Running a restaurant these days can feel much different than it did ten or even five years ago.
Not too much has changed at first glance: Customers still walk through your doors looking for a comforting meal or a unique culinary experience.
But on the back end, the infrastructure that makes it possible to run a restaurant has completely changed — and continues to change — thanks to new digital technology tools.
Restaurateurs are using software to help them better serve customers, analyze profitability, and manage their employees. These programs help them plan meals, publish menus, manage inventory, and handle all the financial aspects of restaurant ownership. Restaurant technology aims to make the job of restaurant ownership easier and less risky — and it’s good at what it does.
In fact, so many software programs are now on the market that it can get a little overwhelming to choose the combination of programs that will be the best fit for your restaurant. Software costs can be significant, and making changes once you’ve settled on certain software can be difficult. So, it pays to make the right choice from the outset.
That’s why we wanted to provide restaurant owners with a complete guide that explains exactly which technology restaurateurs need, and how all of those tech components can fit together to build a comprehensive restaurant system.
A Point of Sale System
The first technology tool that you need to choose for your restaurant is the point of sale system.
A POS system, of course, is what you use to check customers out once they’re ready to pay. However, today’s cloud-based systems are much more complex (and useful) than the simple cash registers of the past.
Thanks to cloud technology, POS terminals can sync with each other continuously so users can understand how their restaurant is doing financially in real time.
POS systems also come with a suite of other features that form the backbone of your restaurant’s technology suite. Your POS system should connect with almost all of your other tech tools to give you the complete insights you need to run your restaurant.
A Few Features to Look For in a POS System
- Table Management - The best POS systems will let users lay out their restaurant floor plan and see, at a glance, which tables at a restaurant are available, which are occupied, and for how long each one has been occupied. It may also integrate with waitlist features that notify customers of their wait time estimation and let them know when their table is ready.
- Customer Management - POS systems allow users to keep track of their customers. In some cases, users can create their own accounts that sync up to marketing features (we’ll detail those later).
- Order Management - Of course, POS systems have to track customer orders and process their payments. Plus, with “tableside ordering” features, servers can put their customers’ meals directly into the POS system as they order their food. Some systems even have self-order menus so that customers can input their own orders via tablet.
- Menu Management - POS systems let restaurateurs build and “publish” menus any way they want, adding photos, price points, and calculating the value of each menu item based on ingredients used (we’ll get more into this when we discuss inventory features).
POS Hardware Needs
It’s worth noting that in addition to the software itself, you’ll need to invest in the hardware that goes with the POS system. Even though today’s cloud-based software doesn’t “live” primarily on the hardware (instead, it’s accessed via the internet from a remote server), you’ll still need the following tools to make sure your system works properly. Specific hardware requirements will vary based on the type of software you choose.
- Kitchen printers
- Receipt printers
- Cash drawers
- Tablets for tableside ordering, self-ordering, or traditional checkout
POS System Examples
Here are just a few of the top restaurant-focused POS systems on the market.
Kitchen Display System
A kitchen display system is the system your restaurant uses to communicate menu orders from the customers to the kitchen staff.
Kitchen staff used to have to deal with paper tickets that were printed out of the machine or even handwritten. More recently, the KDS of choice has been a mounted digital screen. However, modern kitchen display systems do more than just list the orders.
A Few Features to Look For in a KDS
- Timers - A ticking clock for each order allows your staff to see how long customers have been waiting.
- Color coding - Modern digital tools feature full-color displays, which let your staff see at a glance where each order stands.
- Instant communication - As long as your servers are using tableside ordering technology, the orders will go directly from the table to the kitchen, eliminating the need for servers to physically walk the orders there. This speeds up the order process for everyone and saves time for your servers, who can spend their time serving the rest of your customers more quickly.
- Special notes - Kitchen displays can give special weight to meal notes such as allergy needs or special requests to make sure that they don’t get missed.
- Order routing - Some systems can route orders based on where they need to come from and where they need to go (such as the bar vs. the kitchen, or the patio vs the dining room).
- Lightspeed KDS
- Announcer online
Customer Facing Display
Depending on the style of your restaurant, you may also want to invest in a customer-facing display. With a CFD, customers can see exactly what they’ve ordered and the total price of their meal as it adds up, including taxes and discounts.
Customers will also come into direct contact with the POS when they check out — or, as we mentioned earlier, when they order tablesite.
In general, you should be able to use any tablet or computer monitor as the CFD as long as the software or app is installed.
A Few Features to Look for In a CFD
- Receipt options - If your Customer Facing Display is on a touchscreen, your customer can also choose to receive their receipt by email.
- Branding options - Because this screen is customer-facing, you want the ability to be able to brand the display any way you want, adding things like background images, logos, and on-brand styles.
- Attaching to customer accounts - Customers may be able to see their account information or their loyalty points (which we’ll explain in more detail later) as they check out, or even be able to create a customer account or opt in to the loyalty program during checkout.
- Lightspeed Customer Facing Display
- Touchbistro Customer Facing Display
- Revel Customer Facing Display
Inventory Management Systems
You can’t run a successful restaurant without a strong understanding of how much you’re spending on food.
As we explained in our post Bookkeeping 101 for Restaurants, if restaurateurs fail to keep a close eye on Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS), their profitability can plummet quickly.
Restaurant managers also must keep careful tabs on their inventory so they don’t run out of any critical ingredients.
For these reasons, a good inventory management system is crucial.
A Few Features Typically Included with Inventory Management Systems
- Inventory tracking - Users can track the consumption of individual items, such as bottles of wine.
Recipes - Users can “create” recipes for each menu item, then track how much of each ingredient is used in each meal.
- Alerts and notifications - Users can set up low stock level alerts within the system to let them know when they need to restock.
- Profitability Analysis - Because administrators also enter the costs for each ingredient, each program can calculate the total costs for each meal, allowing administrators to analyze their profitability.
- Integrations - Although most cloud-based software tools are equipped with the ability to integrate with other programs, it’s particularly important for inventory management software. Specifically, it should integrate with the POS system and the accounting system
- Market Man
- Kitchen Cut
As we mentioned, restaurant owners have to understand their CoGS, but also have a clear grasp on other financial indicators such as prime cost, food cost ratio, revenue per ticket.
Plus, like other small businesses, they need to understand breakeven points and profitability measures.
This requires keeping careful financial records of money as it’s spent and as it’s received.
Thankfully, there are plenty of software programs on the market that automate most of these bookkeeping and accounting feats.
The most important feature to look for in an accounting program for your restaurant is its integration with your point of sale system.
With a solid integration, your POS software can send the transaction data directly to the accounting software. This means you’ll get real-time reports with no need for manual reconciliations or spreadsheets.
Examples of Common Accounting Programs That Integrate With Restaurant POS Systems
Stay Tuned for Part 2
Although the financial and transactional management is a huge part of what restaurant technology specializes in, that’s just the beginning. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Modern Restaurant Technology Guide, where we’ll dive into technology for managing your staff, and your customer relationships, and more.