Six Steps to Find the Best Technology Solutions for Your Restaurant
Technology is rapidly changing the restaurant industry, and as an operator, I find it’s become increasingly difficult to navigate the ever-growing landscape of solutions that exist, not to mention determining their ROI.
I’ve been an operator in the restaurant industry since high school when the most advanced technology available was a Panasonic cash register (that is going back a few decades). Over the past 5 years however, restaurant technology has exploded and is now touching every element of the business from lowering costs to opening new sales channels. Today, there are thousands of restaurant technology solutions available on the market: from last mile delivery to labor scheduling and from fryer oil management to outsourced facilities services. While it might seem impossible to keep track of all the options, it’s crucial to know how to prioritize the ‘need to haves’ from the ‘nice to haves’.
Understanding the needs of the restaurant operator is critical to my role as a managing director in CapitalSpring’s Strategic Operations Group. I recognize the challenges that operators encounter when selecting the right technology solution for their businesses, and that is why we have developed a database of more than 400 unique restaurant technologies and service providers, which have been thoroughly researched, cost-compared, and tested to identify best-in-class vendors. Additionally, we assess whether each solution is better-suited for full-service, limited service, QSR, or franchise vs. independent companies.
Through the process of building and leveraging this database, we’ve mastered the art of properly evaluating providers and working with restaurant teams to match the right solution to their specific company’s needs. Below are six steps that we believe will drive the most impactful results in your search for the right provider.
Six Steps to ID the Right Solution
Step 1: Exposure Risk
The first step before considering any platform is to understand where your company may have exposure or risk of loss. These areas include PCI compliance, cyber security, theft, safety and sanitation, etc. While more difficult to calculate a true return on investment, these deployments are necessities for most organizations. You wouldn’t open a restaurant without insurance, and this may be no different as these solutions offer similar protections and assurances. Note that in some cases you may determine that the manual processes currently in place provide sufficient protection, and technology dollars are better spent elsewhere. An example would be Line Checks – operational SOP’s and BOH adherence is working, so no need to add digital audits and bluetooth thermometers despite the added protection.
Step 2: Inefficiencies
The second step is understanding if inefficiencies that exist in your business can be improved through the implementation of technology. This doesn’t mean evaluating dated computer systems and determining if it’s time for an upgrade, but rather refers to very specific improvement areas in your business. For example, is the Finance team spending hours each week producing reports that could be generated automatically? Are Managers performing tasks manually and taking time away from developing their staff or touching tables? Many solutions exist, and this is a good time to schedule meetings with all departments, and even the field, to solicit feedback on technologies they have experienced, heard about, or would recommend. While it may seem like herding cats aligning your organization around a single platform, it is always productive to obtain input from your colleagues (superiors and subordinates) and encourage collaboration in a decision process.
Step 3: Return on Investment
The third step is determining how to maximize return on your investment - often your bookkeeper or internal finance department can assist with this analysis. Remember to consider all benefits from a platform. For example, many facility service providers who manage repairs & maintenance may not only save you money, but will save your accounting team time spent sifting through weeks of invoices by sending a single statement each month. Look closely at all potential advantages of deploying the technology and use best efforts to calculate actual dollars saved or generated.
Step 4: Strategically prioritize and Identify
Once you have completed the first three steps, it’s time to prioritize potential technology investments. Here you want to be strategic, not just tactical. Think about where your company will be 3, 5 and even 10 years from now. Certain investments may help lay the foundation for the future as well as provide benefits to current operations. Others provide immediate returns or fill a void that exists. Now that you have identified the need, begin researching providers. Obviously, conferences such as HDI Tech, FSTEC and MURTEC are well attended by service providers, and the vendor lists are a great place to start. Call or visit other restaurant operators, vendors and industry professionals to ask who they use and recommend.
Step 5: Vet and Verify
Now that the list has been narrowed, create a spreadsheet or other tracking log, and begin the evaluation process. I prefer scheduling product demos through screen sharing services as most companies have presentations prepared to walk through the benefits of their products. I make sure to take detailed notes and use screen shots to capture something relevant I might not be able to describe easily. Remember do not be afraid to ask questions about their competition; “how are you better than Company X? What do you do differently?” Further, pose specific questions about how you will be using the product, stages of implementation, support, costs and updates. You may determine that many of their clients are in a specific segment (e.g., Fine Dining or QSR), so be sure to inquire about application to your segment. Most importantly, ask the company for references and look on their website for a current client list to call. In my experience, this is the most useful method of vetting the provider. Sometimes a technology is unbelievable, and you can’t wait to deploy it, only to find out there are glitches, the support is terrible, or it is a nightmare to implement. Remember too—not only will you learn about the platform itself during these reference calls, but you will often hear useful insights and learnings around deployment and usage from an actual restaurant operator or IT professional.
Step 6: Support and Approval
Once you have completed all of the above, have a discussion with other members of your team for their feedback. Finance, Operations, Marketing, Facilities, and HR all have valuable input, and it doesn’t hurt to have departmental support when making a technology investment. Sometimes it helps to create a short memo or PowerPoint deck detailing your research and findings, as others will want to see and hear how you arrived at your recommendation.
Investments in technology and service providers can be daunting and time consuming – but when you choose the right one, you will conclude “if I had only done it earlier.”
Jim Balis leads CapitalSpring’s Strategic Operations Group, supporting due diligence, portfolio management, and industry knowledge building initiatives across the firm. He has several decades of management and turnaround experience in the restaurant industry. Prior to joining CapitalSpring, Balis was founder and president of RMG, a boutique advisory and turnaround firm serving the restaurant sector. He has directed numerous turnarounds and has acted as interim CEO or chief restructuring officer for 15 restaurant companies. He began his foodservice career in high school, during which he held multiple management positions for local restaurants in New York. He has a BA from Duke University.