Practically every major restaurant management and POS system on the market today is a mature software product, with reliable and robust functionality and new platform capabilities being added on an ongoing basis. At the same time, different solutions have different platform capabilities and deliver different customer benefits.
By asking solution providers the right questions, restaurant owners and operators can quickly rule out some options while narrowing down others.
When it comes to any technology investment, restaurant operators have two main objectives. The first is to streamline operations. Here the goal is to increase staff productivity, improve process efficiency and reduce waste, resulting in cost savings. The second is to enhance the quality of the guest experience, leading to increased satisfaction, loyalty, advocacy (including favorable reviews on Yelp and other popular ratings sites) and, ultimately, increased revenue growth. When asking questions of solution providers, it may be a good idea to keep these two objectives in mind.
The “must-ask questions,” especially those concerning specific features and functionality, tend to vary depending on the needs of the restaurant. If the restaurant offers food delivery through a third party platform, as most now do, then some questions may revolve around delivery dispatch and management features. Self-service ordering capabilities may be appropriate for fast casual places, but likely not for fine dining establishments.
Restaurants wanting to migrate to tableside service capabilities will have questions about mobile ordering and payment processing, unlike those that wish to use centralized ordering and payment processing terminals. Managers who often work off-site or who manage multiple locations may be interested in asking about cloud-based reporting capabilities and remote access to, say, menu and table layout functions. If personalization is important, then restaurant operators might ask how the system can help servers better understand and anticipate the needs of guests and also better address those needs.
The following are just a few of the questions that prospective buyers may wish to explore with solution providers during the research and evaluation process.
Does the solution offer flexibility in functionality, including data access and performance reporting?
Next-generation restaurant management and POS systems generally offer an unprecedented level of management control. To take full advantage, however, restaurant operators may have certain software configuration and customization needs that must first be implemented. As such, they may want to confirm that any solution providers under consideration can meet these needs.
With respect to employee scheduling, for example, some managers may prefer to modify or create their own templates of work periods, if that option were to exist with a particular solution. Or, as another example, they may have a certain way of wanting to input menu modifiers. Most systems come equipped with a large number — in some cases, dozens — of standard dashboards and reports around operational and financial areas like sales and revenue, labor and inventory control that should meet most operators’ day-to-day performance management and analysis needs.
That said, not all POS data queries and reporting requirements can necessarily be anticipated in advance or be addressed with out-of-the-box dashboards. For that reason, buyers would be well advised to find out to what extent customized reporting is possible and, also, what is involved in the process of filtering and sorting data according to a specified set of parameters.
With 83 percent of restaurant operators ranking the need to gain access to data and business insights — generally now available anytime, on any device — as an “important” or “very important” success factor, according to Starfleet Media, it only stands to reason that they would also want to ensure that any solution under consideration is able to meet these expectations in terms of POS data analysis and reporting capabilities.
What type of customer support is offered? Are there any extra costs? How quickly will questions be answered and problems be resolved?
Buyers should have clear expectations when it comes to customer support and problem resolution as well as the training that may be needed to get servers and other staff up to speed on the new solution. According to The 2019 Smart Decision Guide to Restaurant Management and POS Systems, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of restaurant operators agree that adequate user training ranks as a key success factor in maximizing the value of a restaurant management and POS system.
Does the solution provider (or a certified subcontractor) offer an online or, better yet, in-person training program? Is it equipped to offer online troubleshooting and diagnostic processes and tools should technical issues arise? Are local, in-person dealers or other service and support services on hand should there be an issue that can’t be handled remotely?
Knowing that problems will get resolved fully, and in a timely manner, is critical for a restaurant that needs to run with minimal interruption and in which an issue with meal ordering, or even a 30-second lag in payment processing, may be enough to erode the guest experience. More serious technology malfunctions or outages can, of course, have a very negative effect on revenue performance. Decision makers need to understand what to expect should they ever get into a situation that requires immediate attention.
How long will it take for problems to be resolved?
