Ask a restaurant operator what top challenge is a roadblock for IT teams, and the effort required for systems integration is at the top of the list, beating out lack of budget. More than a third of restaurants (33%) reveal that maintaining and supporting systems integration is a roadblock to innovation in Hospitality Technology’s (HT) 2019 Restaurant Technology Study.
Why is this still such a prevailing issue in an era where APIs are supposedly more open than ever and synchronizing systems should be – in theory – easier with the prevalence of cloud? Many factors come into play, especially as technology stacks are becoming increasingly steep. Restaurant operators have point-of-sale systems and require more and more capabilities to bolt on as customers expect – and demand – more paths to purchase.
HT research reveals that operators are putting pressure on the POS to have strong integrations to third party delivery support (41%), loyalty/CRM management (41%), and online ordering management (32%), among a host of other customer- and employee-facing systems. It is not surprising, that integration with other systems is the number one factor driving POS purchases in 2020 as 60% of operators report in HT’s 2020 POS Software Trends Report.
As solving for integration is driving restaurant POS spend in 2020, here are the key things that operators need to know before investing.
POS integrations from back- to front-of-house
The point of sale is a vital cog in the restaurant wheelhouse. Restaurants need systems that are flexible in order to handle the rapidly changing needs of the foodservice industry. Considerations when looking at POS extend beyond the counter to include back-office systems, labor, online ordering options, third-party platforms, loyalty, and others. To address all of these areas, POS providers must offer the availability and clear documentation of APIs.
“POS platforms that promote ease of integration should have detailed developer documentation for each API, as well as specific steps for authentication,” counsels George Orlin, chief operating officer, Intelligent Transactions. “APIs being included in the initial SaaS fee (and not an extra charge) is always a good indicator of a partner who embraces integration and partnership.”
With POS investments being a major part of restaurant IT spend, not to mention the time spent setting up, configuring data and training staff, EPOSNOW understands the importance of providing restaurants with an open API (integration interface) and a culture that will work with customers, software partners and industry experts to build a healthy robust ecosystem. Orlin agrees and describes this ecosystem as a “marketplace of integrations with reputable third-party solutions” that include online ordering, workforce management, mobile POS, etc.
Epson, which offers printer solutions that integrate with many POS systems serving the restaurant industry, advises operators to make sure that solution providers offer SDKs that work for the restaurant’s platform of choice and that these are “incremental to the platform so that they can co-exist.” Epson® products also provide a platform that is POS agnostic to offer customers flexibility for complex integrations. It uses data from the printer – for loyalty programs, business analytics and HR scheduling.
Tammy Duplantis, CIO, Return on Information Consulting, cautions against under-valuing the importance of back-office integrations, including having HR/payroll and other back-office systems feeding into the POS.
“These three systems need to talk to each other and the point of entry and data flow and integration points all have to be decided, designed, and built for every single restaurant company every single time,” Duplantis notes.
Top 5 Features Driving POS Purchases in 2020
- Integration with other systems 60%
- Delivery integration 56%
- Loyalty tool 53%
- Online ordering 51% / Mobile wallet 51%
- Tablet-based POS software 40%
Online, off-premise ups the ante on integration
The shift to online and off-premise dining is raising the stakes on POS integrations. According the Hospitality Technology’s 2020 POS Software Trends Report, delivery integrations and online ordering are driving POS purchases for more than half of restaurant operators.
Operators must consider how a POS handles orders coming in from multiple channels including online or third-party delivery. Operations and service present issues for which proper integrations can provide solutions. One key consideration is making sure that menus are consistent and accurate across platforms.
“Restaurants need systems that allow them to easily pull menu items, modifers, sides, prices and get 86 alerts so we don’t have to administer the menu individually in multiple places every time,” Duplantis notes.
Another issue coming into play with online and delivery orders is how orders flow to the kitchen, the POS and appropriate staff. Epson integrates OmniLink® Solutions so that orders coming from online, drive-through, third-party delivery providers, or even in-store kiosks, can be sent directly to the printer. Orders are sent to the appropriate station, which delivers a receipt or label. This ensures that, when an order comes in, regardless of whether it comes from inline or online, it can be displayed on a kitchen video system, supplying a visual for staff, so they are aware that an order needs to be prepared. This eliminates walking an order to the kitchen, thereby helping to prevent errors.
Ultimately, these kinds of integrations help to improve workflows and allow operations to be more efficient. With greater efficiency comes greater ability to generate ROI.
What to ask of POS partners
Before signing on the dotted line with a POS partner, restaurants should feel empowered to expect certain support from vendors. Epson says this support should include training to ensure effective use of the system as well as assistance to get up and running.
Solutions providers should be on hand to offer operators best practices for using the system, to make sure that restaurants are taking advantage of all capabilities available to them. Orlin asserts that it is not out of scope for restaurants to engage with a vendor’s product team to provide input into roadmaps and new features.
“Partners should consult restaurant operators on best practices for using the system and provide restaurant operator with clear metrics that demonstrate the ROI of the system over time,” Orlin advises. “Providers should also be able to produce data around service-level agreements (SLAs), such as response time, remediation time, etc.”
EPOSNOW advises operators to confirm that customer data is owned by the brand and carefully negotiate fees to guarantee there are no surprises or use caps later down the line.
Caffe Fresco’s Varner advises operators ask to do a demo of a system or to see it in operation at a restaurant that is using the platform. “By seeing systems in action I was able to weed out those that wouldn’t work for my needs,” Varner says. “The easiest way to catch red flags is to go through a demo with any system you’re seriously considering. If there are integrations you know you want, ask to see them in action.”
- Large connector fees. This means that you are charged a fee for an integration but still have to pay for the software. EPOSNOW says this is relatively common and while small fees should be expected, POS companies with strong partner relationships are working hard to get these removed altogether.
- Closed API. This simply means that any integrations you use have to be “approved.” This is restrictive; preventing the ability for restaurants to build their own plugin or use any product they wish. This shows a “walled garden” culture and should be avoided.
- Closed ECOsystem. This states that larger value chain-backed software companies disable partner integrations, attempting to own the whole value chain including online ordering, payments, and loyalty.
Buyer Beware! Tamy Duplantis, CIO, Return on Information, advises her clients to run, not walk, away from providers who try to explain still integrating to their old COM interface because “their cloud APIs don’t exist, aren’t stable yet, or no other customers are asking for it yet.”
George Orlin, CIO, Intelligent Transactions consulted with his clients to offer the following phrases to watch out for: “We use your guest data for our purposes;” “You have to use our payment processing;” and “You have to pay us extra for your data."
Epson cautions operators to be wary of solution providers that use phrases like “exclusive” or “port locking/ownership.”
Here are three more terms that should be considered deal-breakers.