How to Open a Restaurant, Part 6: The Essential Software Tools You Need to Run Your Restaurant Business

When opening a restaurant, the number of products and systems designed to streamline operations is wide-ranging and dizzying. The systems purchased and implemented at the start are costly, and even more so to replace, so it’s important to do your research when selecting your restaurant’s tools to ensure that you get it right the first time. In this article I will focus on the two most universally used operational systems in restaurants – point of sale and reservations – as well as other management tools you should consider to set your restaurant up for success.

Point of Sale (POS)

A point of sale system is like your restaurant’s central nervous system, serving as an indispensable link between your guests, service team, kitchen team, accountant, General Manager, and Executive Chef. Skipping the research and defaulting to a brand just because you are familiar with it or want to save money can lead to major regrets and missed opportunities down the road. The goal is to avoid spending money on functionality that you don’t need or purchasing a low-cost product that doesn’t sufficiently support your business.

In general terms, you get what you pay for in the POS world. Systems range from tens of thousands of dollars to less than $100 a month. They each have strengths and weaknesses and different sets of capabilities, so the best way to know that you’re investing in the right one for your specific restaurant is to first establish what you need from a POS.

The world of POS is split into two major camps: local server systems and cloud-based, wireless systems. The former includes industry standards and well-known platforms like Micros or Aloha, where the latter includes more recent, iPad-based products like Breadcrumb, Revel and Square. As I mentioned, there’s a use case for either style, but it’s wholly dependent on your restaurant size and operational needs.

If you’re setting out to open a large restaurant with multiple dining areas, bar, private dining and a large staff, a local server system is a must. The durability of these restaurant-grade systems, as well as the stability of the connection and quality of support make the much higher price tag of these platforms completely justified.

Conversely, if you’re planning to operate a smaller restaurant with a simple menu and modest staff, it might make much more sense to opt for an iPad-based, cloud system. When you’re opening a restaurant, cash flow is of the essence and over-spending on POS that far exceeds your business needs can put you behind before you even get started. These platforms are easier to use, take up less space, and are significantly more sleek and affordable in a smaller operation.

In order to find the right POS for your restaurant, you’ll need to do some in-depth competitive research, solicit numerous bids, and ask your colleagues about their experiences with the systems they use. In the meantime, here’s a basic breakdown of some of the more important features and functions of POS and where each style system excels: 

Guest Management     

I have seen and worked with restaurateurs that use OpenTable only as a reservations system; this is a huge missed opportunity. OpenTable is a comprehensive guest management tool that, when used properly, has the power to raise service levels, improve guest loyalty, and substantially increase revenue.

OpenTable ensures that you are maximizing the daily seating capacity of your restaurant and then making those seats available and accessible to more potential customers in your market than any other reservation system can. Calculating how much revenue each seat of your restaurant can potentially earn you each year ($35 check average x 1.5 turns x 360 days = $18,900) is a good exercise to demonstrate that investing in the most recognizable, widely-used, capable, and comprehensive reservation management tool is smart business. Unlike the POS market, going with a lesser-known system will have a significant negative impact on your revenue; when it comes to reservation systems, it is absolutely necessary to place yourself in the biggest possible pool of customers.

OpenTable’s job isn’t done once a guest has made a reservation and been seated in your restaurant. For the vast majority of businesses, a steady flow of one-time visitors isn’t what keeps them busy, open, and thriving over the years. Repeat guests and regulars are a must, and in today’s increasingly competitive market, it takes more than good food and good service to get people to come back. The difference is hospitality. One of the most important pillars of this intangible game-changer is the ability to make your guests feel important and recognized, which is what OpenTable’s software is built to provide for you as a restaurateur. Simply put, It gives you the power to record and manage guest preferences and then utilize them to provide outstanding guest experiences easily and consistently. 

As you build profiles for your guests over time, OpenTable makes it easy to launch targeted marketing campaigns based on the contact information and preferences, and spending habits that you’ve collected from your customers. The best way to ensure that marketing campaigns like event promotions gain traction is to focus on sending the information to the right people as opposed to the largest possible volume of people.

Other Management Tools

There are so many programs out there designed to help you complete all sorts of tasks that oftentimes the hardest part is wading through the options and figuring out what you actually need. In my opinion, there are a few critically important, time-consuming functions performed by a restaurant’s management team that can be completed more effectively and efficiently with the help of some inexpensive software tools.

Shift to shift communication. The communication habits of your management team are crucial to the success of every service, so don’t rely on sticky notes and text messages to deliver important messages. Your managers should be writing in a logbook that’s distributed to your entire front and back of house management team after every service to communicate information such as employee issues, guest complaints, facility maintenance needs, flow of service, and sales. Programs like ShiftNote centralize all of this information in one searchable, shareable, easy-to-use resource that keeps your key team members in the loop.

Scheduling. For most restaurant managers, making the schedule is simultaneously the least desirable and the most important responsibility to be tasked with. Improper scheduling can lead to poor service experiences, wasted labor dollars, and disgruntled employees. This is often an inevitable result when one person is trying to build a restaurant's internal gameplan in Excel or Word, while trying to remember what days Emily has school, when Justin needs to be out of town for a wedding, and whether or not Jack and Ruby can switch shifts without one of them incurring overtime. ScheduleFly is a great example of a program that can quickly eliminating manual and haphazard work, and creating a central place where management and staff can ensure scheduling stress is minimized.

Sales management. You rely on your management team to constantly make decisions with the goal of increasing revenue and decreasing costs. These efforts range from driving business in off-peak times, altering menu pricing, removing or changing items that aren’t selling, and coaching weak servers. The ability to effectively drive profitability depends largely on the quality, specificity, and ease of access and manipulation of important sales information. Even if you have an advanced POS system, a program like Avero will provide significantly more insight into the performance of your restaurant, by making key data available, comprehendible and actionable.

The old adage “a craftsman is only as good as his tools” certainly rings true when it comes to arming your restaurant with the means to be successful. By doing your research and being strategic when assembling your restaurant’s tools, you’ll give yourself and your team the best opportunity to thrive.

Posted on March 15, 2015 .