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10 Ways the Internet is Changing the Restaurant Industry

Some love it. And some hate it. I'm talking about the internet.

The internet has changed the restaurant industry forever.

As a restaurant manager, you’ve seen handwritten tickets move to electronic POS systems, employee schedules move to smartphones. credit card payments go from paper receipts to mobile apps, and online ordering evolve into a tool many restaurants can’t go without.

But there’s also been a lot more changes to the industry - all because of the web. Below you’ll find ten ways the internet has changed the restaurant industry. And honestly, I believe it’s for the better.

1. Mobile and responsive websites

There a lot of restaurant websites that still have auto-play music, PDF menus, and hard-to-navigate mobile websites. The web has come a long way in the past ten years. Now, you can have a responsive website that automatically scales to any screen your customers are on. That means your website is usable on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop - really, any screen. It’s amazing to see the restaurant website designs that have come out the past few years.

2. Online reservations

Making a restaurant reservation used to only happen during restaurant hours. But, it’s inconvenient for most of America to call during business hours and figure out if the restaurant you want to dine at has room for you on the time and date you’d like to dine. That’s the beauty of online reservations. Try OpenTable and SeatMe (which is way more than reservations).

3. Online ordering

Technology has taken take-out to a whole new level. Now, from the comfort of my couch, I can order a sandwich, chinese food, sushi, a hamburger with sweet potato fries, and chocolate chip cookies. Online ordering is amazing for several reasons: it saves your customers time (and it’s more convenient), it saves your employees time from being on the phone, and likely increases your average order size, which means more money in your pocket. If you’re looking to add online ordering to your business, check out Ord.in and ChowNow.

4. Point-of-sale alternatives

Your cash register and point-of-sale system used to be one of the biggest start-up costs for any restaurant. It cost thousands of dollars in setup, tech support, and training. Now, there’s systems like Breadcrumb POS and Square Register. You can get setup for just a couple hundred bucks and there aren’t any ridiculous credit card processing fees. Plus, you’re staff likely won’t have to read a thick training manual to figure out how to use it. Money well spent, if you ask me.

5. How to find a restaurant

When you’re on vacation in a city you’ve never been to, it’s hard to find a restaurant you’ll enjoy. You don’t know whether the Lebanese joint on the corner is worth it or whether the pizza place you walked into serves the best pie within 50 miles. Finding a restaurant isn’t just about asking a local on the street. There are apps for that now. Thanks to Yelp, TripAdvisor, and UrbanSpoon, searching for restaurants across the country has never been easier. And, there are even lifestyle-specific search apps like PeasLoveCarrots.com and FindMeGlutenFree.com.

6. Customer loyalty programs

Buy 10 coffees and get your next coffee FREE. Remember those punch cards? You’d use a hole punch to keep track of your loyal customers. The problem with those cards is people always lost them (usually they fell victim to the dreaded washing machine). Now, customer loyalty programs are powered by your customers smartphones - which hopefully, they don’t send through the wash. Looking for a loyalty program that works for your restaurant? Try Belly or Perka.

7. Employee scheduling

Are your employees still scheduled using a paper-based calendar? That can get quite confusing when your server calls out sick, your bar manager switches shifts, and your sous chef takes a long weekend off. That’s a lot of erasing and penciling people in. Thankfully, there are apps for that: ScheduleFly and 7Shifts come to mind to solve that problem.

8. Waiting in line and call-ahead seating

It’s my observation restaurants are taking less reservations (unless it’s fine-dining). In a fast-casual restaurant, it’s first-come first-serve, or there’s call ahead seating. Several companies have created apps to making waiting in line not only fun, but more informative. You never know how long the wait is going to be. And what if you want to explore the shops around the restaurant while you’re waiting for a table? Apps like NoWaitApp, NoshList, and BuzzTable solve this problem - and solve it well.

9. Business planning

Business plans are so 1999. Now, you can find tools online that help you write a business plan to get financing for your restaurant. There are tons of calculators, too - and all you have to do is plug and chug. No more number crunching on a calculator. Plus, with restaurant software, you know how much money you’re making down to the hour and if Tuesdays are more profitable than Thursdays. Planning and forecasting has never been so automatic before.

10. Large visuals

Have you noticed how photography is making a comeback? It’s bigger, it’s more detailed, and well, it sells. Large-format photography is making consumers hungry (quite literally) for more. Seeing pictures of food, as evidenced by Pinterest’s recipe cataloging, gets people excited. They sent pictures of juicy burgers to their friends. The saying a picture is worth 1,000 words is true. Pick up your camera and start taking pictures. We’re in a visual world.

Whether you like it or not, technology is here to stay. And it will continue to make an impact on the restaurant industry for the foreseeable future. If your restaurant hasn’t started to use some of the technology and web-based applications above, it’s time to get started!

Start with incorporating one change into how you run your business. Ask your staff what would work for them. That way, they get involved in the decision. And they aren’t overwhelmed when they have to work another application into their workflow.

Best of luck moving your restaurant into the 21st century and beyond!

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