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Technology in the Restaurant Industry: How Casual Dining Businesses Integrate New IT

October 13 2016, by Olivia FitzGerald

There are many reasons why pub and restaurant businesses are taking a long, hard look at their existing technology platforms. Over the next 12-weeks we are going to explore the issues and look at best practice when integrating new IT systems. Read on for our first installment, then sign up below for your weekly updates.

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Many pub and restaurant businesses are sitting on a goldmine. The data their various IT systems generate could be used to turbocharge the organisation, introducing great efficiencies and unlocking the power of big data. But unfortunately, in many firms that data is locked away more securely than the details of their special sauce. This is where technology in the restaurant industry is coming into its own.

The reason is simple. Restaurant IT systems tend to evolve on an ad-hoc basis, so the EPoS system doesn’t integrate with the marketing database and the website isn’t connected to the table allocation system, for instance.  All were bought at different times by different people for different reasons.

That’s perfectly understandable and really quite common, but it does mean that many businesses are missing out on significant opportunities that come with more effective data management. The benefits of technology used in restaurants can include:

  • Better customer data can improve table allocation and yield

  • Better data can identify the ROI on specific marketing campaigns

  • Better data can identify inefficiencies and areas of potential improvement

  • Better data can improve customer loyalty and even reduce the dreaded no-shows

  • Better data puts the IT manager where he or she belongs: right at the heart of everything.

IT teams know all this, of course, and understand how cloud-based solutions such as Software as a Service means their businesses can integrate new technology with existing systems. Today, this is all achievable without the hassle and expense that legacy system upgrades used to cause.

But before any new IT project can start in earnest, there are two key groups that need to understand the value and buy into the initiative:

  1. The board in their role as key decision-makers

  2. Everybody else in the organisation as end-users

How to win friends and influence people

According to a recent study by MIT, the vast majority of managers believe that “achieving digital transformation” is critical to their organisations. Unfortunately, nearly three-quarters of them feel their organisations’ take-up of technology is too slow.

In many cases that’s because their people are resistant to new technology - or haven’t been persuaded that it’s a worthwhile step in the right direction. It’s not that they are luddites, although of course every organisation has a few of those too. It’s more likely that improvements that are obvious to their IT manager aren’t necessarily obvious to them.

Addressing those concerns needs to start at the very beginning of your project planning. If your solution is more finance director-friendly than user-friendly it’s going to involve lots of training and lots of manuals, neither of which make it an easy sell. That’s not to say that training is bad - far from it; it’s a crucial part of the roll-out process, and needs to take account of the very different levels of expertise you’ll find in your organisation. But the more complex the system or awkward the interface, the less welcomed it’s likely to be.

Some organisations address this issue by having key staff involved during the initial comparison of potential solutions to assess them from their own perspectives. Others carry out small-scale pilots to identify and address any concerns before the full roll-out takes place. Still others appoint evangelists within the organisation to help win over their colleagues.

Communication is key, and you need to sell the sizzle, not just the steak. Will the new system make the marketing team’s targets easier to achieve? Will it make front of house staff’s shifts go more smoothly, or reduce the likelihood of customers becoming irate as they wait for a table?

As important as operational efficiencies are to the business, they don’t make for a particularly attractive sales pitch. And of course, listening is as important as talking. Some staff might just grumble for the sake of grumbling, but others may have genuine concerns or identify genuine problems.

Know where you’re going, and who’s doing the driving

It’s also important to assign clear roles and responsibilities. In some organisations the IT manager is the driving force and public face of the project, but in others they will direct the efforts of others in the IT roll-out project team. In those circumstances, it’s crucial that roles and responsibilities are communicated clearly and in detail: if a task isn’t specifically assigned to a person there’s a very good chance it’ll fall through the net.

Communication of milestones and deadlines is also crucial, as a missed objective early in the programme can cause chaos further along the timeline. People can’t meet deadlines or hit targets if they don’t know what they are, and if the milestones aren’t monitored then even the best project can quickly go off the rails.

Approached correctly, integrating the right technology platform can have a transformative effect on your business, on employee job satisfaction and on your customers’ delight.

While every business is different, finding the right solution and implementing it in the right way can mean the difference between just surviving and actively thriving in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive market.

Over the comings weeks...

We are going to run The Big Switch to explore the issues, looking at:

Laying the ground

The do’s and don’ts of IT Project Planning in the context of the casual dining sector. Where things can go wrong, secrets of success and examples of businesses that oozed best practice when assessing and preparing their organisation for The Big Switch.

Early stage rollout

First steps when rolling out a new technology platform across the business. What to consider to ensure successful data migration, your checklist when planning training and internal communication, and how to deal with resistance to change.

Go-live

Final considerations before you push The Big Switch: how to check all systems are go across your dining venues, followed by common snagging issues and other key concerns when you need to integrate a new technology platform into your wider IT infrastructure.

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Topics: Technology