full potential. By this I mean, gaining insights and analyzing data provided by tech to make decisions that positively affect their business.

You mentioned the financial leverage chain and corporate restaurants have. They also have labor leverage in that they can employ or contract people whose skill is to analyze data and mine insights that can be used to help the business, ie. "actionable insights."

My question is: Do independent restaurant owners who use technology as a business strategy need to hire managers with skill sets that include technology use, data analysis, or at least, the willingness to embrace technology as a tool? The shift in restaurant technology could mean a shift in what skills are valued in restaurants.

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