Must-Ask Questions When Considering New Restaurant Technology

Questions you should ask restaurant technology vendors, even if you’re not technical

There’s a myriad of new technology solutions, from restaurant iPad menus to reservation systems, point-of-sale solutions and pretty much anything else attempting to improve front or back-of-house restaurant operations. And many of these new technologies can greatly increase your sales, improve the customer experience or make your operations more efficient. But evaluating technology solutions for your restaurant can be downright intimidating, especially if you’re not a tech guru or IT professional. And yet there’s certainly important considerations you need to be aware of with any new restaurant tech product you’re evaluating, whether software or hardware, cloud-based or on-site. So here’s a brief guide to help you out with important questions to ask so you’ll be prepared.

Is it user-friendly for all users?
I’ll start with one of the most important questions you need to understand and ask yourself. How user-friendly is the product? That includes anyone who will use it… your staff, managers, customers. And keep in mind the wide range of tech savvyness. The product must be easy to use for your staff/customers who are 25 and 85, so just because you think it’s intuitive doesn’t mean everyone else will. If it’s not easy to use, your users will be upset and/or just not use it.

Does it require a network connection and what happens if it goes down?
How does it connect and where does it connect to? Is it hosted in the cloud for you?  If so, what happens if your internet goes down? What happens if the provider’s servers go down? Any solution you go with should not bring your business to a grinding halt if something happens like your WiFi goes down. Many, but not all, cloud-based solution store data locally so that you can continue operating even if you do lose your internet or network.

What security mechanisms are in place to protect my data and your system?
You may not understand everything they say, but this is a very important question to ask regardless. Almost every week we hear of a big breach where systems are being hacked or customer data is being released. Make sure your solution provider takes this seriously. Here are some sample questions:

  • What personally identifiable and sensitive information do you store?
    They should be able to tell you what is and isn’t stored.
  • What type of encryption do you use to protect personally identifiable and sensitive information? Any sensitive data should be encrypted, this includes things like passwords and credit card numbers. Passwords at a minimum should be salted and hashed, which makes them difficult to crack. Other data should be encrypted as well so that even if someone were to steal data from the database, the information would need be readable or useful·
  • Is SSL authentication used for communications within your software?
    You might recognize SSL as the padlock that appears in your web browser when you are on a secure website. This ensures data is encrypted when sent over the internet instead of sent in plain text. If SSL isn’t used, someone on your network could potentially view all the data being transmitted.

Is my data backed up and can it be restored if something happens?
Bad things happen unfortunately and you (and the provider) need to be prepared so your data is protected from loss. If you accidentally delete something, can the provider restore it for you? How quickly and what is the potential data loss? How frequently is data backed up and where is it backed up to? You want to make sure that all your data is backed up frequently (ideally daily), it is backed up in multiple separate locations, and can be restored in the case of a data loss incident, either accidental or nefarious.

Where are your servers and where is my data located?
You’d be surprised how many startup tech companies are using $10 hosted websites to store and run customer software. Ask about the infrastructure used for the provider’s solution. Where are the server(s) located? Who is the server provider? What happens if there is any downtime? What type of security is setup for access to the servers? Most reputable tech companies (aside from the giant POS corporations like Oracle) rely on cloud-hosted server providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Computing, or Digital Ocean, to name the more popular and reputable ones. Basically companies rent server/computing resources to operate their software, all of which is acceptable if done correctly.

Who’s responsible for managing hardware?
If your solution involves any type of hardware – tablets, registers, printers, or anything else… who is responsible for managing them? Who is responsible for updating the software when there is a new version? Who tracks the tablets and locks them for security? Who is responsible for damage or anything that happens to them? You have a restaurant to run, so the more the provider can handle from managing the hardware for you, the easier your life will be.

How frequently is the software/hardware updated?
Technology changes at a blazing pace. Security holes are found, bugs are fixed, new features are developed and performance improves. You’ll want to know if the solution you are buying is updated frequently and when it is updated, is it provided to you for free? Or do they expect you to constantly pay more money to upgrade? Over the last 10 years software has shifted to a software-as-a-service model… that means you no longer have to invest in expensive software licenses and upfront costs and gives you flexibility to use the latest and best technology that meets your needs. Avoid providers that lock you in for long periods of time, especially if they aren’t providing you with free updates frequently. I’d be extremely wary of any contract that is longer than 3 years.

What’s on the product roadmap that I can expect to see in the near future?
You’ve seen the product as it is now, but what is the provider focused on in the future? Are they developing functionality that will benefit you? Does it seem like they care about listening to their customers’ feedback and improving their product? Any tech provider should be able to give you a little insight into the future product.

Wrapping up
Many of the questions above may have been over your head, but don’t worry. Just diving a little deeper with the restaurant technology vendor will help your gut feeling as to whether they take their product and your business seriously, or they’re a fly by night company. Even if you’re a small independent operator, you’re not too small to ask the above questions – the last thing you want is your business to be impacted by technology going astray. Hopefully this helps you feel a little more comfortable in talking tech, even if you’re a non-tech person. Interested in digital beverage menus for your restaurant, check out my related post How to Choose an iPad Wine Menu Solution for Your Restaurant.

Josh Saunders