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Robert Irvine One-on-One: How Restaurants Can Make Tech Work for Them

HT recently had the opportunity to get some inside tips from famed British chef Robert Irvine.  The blunt Brit, who is known for telling it like it is on his hit Food Network show, Restaurant Impossible, recently partnered with Comcast Business Services to spotlight how technology can help improve workplace efficiency and enhance the guest experience. Here are some insights from the man who makes it his business to know how to turn failing restaurants around.
What technology do you think restaurateurs under-utilize?
Point of sale (POS) systems. The systems have many different capabilities beyond just ordering food including helping to manage inventory and can issue a variety of reports.  The trouble is that most owners do not understand their full capabilities and thus are not maximizing their potential.
What do you feel are key tech components restaurants must have?
Inventory control systems, personalized notation about customers (favorite dishes, birthday/anniversary dates, etc.) and nutritional information about each of the dishes are necessities. In the industry space itself, technology can help avoid staffing issues by providing them with the information at their fingertips (e.g. iPads with menus, ingredients for each dish to help identify special dietary needs, diversification of checks).  In this day and age, the server should hardly ever have to leave the table because technology can provide all of the information the server should need.
What are some new technologies that you are particularly excited about?
Instant payment at tables. We are moving in a direction where businesses will receive their payments in real-time versus now when there is a 2-3 day delay by the credit card companies before payment is initiated.
How do you think technology, or what specific technology, has most changed the restaurant industry?
The Internet, in general, has dramatically changed the business and it’s one of the reasons I was excited to partner with Comcast Business. A reliable, scalable data connection is foundational to running a successful restaurant.  The Internet has forced restaurants to rethink what is means to serve up a great customer experience, inside and outside of the restaurant.  Technology has raised the bar of the industry and restaurants have to stay above the bar knowing that  customer feedback is instantaneous and online posts can have direct impact on  who’s coming to dinner that night.  
How have you seen proper use of technology completely turn a business around?
I have seen it through staff saving measures including intelligent use of scheduling employees, proper inventory control, loss prevention, and recipes being held on a system for easy access by the kitchen staff.  It allows the owner to test his or her staff to determine if they are giving too much away or not enough (technology can help control inventory waste). Technology is driving the conversation through ergonomics and synchronomics – tracking the prep-time, cooking, plating and delivery of each meal.
What do you see as some common mistakes restaurant owners make with technology?
The biggest issue is that owners are overall afraid of change and scared of technology.  They don’t fully understand how to use the technology available so they’re not using it to their full capabilities. Technology can be used to pinpoint specific components of a business (e.g. measure the exact kilowatt of power used to help reduce energy waste during off periods) which overall will help their bottom line. Owners just are not exposed to the full capabilities of what technology can do to help their business.
How would you recommend owners evaluate technologies?
Ultimately the end goal is to make money. There is a sequence of events that take place in order to be successful – from the front of the house (presentation) to the back of the house (kitchen and business operations setup). Owners need to understand how to best provide the ultimate experience for guests within each facet of the business. The hospitality industry would be a lot faster, a lot leaner and have better product and service if technology could be effectively integrated.
Where do you think owners should invest their technology budget?
Owners are better off investing in back-office technologies and training their staff on how to use that technology to enhance the guest experience. Technology is only as good as the training that is received by the people who are using that technology. Invest in technology training.
What would you like to see vendors change with current technologies?
Instant payment between businesses and credit card companies, instant payment between vendors and faster Internet speeds, which Comcast Business can provide.  Looking at the hotel/motel industry, it’s important to provide an all-around full-service experience within a hotel room; helping the guest experience in a hotel room what he/she could experience in their home (watching a show, eating room service ordered through the television, and working within the office area with full Internet service). The more comfortable you make the business traveler the better.
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