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5 strategies to rethink your foodservice operating system

<p><em><strong>Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. His newest book Fundamentals is available at Amazon or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Check out his leadership video series at This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation&rsquo;s Restaurant News.</strong></em></p>

“The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed.” – Marc Andreesen, Facebook seed investor

On a recent work trip to London, I was walking near the British Museum at around 1 p.m. when my smartphone buzzed.

A chain restaurant not 30 yards away texted me, offering me a 1-pound discount off an 8-inch, dine-in lunch pizza if I ordered within the next 30 minutes. I had downloaded their app a month earlier, allowing permission to text me.

Being hungry, I turned around and walked in. The cheerful host, who also happened to be a manager, seated me. He pointed out that the chain’s app also allowed me to order from the menu, pay for my meal, get loyalty rewards and rate the service. Awesome, I thought.

I noticed he was wearing an Apple Watch that had the restaurant’s logo on the wristband. I asked if it was a company watch and he nodded, asking if I’d like to see how it worked. He showed me the real-time notifications he was getting, including reminders to order four more cases of tomatoes, to turn off an unneeded fryer, and to have two team members clock out in 15 minutes to stay aligned with labor goals versus dining room traffic. 

I was impressed: a smart restaurant with beacon marketing, proactive labor and inventory management, and key information that flowed seamlessly to a manager instead of him searching it out later.

There was a waiter involved, but he functioned more as a smiling food and beverage runner for me. I gave him five stars on the app, paid with a tap and said thanks to the chap. 

It wasn’t until I resumed my walk that I realized that just like my smartphone, that restaurant experience was driven by an operating system, or OS. And the productivity secret to that OS was me. I was driving a lot of the process — but effortlessly. I valued the time it gave me and the control I felt.

Then I got back to the States, and the disconnect was evident.

There has long been a mismatch between what tech companies know and what the U.S. restaurant industry does. It’s been rightly noted that tech-wise, the U.S. restaurant industry works in 2016, but lives in 2006.

We are notorious late adopters of technology and latent-Luddites relative to applying digital solutions to our analog challenges. We tend to prioritize technology that streams forth big data, but we routinely fail to apply the right tech solutions to resolve the real issues of the customers we serve and the people we employ.

Foodservice CFOs and CIOs prefer data-driven measures versus performance-driven insight. As a result, our unit managers and multiunit leaders are now deluged with task saturation and data onslaught. They’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.

Rethinking your restaurant's OS priorities

(Continued from page 1)

Just like your smartphone, tablet or computer, your restaurant has an operating system too. It began with electronic POS and back-office systems in the 1990s, and has evolved to the tech-rich choices we have today.

However, there are three big problems with the robust and feature-rich technologies available to restaurant operating systems today:

1. The POS system you choose restricts and limits what other technology you can apply and integrate.

2. Tablets are not quite there yet in terms of spotty Wi-Fi and multitasking.

3. But most importantly, most technology focuses on transactional data versus transformational data. So this month, I’d like to share a five-step primer for rethinking your restaurant’s OS priorities in 2017:

1. Know your blind spots. Challenge the process: Why do we do it that way? What if we didn’t? Who’s doing it better than us? How? Are we teaching the way adults learn? What customer problem is no one solving? If we were the competition, how would we put us out of business? How can we best apply digital solutions to priority processes? Oh, and the “priority process” is not a restaurant process. See the next point.

2. Solve the customer’s problems, not yours. The number one disrupter in the restaurant industry today is not “technology;” it is the customer. Smart foodservice companies work at the speed of their guests, not at the speed of their processes. That means you need to go faster and clearly understand what customers expect from their restaurant experience today — and tomorrow, too. Strategy changes with scale. Understand how customers leverage their own technology, and define new ways to add more quality and value to their time, experience and emotional connection to your brand. Answer customers’ questions before they ask.

3. Keep it simple, stupid. When it comes to the customer’s challenges, if you’re not the simplest solution, you’re the target of one.

4. Measure transformation, not transaction. Most digital customer feedback systems today generate and return transactional data in silos, which measures mechanics, but fails to integrate customer’s emotional connection and sensory experience. Worse, we also measure employee satisfaction in transactional ways instead of transformational ways. This means we have little true understanding of why our employees are our employees. So how do you realistically improve loyalty and tenure when you’re unaware of what transforms a newbie to a veteran? Use technology solutions to better understand why the best people stay with you. I would consider this the most important measurement of all going forward. Measure what matters.

5. Become a developmentally dedicated company. Customers do business with people, not logos. You can’t get the customer experience right until you get the employee experience right. Training is your most effective marketing tool, and technology’s new sweet spot. The four priority tech challenges relative to leadership development are: 1. Correct current pain points; 2. Close out tasks; 3. Minimize data onslaught; and 4. Pursue and replicate the bright spots.

Your restaurant’s OS is the new brand DNA in 2017. Everything now being done in the foodservice industry is going to be done differently in the next three years — and it’s going to be done better. And if you don't do it, your competitors will. Change or be changed by change.

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership conferences worldwide. You can learn more at, or follow him on LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter @Sullivision. The fourth edition of his bestselling book Fundamentals has just been published. 

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