Decision makers should have clear expectations around customer support and problem resolution as well as the training that may be needed to get front desk employees and other staff up to speed on the new system. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of restaurant operators agree that user training ranks as a key success factor in ensuring that a revenue management solution is utilized as effectively as possible.
Does the solution provider (or a certified subcontractor) offer adequate training? Do the team members in charge of support and training have revenue management experience of their own from previous jobs at hospitality companies? Does the provider offer online troubleshooting and diagnosis should technical issues arise? Is local in-person service and support a possibility in the absence of a local dealer resource?
Keep in mind that new restaurant equipment and system peripherals generally need to be properly setup and configured so that operating systems, drivers and communication parameters all integrate together correctly. In some cases, new system layouts and menu items may need to be developed and implemented in the best layout for restaurant staff to operate with maximum efficiency and speed of service. Either local resources or robust online resources may be needed in order to achieve goals through systems integration, programming, training, installation, and go-live support.
What is the total cost of ownership? Are there any “hidden expenses?”
While hardware and software costs run gamut, as do the requirements of different restaurant operators, next-generation restaurant management and POS systems on the whole tend to be considerably less expensive and require less up-front investment than their predecessors. There are many reasons for the shift to increased affordability, including the fact that installation is generally less complex and hardware is generally less expensive compared to, say, a decade ago.
That is especially true for mobile POS / tablet-only restaurant operations. With a fast-growing number of systems, the POS data is stored entirely in the cloud, reducing (or, likely, even eliminating) the need for on-premise servers. Incidentally, most cloud-based POS systems also use a subscription “pay as you go” model, which generally means no long-term contracts and no upfront capital investment for the software. Cloud solutions are generally built to scale as the volume of business increases, so the costs are almost always in coordination with the size of the restaurant’s current operations and needs. This may be an important consideration, especially for smaller operations with a limited budget.
In all cases, it is important to confirm which software features and modules, including future upgrades — as well as which hardware components, if any — are included in the base (recurring) price that is quoted so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road.
What return on investment (ROI) can be expected?
For most restaurants, the return on investment can be measured in terms of cost reduction, which is largely a function of increased staff productivity and resource utilization. It can also be measured in terms of revenue growth. This is largely a function of improved guest satisfaction and, in some cases, faster table turn times — and again, in certain venues, the ability to reach and serve a larger number of guests simultaneously.
Additional selling points include the ability to improve financial performance with advanced inventory and labor management tools and better performance reporting capabilities. When it comes to projecting ROI, the first question to ask is: To what extent would the new restaurant management and POS system likely improve organizational and process efficiency across day-to-day functions, including those related to guests, employees and inventory? To what extent would the new system likely improve sales, revenue and profitability — by, for example, increasing table turnover rates and the number of guests that can be served simultaneously?
Another key factor to consider in terms of ROI pertains to reduction in losses, including not only food waste but also losses related to data entry errors and technology integration costs with third-party hardware and software. An even more important consideration when it comes to making the business case for this technology investment is the extent to which the new system would be likely to enhance the overall quality of the guest experience, resulting in a greater number of loyal customers and a higher volume and intensity of positive reviews, including word-of-mouth recommendations.
What is the solution provider’s track record of success?
As with the purchase of any business technology solution, reputation and customer satisfaction are important factors in the decision-making process. Nobody wants to purchase and implement a restaurant management and POS solution that falls short of expectations due to known shortcomings in stability, reliability or promised benefits.
No input may be more important to the buying decision than that which can be gleaned from existing solution provider customers, preferably restaurants that share some commonalities in terms of size, typography, category and existing technology infrastructure and requirements. A solution provider, dealer, or consultant may be willing to provide one or more customer references.
Some customers, particularly those operating in non-competitive markets, may be willing to share their experiences and perhaps even disclose results in terms of percentage increases the solution has helped enable them to achieve in terms of cost savings or, perhaps even more importantly, improvement in guest satisfaction metrics such as Yelp rating. Client testimonials and success stories can also be valuable sources of information.
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