Restaurant technology is no longer a nice-to-have: it’s an absolute necessity for building a modern, resilient restaurant that can become and stay competitive.
The first technologies that restaurants often invest in are cloud-based point of sale (POS) systems and payroll processing. A wide-ranging industry report from Toast included a section on restaurant technology trends, noting that 82% of restaurants were using a POS, followed by 56% using payroll software. After that, the most popular back-office technologies were accounting software (55%), mobile payments (52%), and third-party food delivery services (51%).
The restaurant tech industry is growing, with software and services designed to streamline almost every aspect of your business. Delivery, scheduling, inventory management, reservations, and guest management have seen technological advancements over the past few years, and it's just the beginning.
1. Restaurant employee scheduling software
Other than having a good product, your staff and how you manage them is the ultimate marker of restaurant success.
Happy, engaged, well-trained employees can make or break your business (and so can having the right amount of those employees on the clock at the right times).
And it starts with effective scheduling, which is why you need to ditch pen and paper (or spreadsheets) and embrace modern restaurant employee scheduling software.
Not only are pen-and-paper or spreadsheet schedules costly when it comes to your time—they’re useless when it comes to data.
Restaurant scheduling software allows you to easily make schedules and track your employees' time and attendance for easier payroll. Scheduling software like 7shifts can also pull data from your POS system to track labor against sales and get a more accurate picture of your labor cost—saving your restaurant money and time.
7shifts Restaurant Scheduling Software
Features and benefits of employee scheduling software
The right employee scheduling software can transform the way restaurants approach scheduling, eliminating many of the frustrations and errors common in restaurant scheduling.
- Simplified scheduling: With software, it’s easier to track and see employees’ availability, conflicts, and anticipated staffing variances all in a single place. You’ll end up with fewer scheduling mistakes and less time overall spent on the process.
- Increased employee engagement and productivity: Less time spent haggling, arguing, and pleading about shifts that they can’t cover is more time spent focused on productive and customer-facing work. Digital systems also give employees more autonomy and better tools for communicating their availability, which tends to increase engagement.
- Better team communication: Say goodbye to endless text threads, email chains, and whatever other inefficient methods your team uses to negotiate schedules. With dedicated (mobile-friendly) software, all communication gets centralized.
- Optimized labor costs: Better insight into when you need people to work (based on historical data) and fewer no-call no-shows means better resource utilization and optimized labor costs.
2. Online and mobile ordering systems
Spurred on by the pandemic, online and mobile ordering have grown faster than even the most tech-positive forecasters would’ve predicted five years ago.
Some quick-service chains, including Chick-fil-A, have crossed a tipping point, with more than half their sales coming via digital orders in 2023. Other QSR brands, including Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, are all experimenting with digital-first or digital-only restaurants as well.
Customers demand online and mobile ordering, and modern restaurant tech makes it accessible for every restaurateur. In the past, you may have had to build your own systems from scratch (giving big chains the advantage). Now, there are several turnkey solutions for restaurants to offer mobile ordering and delivery, with both first- and third-party options.
Examples of online ordering systems
- Bbot: In-restaurant digital ordering can also be used remotely/online. Supports multiple menus (ghost kitchens and virtual brands) and group ordering. Owned by Doordash.
- Square: Online ordering for pickup, curbside, local delivery, or self-serve ordering; ideal for restaurants already using Square.
- Lunchbox: Open, scalable online ordering solution supporting B2B catering, multi-channel ordering, and more.
- ChowNow: Online ordering, marketing, and operations with a commission-free marketplace and a smart dispatching system.
- BentoBox: Mainly a restaurant website provider; offers online ordering built into your site and consistent with your branding.
- Ritual: Clean, simple online ordering with a loyalty program option and POS integration. Ideal for venues with simpler or more limited offerings.
3. Point of sale (POS) terminals
The point of sale (POS) terminal is the brain of your restaurant. It reduces ordering errors, increases front-of-house and back-of-house efficiency, and helps you control inventory. Modern cloud-based POS systems can handle everything, including payment processing, using tablets, iPads, or handheld devices that connect directly to the cloud, eliminating the need for a server or central location for consolidating tickets.
The modern POS is impressive on its own, but it shines when integrated with other restaurant technology. Push sales data into your scheduling software to make sure you're scheduling the right amount of staff. Use order information with inventory management software for smarter purchasing. And take time clocking data from your POS and send it right to your payroll provider for easier processing. All of this (and more!) is possible with a great POS.
