Honest question: why does restaurant technology have to suck so much?
No, seriously. Why are the tech platforms that are supposed to help restaurants — point of sale, internet, Wi-Fi, online ordering, email, phone systems, etc — actually just causing more headaches?
I’ve had the good fortune of spending most of my adult life at the crossroads of technology and hospitality. I've had every possible job: dishwasher (fired!), fry cook, barista, field technician, IT consultant, account executive, IT Director of a big coffee company and now full-time spokesperson/cheerleader/firefighter (also known as a CEO).
I’ve seen first-hand how often common tech problems can derail restaurant operations:
- “Our Wi-Fi went down and we don’t know how to get it back!”
- “Our POS hardware/software isn’t working!”
- “I can’t 86 this item from our menu on DoorDash/Uber Eats!”
- “There’s a possum in the network closet, and it chewed through an ethernet cable. Now the printer is offline!”
Daily technology problems are taking your staff away from what matters most: serving great food and curating great customer experiences. If you’re in charge of multiple fast-casual or QSR locations, you have so much on your plate. Living life as half operator, half entrepreneur — I like the word operateur — is stressful enough without constant tech troubleshooting.
It shouldn’t be this way. And it doesn’t have to be. Technology can actually enhance, not hinder, the culinary experience. A few key adjustments will go a long way: a collective mindset shift, strategic investment in the right IT partners (not band-aid solutions) and leaning into AI to anticipate tech problems before they occur.
Here’s how I see it, from the perspective of a dishwasher-turned-barista-turned-restaurant IT veteran:
What is the root of the restaurant tech conundrum?
Most restaurants are inundated with technology platforms — POS systems, inventory software, delivery apps, loyalty solutions, etc. The pandemic only accelerated the adoption of these platforms, which are often viewed as a necessary evil: frustrating and unreliable to use but a must-have for serving customers and maximizing revenue. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It’s inevitable that one of these systems has a glitch or error. Whenever they do, it pulls a manager or employee away from their actual day-to-day responsibilities. The systems in place — customer service lines and outsourced IT generalists — aren’t cutting it.
What do restaurants unlock with better command of their tech stacks?
There’s a lot of potential when tech systems aren’t so damn confusing and flaky:
- Employees face less burnout — and can enjoy the restaurant hustle.
I can always feel the hustle and camaraderie present in every successful hospitality operation. Everyone loves being part of a crew: part of an elite team.
Your shift manager or line cook joined your team because they cared about the food, the guests and creating an incredible experience. When tech is running smoothly, they can focus on those most important tasks — rather than sitting in front of a screen or waiting on hold with customer service (which isn’t what they signed up for). Happy employees keep coming to work.
- Internal IT can focus more on strategic goals.
In my experience, restaurant IT folks are often gifted, curious leaders. They love big initiatives, strategy, growth and innovation.
Most internal IT teams spend their days distracted by frequent, transaction tech challenges. That’s not the best use of time for anyone. Fewer daily tech issues mean IT teams can take on those strategic initiatives that help you truly expand your chain: selecting a new POS system, facilitating cross-department initiatives such as marketing technology platforms, cybersecurity initiatives, new store project management, etc.
- A rising tide lifts restaurants and communities.
It can take hours for a manager or shift lead to fix tech problems. There’s a huge opportunity cost, in addition to the lost revenue associated with missed orders. If no one deals with it, it can quickly result in an avalanche of lost revenue and vocal customer dissatisfaction.
These are the types of problems that can snowball into restaurant failure. It’s not crazy to say that alleviating tech stress is an important part of surviving and expanding your business. When you do that, you keep people employed and can give back to the communities that support you.
How do we actually achieve this?
So what can you as the operateur do to enable this reality?
- Don’t accept the status quo. It’s possible — and maybe even likely — that every restaurant you’ve worked at has struggled with tech troubles. It’s tempting to say our systems suck, but we can deal with it.
- Open up your mind! It doesn’t have to be this way, and fixing the problem starts with recognizing that it can be remedied.
- Strategically invest in the right IT partners. It’s time to stop choosing the convenient, band-aid solutions. An IT generalist or a call center from a massive corporation isn’t going to get the job done. I’ve seen too many restaurant leaders try to handle IT on their own — or call up their brother-in-law who did IT for a dentist’s office and pray that he can help.
- Look for IT partners that get the hospitality industry. It might take extra digging and a few phone calls to your restaurant buddies for recommendations. But finding the right partner will save you tons of money and headaches down the line.
Give AI (with a human touch) a real chance.
When you hear about AI, you probably roll your eyes – and I get it! But AI can have a real impact on our industry.
I’m not talking about some impersonal, sh---y chatbot. Through a thoughtful application of AI and adjacent technologies, we can shift from a world in which problems need to be troubleshooted, to a world in which predictive analytics, based on data and the automations, can actually notify you before a problem occurs.
AI can’t stop a possum from chewing through an ethernet cable — so we’ll still need human IT pros to complement our robot friends.
Take back control of your tech stack.
Say it out loud to yourself: my restaurant technology *doesn’t* have to suck.
When you take control of your tech, you’ll help your locations achieve less burnout, more revenue and better customer experiences.
All you need is a mindset shift, the right partners and the willingness to innovate. ‘Cuz doesn’t every operateur want to take tech off their plate?
About the Author
Andy Freivogel is Co-Founder and CEO at Science on Call, the lightning-fast, AI-powered help desk for restaurants. Prior to his role at Science on Call, Andy was the IT Director at Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea and later co-ran a boutique IT consultancy with his business parter, Luisa Castellanos. He has a relentless passion for solving technology problems for restaurants.