Cloud Technology and Restaurants – Possibilities and Limitations
By Alex Barrotti, TouchBistro Founder & CEO
Running a restaurant is no small feat. Long hours, hard work, and an excellent grasp of day-to-day operating details are essential for business success. Staffing, menus, inventory, pricing, customer preferences, table turns, promotion effectiveness, and bottom line profits – a restaurant owner requires insights into all of these areas to effectively manage the business.
A modern point-of-sale (POS) solution for restaurants should enable much more than just processing orders for the kitchen, calculating bills, and recording payments. Ideally, the restaurant operator should be able to use the POS as the hub of efficient and profitable restaurant operations. This should include real-time access to the information collected by the POS in an easy-to-use and understand format that helps in making better business decisions.
Since restaurant owners today often manage and make key business decisions remotely rather than from the office in the restaurant, critical information about the business and its operations should also be accessible in their homes or while on the go. Today, this is possible through web-based cloud portals that can be accessed anytime, anywhere from an internet connected device, whether a mobile phone, tablet, or computer.
The Cloud – The Wonders and the Not So Wonderful
While cloud-based solutions provide restaurant owners with management flexibility not previously available, there are inherent problems for restaurants with a POS system that is strictly cloud-based. In this particular type of POS system, the application, all data files, and all processing are located on a remote server in the cloud and are not directly under the restaurant’s control.
What happens when the internet goes down? How are orders taken? How are payments accepted? It is not unusual for restaurants that use cloud-based POS systems to lose thousands of dollars when there is an internet outage, even a temporary one.
A hybrid POS that is cloud-connected but not cloud-dependent prevents this risk. If the internet goes down, the restaurant can still transact business. The safest solution for a restaurant is a POS with an in-house server that keeps all the data and synchronizes the data with the cloud again when the internet comes back up.
The other main problem with cloud-based POS systems is that they struggle to keep up with the pace of a busy restaurant.
One example of this is Calzolaio Pasta Company. When the restaurant’s older POS solution was going to cost thousands more to upgrade – despite the fact that upgrade wouldn’t even offer tableside tablet ordering capabilities – co-owner Tom Marchellino decided to research POS alternatives. He avoided those that were only cloud-based.
“Solutions that are only cloud-based are typically laggy and don’t keep up in real time – every time you make a change it has to go to the cloud and back. These systems are not user friendly in a fast-paced environment. It doesn’t work with eight waiters using five machines. We have fiber optic tech here, so our data speeds are very fast. Even at that, strictly cloud-based systems were laggy,” says Marchellino.
After extensive research, Marchellino chose the TouchBistro iPad POS designed specific for restaurants as it was built as a hybrid to take advantage of the cloud while preventing the risks.
“Aside from being very user friendly for both back and front of house, TouchBistro is also a fully integrated (in-house server-based) and cloud based system. All the operations of the system are in-house, but the reporting and credit card processing are in the cloud,” Marchellino says. “This provides the best of both worlds. You have very quick turnaround when processing credit cards, and very quick processing between servers and in-house.”
The Right Information the Right Way Drives Business Success
A POS with a web-based cloud portal can provide a restaurant owner with access to key management metrics whenever and wherever needed. But just because the information is in the cloud, doesn’t mean it is usable. Generic business reports can be too wieldy to understand or analyze, containing or comparing data less essential to a restaurant operation.
So it is just as important that the information provided by the POS is in reports that are designed for the specific work flows and operating nuances of a restaurant, such as:
- Increasing profitability with metrics at a glance
Forget massive, complex, and tedious spreadsheets with complicated pivot tables; a gross margin report needs to clearly communicate key restaurant metrics simply, at a glance. For example, it should enable the restaurant to compare weekly and historical order counts, sales, discounts, voids, menu item and labor costs, net sales, and ultimately the restaurant’s total margins.
- Hourly sales heat maps for more effective promotions
One problem that many restaurateurs face is knowing the right time to use promotions to drive traffic. Most follow the obvious blueprint: Tuesday night is dead and Friday night is prime time. Gaps in between those common periods are often ignored. That is where a heat map comes in. Using a heat map, owners can see the times of day that aren’t performing as well, giving ample insight to strategically plan promotions that maximize revenue for those periods.
- Lowering labor costs by simplifying staff scheduling and overtime tracking
With rising wages and complex compensation structures, managing staff can consume many hours each month and become quite a challenge, particularly when it comes to overtime. Easy-to-use staff scheduling and overtime tracking functionality that allows owners to configure overtime rules is essential. This helps restaurateurs account for each staff member’s overtime hours and total wages so staffing can be adjusted as needed to lower overall labor costs.
Keeping up with the most advanced technologies for restaurant success
It is difficult for restaurants, or any business for that matter, to always keep up with the latest advances in technology. In fact, if a business is always waiting for the latest, they will be dealing with the challenges of old technology for a very long time.
The best option for any business is to choose solutions from companies that are committed to investing in technology development and innovation that helps their customers. These companies will have a proven track record of upgrading their systems to include enhanced or more advanced functionality and technologies, and providing these upgrades routinely to users without continually charging expensive upgrade fees.
At TouchBistro, technology and feature enhancements are provided every six to eight weeks, based on insights from more than 7,000 restaurants around the world. TouchBistro Cloud, with Reports-to-Go mobile reporting app for iOS and Android smartphones, is one the most recent enhancements we have deployed. Topping the iPad restaurant app list in 37 countries on the Apple App Store, TouchBistro can be downloaded for a free 30-day trial at www.touchbistro.com.
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