Examples of restaurant POS systems
- Toast: Handheld and tablet/kiosk-based POS built for restaurants of all types. Includes branded hardware, offline mode, and payroll capabilities.
- Square: Widely used in small retail, Square offers a restaurant-specific POS as well. Suitable for a single location, multi-location, online ordering and delivery, and more.
- TouchBistro: Comprehensive POS and restaurant management system supporting FOH, BOH, and guest engagement.
4. Restaurant task management
The best way to keep your restaurant running smoothly is by making checklists for all of those “little” things. From cleaning flat tops to refilling sanitizers, these tasks might sound small, but make all the difference and can't get lost in the shuffle.
Paper checklists work for one-offs, but you have to print them (or hand-write them) every day. The laminate and dry-erase methods can get messy.
That's where task management software comes in. It's a great way to streamline your tasks, with separate checklists for roles and shifts. It allows you to track performance over time and maintains historical data of tasks completed.
7tasks: Task Management Software for Restaurants
5. Restaurant inventory management software
Restaurant inventory management software is a tool that helps digitally track and manage your kitchen inventory. Think about it: no more stacks and folders full of invoices, no clipboards and checkmarks, no guessing when it comes to food costs.
That's where a cloud-based inventory management system is so valuable. There's a wide range of options available that take the entire process online. Restaurant inventory management software digitizes your invoices and purchases, allowing you to easily compare costs and make more informed purchasing decisions. Many services also allow you to add recipes and calculate actual food costs.
Examples of restaurant inventory management software
XtraChef by Toast: Automated financial and operational management tools for restaurants that deliver price fluctuation alerts, gross margin variances, and other operational tools. Owned by Toast.
MarketMan: Inventory management, invoicing, purchasing, recipe costing, and cost of goods sold (COGS) all in one location.
Partender: Bar-focused inventory management solution; also includes online ordering and accounting.
6. Restaurant audience management
Restaurant audience management software is a tool that helps track guest preferences and contact information. In his book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, restaurateur Danny Meyer outlines his low-tech process of keeping up with his customers' preferences and things about them to remember and personalize their experiences. It involved hand-written ledgers, note cards, and rolodexes.
But that was the 90s.
Today, it’s easy to upgrade to a modern digital equivalent—one that lets you track feedback over time and respond to feedback even faster. Many restaurant management systems and digital POS systems include some kind of similar functionality, and there are standalone services that handle this as well.
Advantages of a restaurant audience management tool
Today,there's no need for physical cards or even paper receipts most of the time. With better digital tools, you’ll have a much easier time obtaining and processing guest feedback, giving you back more time you can spend using data to improve your guest experience.
- Customer relationship management: Keep track of your repeat customers and their orders, dietary preferences, favorite drinks, and more, in one centralized place. For example, if one guest is a big fan of martinis, having the data to let anyone on staff know can make for a special experience.
- Data aggregation: Aggregate data from numerous sources, including Yelp!, Google Local, TripAdvisor, and delivery, then use this data to build a complete picture of your guests' feedback all in one place, allowing you more time to address their concerns or double down on what makes them happy.
- Improved delivery: Feedback methods such as QR-code-based feedback on takeout bags or following up by email or text message can go a long way in making sure your customers' voices are heard, giving you the insights you need to keep improving.
- Single source of truth: Your restaurant audience management tool provides a single source of truth so you no longer rely on “institutional knowledge” or try to hammer guest preferences into your front-of-house staff’s heads.
Examples of restaurant audience management software
- Ovation: Restaurant-oriented guest feedback platform that uses two-question surveys over SMS.
- SevenRooms: A guest experience and retention platform built for the broader hospitality industry.
Contactless cards, drop-off delivery, app-based payments, and QR codes aren’t new, but they certainly enjoyed a boom in popularity during the pandemic. Their popularity continued, as it seems customers would rather not go back to the “old way” of doing things.
That’s because contactless payment isn’t just safe; it’s convenient. Sometimes, consumers want that personal touch—and sometimes, they don’t. Combined with other technologies like mobile ordering, contactless payment allows customers to choose when they want to interact.
Contactless can also add convenience and time savings: placing a QR code on the bill is a way to allow customers to pay digitally without waiting for the credit card exchange and the second slip. This speeds up the customer experience, saves your servers time, and likely frees up tables a little bit faster, allowing you to seat more customers.
