The amount of new technologies promising a more efficient restaurant operation is staggering. There are systems available for inventory and ordering, employee scheduling and management, food prep and production, food safety and more.
A panel of restaurant executives provided an overview of some of the most effective tools during the recent National Restaurant Association Show.
"It's hard not to be overwhelmed with all of the new technology available. We approach running restaurants — and a path toward profitability — with a manufacturing mentality," said Chris Rodrigue, CEO of Taste Buds Management, which provides consulting services to full-service, mid-scale and multiunit QSRs.
To fit such a menality, Taste Buds uses four technologies:
Compeat Restaurant Management Systems, which Rodrigue calls "the foundation." This system and others like it measures prep-to-shelf life and also provides analysis on where operators burn labor costs.
"We have about 60 menu items and over 200 raw ingredients on the menu. The ability to have a software component that tells you you're going to sell X amount of this item on Mondays (for example) typically is what drives profitability," he said.
Squirrel Systems' point of sale, which provides specific data about rush times and menu sales.
HotSchedules. Rodrigue said there are a lot of great scheduling products available for the hourly workforce. "To me, labor is having a good preplanning process," he said. "Our workload, for example, is about 35 percent lower on Mondays and the schedule should reflect that."
QSR Automations' Kitchen Display. The back-of-the-house kitchen system provides data on kitchen performance. Since its implementation, Taste Buds Management has experienced a 10-percent improvement in sales, and has reduced food wait times by nearly half.
Food cost focus
Although all of these platforms contribute efficiencies, Matt Klyman, consultant with Au Bon Pain, said the ability to manage food costs could be the most important.
"To know when and how much food you're using based on known sales is a powerful tool. We had 25 percent of unknown food use — whether it was spoiled, waste or stolen. Our goal is to get that number down to 5 percent, which will save us 150 to 300 basis points in food costs," he said.
The system his company uses has been live since July 2012. Since its deployment, unknown food use is down to 12 percent.
Technology doesn't solve everything
Still, although cost efficiencies and ROI is evident from many of these restaurant-specific technologies, both Klyman and Rodrigue warn it will not solve all of your problems.
"Technology products give you data to make good decisions, but it will not replace the human brain," Rodrigue said. "If you have more servers than customers, you're going to have a labor cost problem. Technology won't tell you that. Technology also can't predict that bus of 60 people that just pulled up. You have to develop a culture where you trust people to know how to use the technology but still know what's going on around them."
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Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.