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How Connected Should Your Restaurant Be? A Roundtable Discussion

People are more connected to each other than ever before as technology allows for a multitude of multi-tasking. Often, they want to be connected at restaurants, too, but how connected should restaurants be? Often, there can be as many challenges as rewards with the latest technologies. MURTEC 2015 offered an opportunity for an in-depth discussion around these topics with a luncheon roundtable discussion with IT and Operations professionals. Spartan Computer Services sponsored the session, which was moderated by Kathy Sy, Director, Information Technology for Grill Concepts on the benefits and challenges of connectivity in restaurants.

TOPIC #1: Wi-Fi and Bandwidth

Question: Does Wi-Fi drive guests in, or is not having Wi-Fi driving guests away? There have been many different views on this topic. On one hand, offering free Wi-Fi in restaurants is pretty much expected by guests today, but guests won’t necessarily decide to leave a restaurant because the restaurant does not offer Wi-Fi. Grill Concepts likes to think that they come for the food. With no Wi-Fi, the guests just grin and bear with it. Will this mentality change in the future with the Millennials?
Concensus: Maybe. 

Question: Will offering free Wi-Fi allow guests to sit in restaurants all day, getting their free iced tea refills, and making it difficult to turn tables? Maybe, but this would probably be a small number of guests squatting in the restaurant on a daily basis. So how do we truly measure the ROI on offering free guest Wi-Fi?
Consensus: It is difficult to measure ROI and the conclusion is unknown.

Question: How will the use of the restaurant’s bandwidth be affected with the guests using the free Wi-Fi? Almost everyone has a smart phone, and families often use tablets to keep their children occupied, especially in the restaurants so that the parents can briefly eat in peace. Briefly.  The bandwidth space is small. Restaurants can choose to limit the free Wi-Fi usage for a specific amount of total data use, lowering the bandwidth use during peak meal hours, or blocking videos, app downloads, and streaming videos to save the bandwidth. Will it upset guests using the Wi-Fi when it denies access or slows their browsing speed?
Consensus: Probably. Some say that it’s best if you can offer great free Wi-Fi, but if the Wi-Fi speed is slow or is restricted, it is better to not offer Wi-Fi at all.

Topic #2: KDS vs. Kitchen Printers

The second discussion of connectivity in the restaurant continued with the use of KDS (Kitchen Display Systems) vs. Kitchen Printers. KDS offers, with proper implementation, the promise of reduced ticket times, lower paper consumption, not worrying about printers getting dirty, and better flow of orders from the POS to the kitchen, then to the guests. The selling point sounds very promising, but the major challenge that everyone transitioning to the KDS has is getting the kitchen staff efficiently trained, and then getting them accustomed to not having an actual paper ticket in front of them.

Some say that their restaurants work better with printed tickets, and believe that they are more flexible compared to using KDS. Others expressed better efficiency and reduced ticket times using the KDS. The future of KDS technology is improving and will continue to improve fairly quickly with the number of restaurants and chains jumping on board. The hope is to soon be at the point where the benefits of having the KDS will outweigh the challenges by a long mile.

Topic #3: Cloud POS and Restaurant Support

As the table discussion time was drawing to a close, there were several small, yet interesting subjects that were brought up, one being Cloud POS. It seems that Cloud POS is starting to make its way into the restaurant industry, but usually not with the larger chains. Most are waiting to prove its stability, offline redundancy, and capability to work with other integrated software.

Another small subject discussed was regarding restaurant support. It was agreed that it is ideal to have an all-in-one solution where restaurant operations can receive support for help desk, telephone, and Internet services. One of the operators at the table mentioned that their IT help desk company is an app-based support and uses the video function for first level support with restaurant managers. This is definitely a step up from having them take a picture and sending it to support by email.  The resolution time has got to be much shorter with video support.

There is no doubt that connectivity in restaurants is very important to the success of restaurant operations. Without connectivity, we would not receive email, be able to have remote access for support, Wi-Fi, ability to use the POS system, KDS, or Kitchen Printers. Restaurant chains certainly cannot go back to handwriting orders on carbon-copy papers, using a calculator to add up guest check totals, and snail-mailing sales reports to the corporate office. 
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