Examples of contactless payment technology
Social media for restaurants is crucial for reaching and serving certain demographics and increasing overall exposure.
But doing it right takes time, and social media management can easily get lost in the shuffle. You’re hiring staff to deliver a great dining experience, which isn’t exactly an overlapping skill set with creating eye-catching Instagram reels.
Social media management platforms don’t do the work for you, but they do reduce the amount of manual work needed to succeed on social. These services connect with all your accounts—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok—and allow you to pre-schedule posts days, weeks, or even months in advance. Many also allow you to view and respond to comments from the comfort of your desk.
You wouldn't prep new ingredients every time a new order comes in, so why treat social media the same way? With a social media management system, you can plan out a week's worth of posts across platforms in just a few minutes. Many platforms also track your metrics—likes, comments, views, and more—so you can see what content your followers like the most and double down on it.
Examples of social media management software for restaurants
- Buffer: Intuitive marketing tools tell you when and what to publish, suggest relevant hashtags, and post to multiple platforms.
- Later: Tool for automating daily social media tasks. Includes scheduling and publishing, link in bio, and analytics.
- CrowdTangle: Tool from Meta (Facebook’s parent) to help businesses understand social media trends and activity.
9. Kitchen display systems
Gone are the days of the ticket rack. Kitchen display systems turn that old paper into a digital screen, a hub for your back of house where all orders come through for the kitchen staff to see.
Most KDS have features like course management, with custom rules for course timing, so kitchens can stay consistent. They may also help display recipes and cook times, reducing the mental load for the kitchen staff.
Kitchen display systems take your line into the 21st century, with plenty of features to make your kitchen run optimally. That means better workflows that ease the burden on kitchen staff, lessening burnout. It also eliminates multiple points of human error from the equation. And all of this behind-the-scenes work translates into a better guest experience!
Examples of kitchen display systems
- Toast: Paired with the company’s POS, this accompanying KDS integrates your BOH and FOH seamlessly.
- Square for Restaurants: Similar to Toast, if you’re already using Square for Restaurants for POS, their KDS is the obvious choice.
- Lightspeed: A mobile-friendly KDS that works seamlessly with LIghtspeed’s broader set of tools.
Top tips for making technology work for your restaurant
There is an ever-expanding list of options for technology in your restaurant. With some requiring lengthy onboarding or high annual fees—not to mention the time to learn the software—how do you know if a platform is right for your business?
Our smartphones are more powerful than ever before, and they account for well over half of all internet traffic. Not to mention, your restaurant is fast-paced: staff members often just don’t have time to move to the back office, log onto an ancient (slow) PC, and pull up a bulky piece of software.
The best restaurant management tools and software are mobile-friendly, responsive, and load quickly. Prioritize these tools so your staff can spend more time serving guests and less time waiting on tech.
A perfectly in-sync back and front of the house is a restaurant owner's dream. That dream should also extend to your technology partners. We’re talking about integrations: the tech that makes your software tools talk to each other.
Disconnected tools might look great on the surface, but may take just as long as doing things the old-fashioned way. Instead, make sure all of your software can communicate and push and pull data. This kind of well-connected tech stack is essential to ensuring you reap restaurant technology's benefits.
- A scheduling tool that integrates with your POS system for real-time labor cost tracking.
- An inventory management system that pulls sales data and makes automatic purchasing decisions.
- An audience management tool that gives a regular their preferred table whenever they make a reservation.
Get staff buy-in
No matter how revolutionary or powerful you may believe new software or systems to be, it won’t succeed if your team isn’t on board. You need buy-in.
But even buy-in isn’t enough: your team needs to be excited about using a tool, but they also need to know how to use it.
When shopping for new or upgraded tech partners, keep your team informed. Meet with leadership or management to get their take. Opt for trial periods over long-term contracts. Restaurant technology is only as powerful as your team makes it.
Then, once you settle on the right solutions for your business, take the time to train your team thoroughly (or create scalable training materials that teams can use throughout your network of restaurants).
More restaurant technology resources to evolve your restaurant
There’s a wealth of opportunity for restaurants to adopt technology. In the past, you could get by without it. But now, it's become a necessity to stay competitive in the restaurant industry.
Look beyond POS and payroll for some innovative ways technology companies are helping restaurants evolve—you may be surprised at what is out there.
Keep learning about restaurant tech, including reviews of specific tools that can help you grow, using the resources below:
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