Is Your Restaurant’s Technology Optimized for the New Normal?
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, restaurants have been forced to quickly adapt to a takeout- and delivery-only model, leaving brands scrambling to put the appropriate infrastructure in place while also looking ahead toward the unknown future of the industry. Relying on websites, apps, and digital communications more than ever, many brands are learning just how vital their network’s capabilities are.
Here, Kevin Watson, CEO of Netsurion, explains how the crisis is changing the demands on restaurant technology and what brands can do now to prepare for the future.
1. Does the industry’s drastic shift to touchless delivery, drive thru, and curbside pickup pose any technology challenges for restaurants?
It absolutely does. Mobile ordering has become the primary ordering method where it was secondary before, so connectivity has become a No. 1 criteria to a business’s ability to successfully operate. Every minute a restaurant’s Internet is down means lost orders and lost revenue, and in today’s world, restaurants need to grab every dollar they can. Similarly, drive thru and curbside are more prominent than before, so many brands that didn’t spend much effort on outdoor WiFi are now seeing its importance.
2. With the restaurant industry as financially impacted as it is, how are brands expected to adopt new or added technology costs?
While it may be a challenge, restaurants can’t afford to not do anything when the cost of losing connectivity is so high. The good news is networking costs in general have come down, while functionality has increased. Mobile ordering apps are now easier to connect to a POS system than ever before. Taking on the right new technology foundation results in more efficient operations, gives restaurants the functionality modern stores need, and more than likely results in cost savings.
3. What are some of the new needs that restaurants might have in a post-Coronavirus world?
With mobile ordering becoming so prevalent, the quality of a restaurant’s internet connection has become critical. Very affordable technology, such as an automatic cellular failover, can ensure a store has near 100 percent circuit availability, without needing to incur the cost of two always-on circuits.
Many restaurants will also need higher bandwidth to support new digital menuboards, self-serve kiosks, and other revenue-driving technology. However, as the need for bandwidth increases, restaurants need to be sure that high-priority applications, like point of sale and mobile ordering, receive priority among crowded network traffic. A bandwidth reservation technique known as Quality of Service, or QoS, will preserve a certain amount of that bandwidth for mission-critical functions, such as POS terminals and mobile ordering, rather than having it eaten up by a guest using it to watch Netflix. Secure outdoor WiFi connectivity will also be important for mobile ordering and pickup, as well as for line-busting tablets in the drive thru, which will likely see more use throughout the industry.
Right now, remote network visibility and access is also critical, since owners may not want to call in IT support staff to troubleshoot a problem in-person. This more distant approach to monitoring connectivity will probably continue even after the current crisis.
4. How can new restaurant-specific technology help with some of these challenges?
With new technology being purpose-built to handle all the requirements of restaurants, they don’t need to patch together single-function and small office networking devices anymore. Restaurants are quickly migrating to a networking architecture called software-defined wide area networking, or SD-WAN for short. This all-in-one approach provides increased functionality in a single device, allowing restaurants to quickly and inexpensively spin up locations with all of the core functionality necessary—network connectivity, routing, security, WiFi, and cellular failover. Restaurants need to be careful, however, as most SD-WAN is designed for larger offices, which means these solutions are expensive and include functionality not needed or wanted, and, consequently, buyers end up over-paying for all those unused features. Purpose-built restaurant SD-WAN solutions, however, are scaled to fit and give restaurants the flexibility to move Internet traffic at each location as quickly and securely as possible with cost reductions of up to 50 percent.
5. What about security? Are there any implications of moving away from the traditional technology model?
As restaurants add more avenues to connect with the business, that means there will be more avenues into the store’s network, which makes security vital to protect business and consumer information. There are always trade-offs; however, this software-based networking approach can be better for restaurants, because it allows them to leverage external security experts when they don’t necessarily need an IT expert on staff. Instead, IT support can come from a managed or co-managed solution, which is often cheaper. External security experts can provide 24/7 support where someone is always monitoring their network and is available for support. That would be very expensive for a restaurant or a chain to do themselves. And because SD-WAN security is cloud-based, it’s cheaper and easier to add in new pieces of technology than it would be to use an on-premises solution.
6. How should a restaurant brand evaluate which network and security solution is best for them?
Restaurants need to think about how they are going to adapt their businesses to a changing world. For restaurants in particular, this is going to change how they interact with customers, which will change network requirements. A lot of brands are quickly realizing that if their network connection is down for a few minutes when mobile ordering is a predominant way of ordering, they lose revenue and customer loyalty. Restaurants now need to focus on finding a cost-effective networking solution that keeps their critical systems, such as mobile ordering, running, while letting owners remotely see that their networks are operating effectively. It’s also important to consider network security. We’re seeing a spike in people installing malware now that fewer people are diligently monitoring their networks. That malware will sit dormant until business picks up again, and then it will come into play. Restaurants should ensure a vendor has a strong security background and is staffed with security experts who can monitor and advise restaurants rather than just checking the firewall box on a compliance audit. In short, four key criteria to evaluate are overall cost, security, network performance and reliability, and ease of deployment and management.