It all started with a simple question: If we were to begin with a clean sheet of paper, what would the ideal restaurant management and POS system look like? What would a system ideally suited for the next 15 years of restaurant needs, not the last 15, look like? This is different. There are plenty of me-too POS systems to choose from, let's design one that hits the bulls-eye dead center, especially for growing fast casual chain restaurants.
After working for MICROS for almost 10 years, developing restaurant management systems for many of largest restaurant concepts in the world, as well as thousands of small operations, I have recently focused on this question and this is what I believe is missing and what is needed. We have built an amazing team of passionate people at Gusto, many come with impressive backgrounds in our industry and others bring fresh perspective. This team, along with our great customers, work together to create this vision.
Most POS systems, even by the leading brands, were designed 10 or more years ago. The world has really changed in 10 years! Let's explore the list of key elements that would define the ideal restaurant management system designed for today's demands and those of the next 10+ years, as it relates to the needs specifically of the growth-oriented fast casual chain but this list will apply to many restaurant concepts.
A modern POS system must design for the following:
As obvious as this one should be, it all too often can get lost in the often-misplaced drive to innovate. Innovation must always be practical, solving real problems and reliability must always form the foundation of any innovation. Orders must get to the kitchen. There should be no back office server to crash. Network glitches should not disrupt operations more than necessary. This one is #1 on my list, and it goes for hardware as well as software.
Software becomes cumbersome to use due to either a general lack of concern over usability or from years of features being added by different developers/designers with little effort to keep things simple or even with little to no over-arching vision for product direction. Simple is hard! Constant effort is required to keep complex systems as simple as possible. Simplicity at the system architecture level can aid reliability. Usability is improved when simplicity in UI design is employed. And initial system cost can be reduced as well as ongoing maintenance when components such as on-premise servers and databases can be eliminated.
The Cloud is ready for prime time. It has too many advantages over client-server designs to go back to that old world. Many cloud designs suffer from system downtime when the internet is down or slow but this should not be inherenet in cloud-based systems. A modern cloud design for restaurants must be designed to support operational resiliency in the face of network problems. Internet connectivity is becoming faster and more reliable and LTE (4G) cellular is now fast enough to use as backup or even primary internet access. Still, outages do happen and offline capability is still a must-have in any design.
Modern systems should no longer require us to drive to the restaurant to make changes to menu prices or to run reports! Even dial-in VPN access to the store-based system is no longer acceptable and presents unnecessary network security concerns. Being able to control the system, whether it's menu price changes, time clock edits or configuring daily specials, remote access to a central system should be expected of any modern system. And it's not just control but also reporting and analytics. These should be accessible from anywhere I have internet access. And, access should be easily available whether I am at home on my laptop, in the store or away from my desk using my mobile phone. "Mobile" is no longer just a feature but must be considered as each component of the system is designed and developed.
No one wants to be in the next headline over a credit card breach. The cost to some of these companies we've all been hearing about in the news recently has resulted in countless dollars spent and damaged reputations. There is an adage in the security world: the best way to keep a secret is not to have a secret. Modern POS systems must be built with security as a key design criteria. Security can't be "added on", it must be designed into every facet of the system. Keeping credit card numbers out of the POS system makes it "uninteresting" to hackers. They don't waste their effort where there is no value. Going even further, newer technologies make the type of breach used in many major hacks today ineffective. This approach can also put the POS system out of scope with respect to PCI compliance, dramatically reducing PCI compliance responsibilities.
Restaurant systems are notoriously closed: either due to inflexible, aging software design or for business reasons. There is a fast-growing industry of great applications growing up around the restaurant industry offering mobile payment, mobile ordering, gift and loyalty programs, and too many more to list. And the list is growing fast! For restaurants to move quickly and to continue to offer their customers the best customer experience possible, the ability for a system to rapidly integrate with other new products becomes a must-have.
Pleasurable and POS have never before gone together in the same sentence. Enterprise software has earned its reputation as being poorly designed and clunky. A wealth of research is available on what makes a system easy to learn, fast to use and even pleasurable. This may be one of the hardest goals to achieve - it requires an obsessive attention to sweating the details and that process leaves most development teams frustrated and wanting to just move on to the next feature. Restaurant employees all use consumer smart phones and tablets and are exposed to the most advanced, sophisticated approaches to user experience available. Then, they come to work and what do they experience with the tools they use to run the restaurant? User experience matters.
The explosion of the Fast Casual concept is showing no signs of slowing. Whether franchised or corporate-owned, chain concepts are a growing business. Any next-generation POS must be enterprise-class in that it must support the control and reporting of groups of individual stores, efficiently. Managing menu, pricing, discounts, promotions and all the other configured data across the chain should not require an army of IT staff. Data is more important than ever as competition heats up so reporting across individual stores or the entire enterprise is critical. Efficient operations have clear advantages.
High up-front cost, ongoing maintenance and support agreements and high service and support costs per incident should not be the only choice of experiences we have from our POS provider. Just as cloud is here to stay, SaaS-based pricing models make it easier to adope new technologies, can keep software and even hardware up to date and always in warranty with the latest features, and should include everything with no hidden fees or per-incident charges. Simple and affordable.
Performance is not a luxury. Anyone who has used software that isn't responsive or is just plain slow knows how frustrating poor performing software and hardware are. Performance is a key attribute of software that is pleasurable to use. And when there is line out the door and you have an hour to make most of your day's revenue, the last thing you want is your POS slowing down the line. Performance also includes attentionto user interface design that makes the cashiers faster doing their job.
These are the top 10 "must have" ingredients we should expect from any modern, forward-looking POS system.
Write to me with comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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I am Bill Draper, founder of Gusto. Welcome to our kitchen. This is where we will share stories, visions, ideas, opinion, and in general, how we think about technology and our industry. Many of these thoughts are the ingredients that go into the products we build...
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