November 23, 2012

Taking on Technology:

Restaurateurs and customers are embracing technology. Will you be left behind?

By Ed Avis

The staff at Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina in Pittsburg, Pa., knows something about technology.

With a sous chef and a bartender who majored in computer science, and an owner who was a web programmer before a restaurateur, point-of-sale systems, Wi-Fi, Smartphone apps and social media promotions are just a normal part of business life.

Free Wi-Fi, extra power outlets, a web-enabled security video camera system, web-based employee scheduling, plus point-of-sale that helps staff trace revenue trends, best-selling menu items and employee sales, plus technology the lets Owner Jeff Catalina post his tequila menu on an iPad are state-of-the art conveniences Verde employs.

“I heard about this iPad app, so I said, 'Let's pioneer this.' We have 175 tequilas on the wall. When you look at them all on a paper menu all you see is a list, so having them on the iPad has been a huge help,” he says. The iPad menu includes information from the distillery and comments from the experts.

“We have five iPads in the [60-seat] restaurant, and three or four are out in the dining room at any one time,” Catalina says. 

Coming soon to Verde: features that will allow customers to post comments, and Tweet or post to Facebook from the iPad.

While you might not qualify to play on Verde’s team of what Catalina calls “self-proclaimed Tech Geeks,” it is important to understand how today’s state-of-the-art point-of-sale (POS) systems, tablet computer ordering systems, and text-based and social media marketing programs can enhance customers’ experience and your bottom line.

Statistics Tell the Story

Keeping abreast of technology trends can be time-consuming when you’re juggling day-to-day front- and back-of-house demands. But ignoring technology’s role is risky—especially since your competitors are paying attention, industry data shows.

According to Hospitality Technology’s 2012 Restaurant Technology Study, approximately one-third of restaurant companies will spend more than $300,000 on technology this year; another third will spend between $75,000 and $300,000, and the remaining third will spend less than $75,000.

“The greatest portion of tech dollars will go to hardware (30 percent), followed by software (20 percent), and internal personnel (18 percent),” the survey reports. “In 2012, the most important business goal impacting tech spending is the need to drive greater revenue (67 percent), followed by enhancing guest services (52 percent). In restaurants, productivity and efficiency reign as the most important business goal for technology projects (at 66 percent), followed by guest services (53 percent).”

These companies aren’t making technology decisions in a vacuum: Tech-savvy customers are helping drive demand.

According to the National Restaurant Association's 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast, restaurant patrons are beginning to embrace the technology that helps restaurants hum.  About half of consumers surveyed said they would be comfortable using at-table electronic payment options and a Smartphone app to make reservations. About three in ten would like to get emails about specials, while one in five would prefer a text messages announcing any promotions.

POS moves into the future

Most restaurants, no matter their size or the segment they serve, use some type of POS system. But today, standard, hard-wired systems with only basic functions are no longer the only or even the most important players in the restaurant POS space.

On the software side, especially useful features include impressive back-office management tools such as employee time management and inventory tracking. If your POS is constantly taking orders, your inventory can be tracked accurately, allowing you to change specials on the fly if you start to run low on something.

Tablet computer-based systems—which can put essential seating, menu and pricing information at your hosts’ and servers’ fingertips—also are trending. A hostess, for example, can quickly see which tables are available and which are likely to turn over soon, while servers can check to see if specials have run out and submit orders while they're still at the table. Some tablet systems even allow tableside credit card payment.

With all the options, which which POS platform innovations were of the most interest to restaurateurs? According to the 2012 Restaurant Technology Study, online ordering has sgrown over the past two years: In 2010 it was chosen by 24.8 percent of Hospitality Technology readers and in 2011 by 28.5 percent of readers.

“This year’s poll shows a significant jump, as online ordering moves into the top spot with a 39.7 percent interest rating,” the study says. “Mobile phone-based POS applications (i.e., mobile ordering/mobile wallet) take a close second with 37.7 percent of readers choosing this as the most interesting innovation to their companies in 2012 (up from 31.4 percent last year). Enterprise wide/centralized POS software falls from the top spot in last year’s survey to a third-place ranking this year with a 36.6 percent interest rating (down from 41.7 percent in 2011, and 45.1 percent in 2010).”

This year’s survey also suggests that hospitality operators may be growing tired of waiting for the vendor community to develop acceptable tableside ordering devices, and are considering mobile phone-based POS as an alternative.

Whatever route your technology journey takes, one thing is certain: It is a trip on which you must embark if you want to remain competitive in an increasingly tech-savvy marketplace.

As Abigail A. Lorden, editor-in-chief of Hospitality Technology says in the opening of the 2012 Restaurant Technology Study, “In the hospitality industry, and in particular in the restaurant business, technology is changing from an after-thought to a make-or-break application.”

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At a Glance: Beyond POS

Mobile Service—Make it Easy on Your Customers

Trends in mobility are not limited to your POS system—there are many ways to use mobility to make your customer experience better. For example, interactive menus on iPads make it easy for your customers to order things from their table without beckoning a server. Some systems don't even require an iPad—a

Smartphone app does the job for some.  Mobility isn't limited to ordering. Make sure your customers can make reservations on the go whatever way they prefer, from their Smartphones or online.

Social Media—More Ways to Connect

Social media marketing involves a careful combination of consumer effort and restaurant involvement. You can't ignore social media and just hope it works out for you!  Many potential patrons, for example, turn to sites such as Yelp, where customers who have visited your restaurant can post information and reviews. In fact, your restaurant is likely listed on Yelp, even if you have never logged on. To get the most out of Yelp and similar sites, log on as the owner of your restaurant so you can post hours, driving directions, menu basics, even photos. Once you’re there, pay attention regularly. If someone writes a negative review, try to identify the problem the writer experienced and fix it!

Unlike Yelp, most social media sites including Facebook require you to set up your account before any activity can occur. A good Facebook page also requires effort: Make sure you regularly update your page with interesting information about your menu, special events, and new photos. The more active your page, the more likely a customer will find it enticing.,, and sites such as that focus on your geographic are other sites to consider.

Tech in the “Waiting Room”

While pagers that let customers know their table is ready have become fairly commonplace, systems that text rather than “buzz” customers are among the newer technology trends.

Advertorial: Tech Roundup

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November 23, 2012