One of the biggest questions restaurant operators have but not enough are actually talking about, is “how do I build my tech stack?” With more and more technology vendors popping up, receiving funding, and reaching unicorn status weekly, the topic of building out your tech stack has become complex even for veteran operators.
During the third installment of the CREATE Emerging Restaurateur Live Learning webinar series hosted by Nation’s Restaurant News’ editorial director Sam Oches and Savory Restaurant Fund’s managing director Andrew K Smith — Otto Othman, CEO of Pincho; Leigh Gower, CTO of Dutch Bros Coffee; Dan Simpson of Taziki’s Mediterranean Café; and Karl Goodhew, CTO of BurgerFi — sat down to discuss the challenges and trends in the world of restaurant tech vendors lately.
Here are some of the crucial takeaways from the session:
Choose one POS system (and make sure it’s a good one)
One of the crucial lessons to learn from building a tech stack is to not take on more than you can chew. Pick a POS system that’s right for you: it will be different based on your size, category and needs):
“Every restaurateur needs to have a POS system that’s right for their business with real-time reporting that lets you make decisions on the fly,” Andrew K Smith said. “Things move so quickly in this industry that you need to give the power to your people on the front lines. POS systems are clunky so get one that’s right for you.”
But whatever you do, make sure you don’t have more than one POS system—even if it’s hard to choose — because it’s so difficult to get them to work together.
“BurgerFi was family-run company with four POS systems floating around which was a logistical nightmare,” Karl Goodhew said. “The first focus was to consolidate around a single POS for one brand and single online system.”
It’s (usually) better to prioritize unsexy tech
While it may be more fun to talk about robots, the metaverse and AI in the drive-thru, oftentimes the most crucial technology you can invest in is the less-splashy tech like credit card security, human resources systems (like training and onboarding), and data management.
“There are a lot of shiny objects, and they can be very alluring,” Dan Simpson said. “But a lot of times, the simple solution really meets the needs of your business. Don’t’ feel like you’re failing because you don’t have the biggest tech. A basic set of tech can carry you for a long way—don’t get sucked into all of the bells and whistles.”
You’re never too small to build out your tech stack
It’s a mistake to think that smaller restaurant groups can’t be leaders in the technology space. Just ask Otto Othman, CEO and cofounder of 10-unit fast-casual brand, Pincho.
“When we first built Pincho, we had to make tech partnerships work even with our small brand,” Othman said, adding that they signed on with Olo early on even as a very small brand. “If you’re going to build 100 restaurants, you have to solve tech stack issues right now. We’ve evolved as we’ve grown and now that we have six restaurants in the pipeline, we are well set-up to make tough decisions early on.”
Data capture is one of the most important things to check off
One of the most important resources a restaurant’s tech department can have? Customer data. While previously, third-party delivery companies have come under fire for keeping customer data under lock and key, now there are several solutions to unlocking your customer’s information, including delivery app add-ons like DoorDash Drive or even other platforms. With customer data, you can figure out who your target demographic is and send personalized marketing blasts.
“When I got here the brand was 18 years old and we had lots of data pools disconnected from each other,” Dan Simpson said. “You need to make a good POS choice that allows you to co-own the data. If you’re really heavy on mobile or online ordering, you need to make sure you have a platform where you can get the data out of that and have co-ownership of it.”
Figure out what your brand needs
Prioritization is one of the biggest challenges an operator can face when it comes to tech, and unfortunately there’s no easy answer because the tech stack map looks different for everyone.
“Figure out what really is unique to your particular brand and that’s where you should home in,” Leigh Gower said. “Knowing the experience we are looking to bring to life, I ask vendors to supply us with use cases where they’ve already d some engagements and to describe what that looks like.”
Not all tech works for everyone – like kiosks and QR codes
Since we’ve learned that tech is not one-size-fits-all operation, it should be noted that some technology pieces are either “love it or hate it.” Karl Goodhew said that BurgerFi has really leaned on kiosk technology because their customers like the experience and they’re budget-friendly to install and run (about $5,000 for each restaurant). Andrew K Smith said that he thinks though that kiosk technology will eventually fade quietly because the technology sometimes frustrates customers.
Similarly, while QR codes are very popular with many brands still in the wake of the pandemic, Goodhew thinks that they will go away as customers become more accustomed to just ordering from their phones without the need of a QR code.
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