Creating a smart, manageable plan to investigate and integrate business-boosting technology into the pizzeria
Tony DiSilvestro admits he’s a bit of a tech junkie.
From digital menu boards touting restaurant specials to comprehensive software for his draft beer system, DiSilvestro’s six Ynot Italian units in and around Virginia Beach, Virginia, feature technology designed to engage customers, streamline operations and boost both top-line sales, as well as bottom-line performance.
“If you want to control costs and be more profitable, then you need to use technology,” says DiSilvestro, who founded Ynot in 1993 with his wife, Cyndi.
DiSilvestro, for example, “lives and dies by [his] POS,” regularly pouring over data like labor numbers, server satisfaction scores and food costs to inform everything from staff training to menu decisions. He also leverages his POS to run inventory reports and distribute e-mail blasts.
“My business today is so much more successful because I put the technology to use,” DiSilvestro says.
Among his pizza-peddling peers, however, DiSilvestro acknowledges he might be an oddball. For many, including some operators who openly acknowledge technology’s promise, the POS functions as a glorified cash register and tech solutions with the potential to enhance everything from payroll and catering to theft prevention and mobile payment sit on the sidelines.
“A lot of guys are simply comfortable with how things are,” DiSilvestro says.
While fear and ignorance prompt many restaurant operators to shun technology, so, too, does the overwhelming and downright dizzying number of tech solutions. Consider online ordering and the various established players championing their solutions, loyalty and gift solutions or tablet POS platforms.
That’s a lot for operators to navigate.
“Technology is evolving at such a rapid rate that some restaurants simply throw up their hands and resist adding anything,” says Fred LeFranc, founding partner of the restaurant advisement firm Results Thru Strategy.
While favoring the status quo might not have any negative implications in the short-term, Juan Martinez of Profitality, a Florida-based hospitality consultancy, says ignorance can be “quite dangerous” as the world evolves and technology pushes deeper and deeper into daily life.
“I’d encourage every restaurant operator to think about tomorrow,” Martinez says.
While wrapping one’s hands around technology can certainly be daunting, especially for those who with an aversion to tech speak or change, operators can slowly enter the tech world and capture its promise.
The ideal first step to leveraging technology: perform a self-diagnosis. Identify the most pressing pain point, whether that’s labor scheduling, food waste or employee training.
“You don’t have to eat the elephant whole,” LeFranc says. “Pick one function you want to improve and start with that.”
In selecting a pain point, Martinez urges operators to review their unit economics – What costs demand better controls? What’s affecting the restaurant and its performance? – as well as their guests’ journey and the operation’s workflow. When a customer phones in an order, for instance, how is that order processed and transitioned into the kitchen? Operators might also consider the processes or duties that create undue stress, whether that’s onboarding a new employee or scheduling labor.
In most cases, Martinez suggests starting with external technology – the solutions designed to attract customers rather than internal technology more focused on operations.
“Prioritize the top-line, which means how you can better reach customers and provide added convenience, because that’s likely the immediate battle that needs winning,” he says, adding that operators involved in the day-to-day management of their stores tend to already have some established, though perhaps archaic, systems in place to control costs.
With a problem identified, operators can then begin researching solutions.
For many, an online search of potential solutions to, say, “labor scheduling for restaurants” will yield plenty of prospective technologies that warrant further investigation. Operators can contact the companies directly and request demos to gather additional information on a product’s capabilities and costs.
Operators might also discover solutions at industry events such as International Pizza Expo and Pizza & Pasta Northeast, which feature an array of tech solutions addressing common industry challenges. Visiting a booth, operators can gain firsthand knowledge of the product and ask direct questions applicable to their business.
“The more you know, the better,” Martinez says.
Operators would also be wise to connect with fellow restaurant operators, including those beyond the pizza business. Operators can initiate conversations with those they already know or ask a tech provider for names of restaurant operators currently using a given solution.
“The key is to get someone who understands the type of business you’re in, the technology and how it can help your establishment,” LeFranc says.
While technology will not replace poor food or inattentive service, LeFranc notes that technology can most certainly bring expediency and efficiency to existing operations and provide operators a roadmap to improved profitability.
“With technology, you can figure out answers to problems much easier than if you were doing it all by yourself,” LeFranc says.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.