There is a lot of buzz about how technology is shifting the customer experience in the food service industry. As consumer demands change, creative restaurant operators are evolving their business solutions to meet customers’ needs for mobile and online ordering, reservations, and payment. Yes, there are a lot of significant things happening in front-of-house operations—but what you might not have heard about, are the many back-of-house innovations captivating restaurant industry experts.
Restaurant managers, corporate management, floor staff, and kitchen staff are taking back-of-house operations mobile as well—putting the latest technology to use, making their jobs easier and more efficient.
The tedious world of paper logbooks, excel spreadsheets, and never-ending phone calls is giving way to things like restaurant social networks, cooperative scheduling, and seamlessly integrated apps that can be accessed from any device, anywhere, anytime.
If you’re sick of all the lists and manual updates, you’re likely ready to upgrade to a back-of-house system that makes the most of today’s next-generation technology—but understanding what to look for and where to start can be confusing. Read on for seven simple questions to ask when choosing a back-of-house restaurant software system.
1. Should I build or buy?
There has always been a debate about the merits of buying a software package and hoping it meets all your needs, versus building something custom, which can be costly and a challenge to maintain and scale. Most vendors try their best to build a one-size-fits-all solution, but in the restaurant industry, this can be a frustrating challenge. However, there is a new model out there from some restaurant software vendors that allows you to do both. Forward-looking restaurant software providers will purposefully design an open platform and invite you to build alongside what they have already created. Don’t just ask your prospective vendors if they have an API, ask them if they encourage and support an active community of custom development.
2. Is the solution a truly unified system?
This is where the terms “seamless” and “user experience” come in. Ask any prospective restaurant software provider if all of your data and applications will work together and have the same look and feel. If the different applications and modules don’t integrate correctly, your whole system could be somewhat in-operable. Ask your vendors specifically if the functions are effective on all devices, and if your data would be fully integrated across all applications. Make sure you see a full demo of the actual software, not just slides of a pitch deck.
3. Is the system designed for web and mobile delivery?
These days, most vendors have a native mobile application. Unfortunately, many mobile apps only provide a subset of the available features and new features can take time to make it into the native mobile version. This is just the reality of the development cycle, so it’s equally important that an application’s web version is built using responsive design. With responsive design, the application automatically adjusts the user interface based on the screen size of the device being used. Modern applications should function in a uniform manner across all the devices. Ask potential vendors to demonstrate how their applications display seamlessly on laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
4. Just how flexible and future-proof is the software system?
The problems you have today are not the problems you’ll face tomorrow. There’s no doubt a vendor exists to solve a single pressing problem, but needs to grow and change over time. Today you may want an application to make your employee scheduling easier, but six months from now, you’ll want to connect it to your POS system. Six months after that, you’ll want it to connect to your reporting system, and so on and so on. Don’t just put out today’s fire. Take a broader view and look for connected solutions. As business goals and objectives change, your software tools must have the inherent flexibility to keep up. If you change your process, can the provider’s applications accommodate that change? Are you on an adaptable platform that can grow with you and adjust to the next marketing tool, the next mobile device, or the next big consumer trend?
5. Does the product provide real-time analytics and business intelligence?
Operations, finance, marketing, and franchise development teams have different data reporting needs, as do individual locations or units. Does the solution you’re looking at have an easy-to-use report builder? Can you add reports? Is it intuitive and easy to use? Can reports and data be exported, added to a dashboard, delivered to you every morning by email, and shared with internal colleagues and external partners? Often the tools for data analysis are only available to the executives in a company, but what if you could empower all the managers in your business, giving them the ability to dive into the data? They might surprise you with new insights. Try to find that level of flexibility.
6. Is it easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to customize?
7. What if you have to leave?
Nothing is forever. There may come a day when you need to move to a different system. Maybe your business has grown or has been purchased by a larger group. Ask your prospective business tool company if your data is your data. Will they help you transition? How will you get the data? Even before you leave, will you be able to access all of your data at any time or will they hold your data hostage? Pay close attention to proposed contract terms to make sure they will work for you today, and down the road.
Last but not least…
Ask for references. And call them. Ask them these questions too. There is nothing more enlightening than talking to someone who has walked in your shoes and realized the benefits of an upgrade to next-generation technology—or learned from a bad choice.
In short, a good restaurant software solution should:
- Be easy to learn and use
- Be accessible everywhere and on any device
- Be customizable to fit your needs
- Connect your entire team
- Seamlessly integrate your data
Now that you know what questions to ask, explore our fully integrated restaurant solutions to streamline your back-of-house operations.