Why (and How) to Apply Business Intelligence and Data Analytics to Restaurant Technology

Business intelligence and data analytics solutions are transforming the restaurant industry. Now more than ever, new systems are empowering owners and managers to optimize service, boost guest engagement, enhance menu performance, slash waste, and much more.

Yet very few restaurants are applying business intelligence and data analytics to the “technology stack” deployed at each location. At a time when most food and beverage leaders wouldn’t consider launching a new concept without a deep dive into the data, most lack even basic information about technology maintenance that could drive cost-saving, satisfaction-enhancing change. As the industry gets on the road to recovery, this will be more important than ever. 

Maintenance is Often Overlooked

If there is a common industry attitude toward technology, it is this: The majority of companies will give acquisition and deployment choices close scrutiny. But they will devote little strategic thought to longer term maintenance and support.

The return on that well-considered investment in interactive menus, guest Wi-Fi, or networking equipment deployed to improve food delivery, however, depends heavily on how the technologies perform day to day. When the kitchen relies on its electronic ordering system and customers expect a seamless experience with a tabletop POS system, any outage can lead to chaos, disappointment, and lost business.

The shift to cloud-based applications has not changed the equation. Restaurants’ technology infrastructure has become more complex and the network even more vital to the customer experience. Downtime is no recipe for success.

Support Models Don’t Capture the Details

Sadly, the technology support models most restaurants employ aren’t conducive to capturing data about systems and failures. Most companies rely on one of two approaches:

Location-Centric Support

In many cases, local staff are left to their own devices, armed only with a manual of basic troubleshooting instructions and vendor contact information. Not only does having managers and wait staff handle the triage process detract from customer service, the problems and their resolutions are not tracked or analyzed.

Centralized IT with OEM Backup

Some large restaurant companies employ a centralized IT department to provide more tailored assistance to the locations. Even so, the vast majority still use the various original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for advanced troubleshooting and break/fix. OEMs are rarely transparent about their support, so restaurant operators remain in the dark about what happened with their technology systems and, most importantly, why.

A simple example, a large -restaurant group could consistently experience the exact same failure in their POS system whenever one reaches three years in service but never make that connection. As a result, the technology decision-makers cannot wisely choose to proactively upgrade or maintain the system at the end of the second year to boost reliability and customer satisfaction.   

With Data Comes Decision-Making Power

When capturing more information about technology performance and maintenance activity, many new things become possible. Such details fed into a powerful business intelligence solution can help identify patterns and outliers and then shape an appropriate response.

For instance, it frequently happens that perfectly good hardware is sent in for unnecessary, often costly repair or replacement. Identifying these cases and monitoring the root cause—what employees or field technicians thought was wrong, versus what the repair facility ultimately found—can lead to targeted improvements. Many of these will be inexpensive and seem obvious after the fact.

As an example, one might determine that the most common reason for the guest Wi-Fi to go down is a failed router —not loose cord.  Without applying business intelligence and data analytics to this situation the restaurant will continue to incur downtime and spend significant dollars replacing routers when all that was really needed was a low-cost preventive maintenance program to address network cabling issues.  Or the company might find that a rarely accessed function in the POS challenges most managers, leading them to assume it’s broken when actually implementing some additional training could easily reduce the incidence of these POS service calls.

Achieving Data-Driven Maintenance

What restaurants need is an “eye in the sky” over all support activity. The IT department can serve this function, if they collaborate with all of their vendors to collect detailed maintenance- and repair-related information and load it into a business intelligence solution. An alternative is to use a single, analytics-focused maintenance partner with multivendor support capabilities.

By whatever means the organization arrives at full IT maintenance transparency, there are many advantages. Leaders will be able to:

  • Identify the root causes of failure and analyze them in myriad ways to explore potential solutions.
  • Target and deploy preventative maintenance to help avoid downtime before it happens.
  • Upgrade hardware at the best juncture, when full value has been extracted and repair costs and failures are likely to increase going forward.
  • Reduce unnecessary maintenance costs by figuring out why functioning equipment is flagged for repair.
  • Accelerate time-to-resolution to decrease business impacts of any outage.
  • Get the most out of existing IT systems because they and the network are online and available, 24/7/365.
  • Improve the customer experience as envisioned when technology solutions were originally purchased.

Restaurateurs who succeed in using business intelligence and data analytics on their technology will reap greater reward from those investments and eke out extra margin in ways pen-and-paper management simply cannot.

Food and beverage managers know how tiny changes in ingredients, portioning, staffing, and so on can transform an unprofitable restaurant into a profitable one. Business intelligence and data analytics for technology operations can turn up fertile new ground for such optimization initiatives. Applied wisely, these solutions drive cost-savings, customer experience improvements, and margin expansion and ultimately deliver the network reliability and systems uptime that are increasingly vital for growth.