Here Sam Darwish, CEO of Skinny IT, a solutions company focused on integrated technology hardware and design systems from concept development to installation and deployment, to learn exactly why MAS and even design consultants should put IT top of mind.
FE&S: Why is having a solid IT infrastructure so important for foodservice operations these days?
SD: There requires a strong balance of both pragmatism on the current needs of the business and forethought in knowing what technology the business will need, assuming growth plans are realized. That said, having a reactive IT infrastructure (i.e., where one simply “makes it up based upon the needs of the moment”) often times creates chaos when a company looks to scale. It also becomes esoteric, thereby relying upon tribal knowledge to troubleshoot and/or add additional functionality, such as in the form of apps, upgrades and more.
FE&S: What is the first step in developing a solid IT infrastructure?
SD: Aligning with the business needs and growth aspirations; it can’t be the tail wagging the dog. If the business has zero plans on invoking technology to drive top-line and/or margin, then IT infrastructure merely needs to ensure the “lights stay on.” If there is even a thought of leveraging technology to drive guest awareness in the form of top-line and margin, which there always is, then it is critical to develop a good, better and best model, including pros and cons, from which the business can make an informed decision.
FE&S: What are the various things that need to be in place to support online ordering, digital menu boards and the like?
SD: From a business perspective, there needs to be an operations buy-in to oversee changes that will affect operations, such as change management on how the operation will prioritize dine-in versus walk-in versus take-away versus online orders. There needs to be clear projections on the benefits of each. One needs to think about how, empirically, this will drive guest traffic and efficiencies. From a technology perspective, a strong technology partner will be able to understand what the requirements are for the business and will be able to review customer systems today to see how they integrate with the proposed solution. Ensuring the solution is designed from a perspective that has value will further ensure return on investment.
FE&S: Who specifies technology platforms?
SD: It depends on the inherent trust between the business and IT provider. In those situations where trust is lacking, and/or IT is simply considered a service organization, the business will often place their trust in a third-party consultant. In those situations where trust exists and/or IT has a seat at the table, it will come from the chief information officer and/or the chief technology officer. Newer models are emerging, however, whereby a member of the business’ executive team with technology experience is given responsibility and decision-making abilities. In those situations, this executive has both operational and technology experience, thereby garnering more trust and credence to that person’s recommendations/decisions.
FE&S: What should operators look for in a technology platform?
SD: Assuming they are aligned with both the needs of the business, and in turn the needs of their consumers, they should look for reliability and accountability. Regardless if the operation is a single unit or a concept with thousands of units, most operators don’t want to think about technology. In the restaurant world, technology is akin to the utility company. When it’s working, no one calls them to say “good job.” When it’s down, it’s the end of the world. In that regard, operators of all types want reliability of service and when something goes awry, a single throat to choke to resolve it.
FE&S: How do you select an IT provider?
SD: All things being equal, consider references and cost. Personally, I will rarely work with a vendor that I’ve not worked with in the past or a colleague (that I trust), who had not also worked with the same vendor in the past. Once past that stage, it all comes down to cost. Again, all things being equal, a basis point is a basis point.
FE&S: What are some of the most top-of-mind things operators (and their consultants) should focus on in terms of emerging technologies?
SD: In terms of technology-specific things, they should be concerned with PCI compliance and credit card transaction security. This is becoming a bigger issue day after day. They should also focus on the ability of a technology to help drive topline sales, such as in the form of a mobile application. Some newer technology platforms can also help drive throughput in the form of optimizing the number of guests into and out of the restaurant or foodservice operation. Other things to add to the checklist when considering new technology is how it would:
- enable off-premise delivery, if desired;
- handle third-party delivery services such as Door Dash and Uber Eats;
- facilitate catering and loyalty programs;
- analyze profit margins to show potential areas of improvement;
- regulate labor in terms of regulating clock-in/clock-out times and accurately managing overtime situations;
- ensure mandatory breaks and lunches are taken by all employees;
- monitor food costs, inventory management, guest satisfaction and many other facets.
Some newer platforms can even help operators use online and technology-drive platforms to gauge employee satisfaction and proactively address growing concerns among customers. It’s all about doing your due diligence to find the best platform that works for you. If consultants are able to assist in this matter, all the better.