Last year's slow economy didn't stop technology companies from innovating. And now that the downward trend in dining is slowing — at least according to the National Restaurant Association's 2010 Industry Forecast — it is time for restaurant operators to prepare for growth by reinvesting in their technological infrastructure. For while inexpensive social media solutions have recently hogged the spotlight, there is more to cutting-edge operations than Facebook and mobile ordering. See how our lineup of the latest, greatest solutions can help your business in each of five hotbed categories: energy efficiency, automated marketing, online/mobile ordering, menu labeling and management solutions.
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LonWorks allows the latter group to monitor networked kitchen equipment for greater efficiency and insight into energy expenditures.
By allowing central control of key building systems like lighting, room temperature and kitchen equipment through a single network, operators get vital insights that can save thousands of dollars per year in energy costs. Machines can be monitored for optimal performance, equipment can be relocated for most advantageous workflow and output, and heat and air is monitored for optimal efficiency. LonWorks marketing director Steve Ngyuen said users have reported up to 24 percent energy savings in indoor lighting alone through the technology.
But utilities aren't the only space where operators could stand to save money. Supplies expenditures are also difficult to regulate. And when you have hundreds of food items to buy weekly, it's hard to find time for comparative shopping. Bottom Line Restaurant Solutions' software as a service package claims to do just this for its clients, by comparing food vendors' bids with clients' requested items. "They just log on and order," said Tony Migyanka, sales manager. "We have a guarantee with our software. If our new clients don't save in food costs at least double the cost of our service — $1,000 a month, while our SaaS is $495 a month — I'll give them their money back."
Automated ad building
Social media's preeminence has given way to another trend: An upswing in in-house ad creation. It can be cheaper, quicker and better at conveying an air of authenticity.
Several solutions have sprung up in support. Groupon allows a restaurateur to expose itself to the pertinent geographical parcel of its 2 million-strong subscriber list, with no upfront cost for the restaurateur. A coupon deal is promoted to a number of people, and if the base target number opts in, the deal is set.
For restaurants that want more holistic control over their four-walls marketing initiatives, there's Tukaiz. This program makes it possible for a host of beyond-the-basics marketing materials to live on a company's online management site, including direct mail pieces, POP/POS displays, and more, while giving the people closest to the customer (regional franchisees, for example) the ability to tweak the materials to make more sense for regional audiences. The software can be developed and customized on demand to meet the customer's marketing and budget needs, according to Dan Defino, vice president of Tukaiz.
Many restaurant concepts have turned to online ordering as a way to boost sales and points of entry, but not all are ready to develop an entirely new interface to accept it. Enter MyMenuOrder, a program that automates online order reception. According to the company, setup can be as easy as providing the company a menu; customer orders will then be routed to fax machine, e-mail or computer.
LunchBox offers a similar service, with an interface that can be private labeled for each restaurant. Native apps for smart phones will be released in February that will also showcase reviews and ratings for restaurants.
Though mobile ordering has precluded text ordering from gaining steam, Recess Mobile has found a way to utilize the medium in other ways — namely, informing a customer when his dinner wait is over so that he's free to shop nearby in the interim.
For those in markets not already required to post calories on their menu boards, there's a way to label without retrofitting your displays. Nutricate Receipts allows restaurants to print customizable nutrition information, promos and health-related or other factoids, all on existing cashier receipts. An independent study showed that almost half of people who received the receipt were more likely to visit the establishment that provided it, according to company spokesperson Lacey Manning.
As more people become active on social media applications and mobile phones, restaurant managers would be wise to connect with their workforce on those platforms.
Enter ShiftAlertz, the leader in "mobile shift notification." Managers can notify their employees of their scheduled shifts, send them reminders before every shift and and keep track of time-off requests via text, e-mail or Facebook.
Need a more holistic and automated management system? ReTel's technology solution makes a restaurant's surveillance video more data-rich. The company uses both video analytics and trained human auditors to deliver over 100 daily audits with information on everything from the most productive floor members to tables that go too-long unbussed.