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Digital Transformation in Restaurants: A Technology Template


When it comes to digital transformation, the restaurant industry is faced with an overwhelming wave of options. Business executives with limited IT resources are often struggling to make sense of all the options. How much technology does the restaurant need? Given limited resources, where does technology make the greatest difference? A technology template provides a structure for developing an effective strategy for simplifying your restaurant IT.

Front of House/Back of House

When it comes to the digital transformation of the restaurant, the FOH/BOH is a natural starting point. In the era of Amazon and Uber, it is becoming increasingly difficult to exceed the customer’s escalating expectations. Keep in mind, the customer’s experience never exceeds the employee’s experience.

With regards to FOH/BOH technology options, each restaurant brand must carefully consider their legacy infrastructure. While today’s technology presents an unlimited field of possibilities, the “technology debt” of what is currently in place imposes practical limitations. The lack of well-developed APIs in the legacy technology stack often hinders the ability to integrate modern features and functionalities. Incorporating an SD-WAN solution for your restaurant can help.


For the FOH, work backward from the customer journey. Seek areas where friction may be removed to increase customer satisfaction. Think outside of the box. Since the customer expectation is being set by experiences outside of the restaurant industry, inspiration for the future may also be found outside of the restaurant industry.

For the BOH, work forwards from the journey of raw ingredients to the final dish. Like retail, growth in the restaurant industry is happening outside of the brick-and-mortar locations. The ability to use technology to increase operational efficiency will play a critical role. Restaurants must be able to accurately anticipate customer appetites and fulfill them with minimal waste of not only ingredients but also labor. 

With regards to BOH/FOH, the key is to align the technology strategy with the limitations of the legacy infrastructure. The objective is to maximize the value of the current infrastructure while investing in future capabilities. It is often necessary to take one or two steps backward to create the opportunity to move forward. Learn more about how Hughes can simplify your restaurant IT.

Cloud/Internet-of-Things (IoT)

The cloud enables FOH/BOH innovation by providing outstanding agility both in the breadth of innovative solutions and economics. The cloud has dramatically reduced the gap between the conception of a new idea to a large scale, production rollout. IoT creates additional opportunities by providing greater insight into both customer experience and employee performance in the restaurant. By using low-cost sensors to collect enormous amounts of data in an automated fashion, IoT increases efficiency and effectiveness of critical operations (e.g. food safety.)

Success in the cloud requires a team sport mentality. The business value of the most exciting applications may be dramatically diminished if they cannot fit into a cohesive ecosystem. Applications vary dramatically in their ability to integrate. Initially, a restaurant may ensure each application will be able to “talk” with the others. Eventually, as the portfolio of cloud applications grows, an enterprise service bus may be necessary to provide a common communication platform.

It is also important to understand the weaknesses of Cloud/IoT solutions. The tradeoff for having a smaller technology presence in the restaurant is a much greater reliance on the network infrastructure. Network outages and/or periods of high congestion, which were once inconvenient, may now significantly interfere with the ability to conduct business. This is why it is crucial that your Managed SD-WAN can keep up with your restaurant's needs.

As restaurants become increasingly dependent on the opportunities presented by the cloud, they must also consider the business impact of network issues (e.g. congestion, outages, etc.) and additional investment (e.g. backup connections) required.

Network Security

For today’s business, network breaches have become a norm. It might not be a matter of if it will happen, but when. And that is when a business must be able to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable measures to secure their environments. Otherwise, they may risk the liability of severe financial penalties in addition to the negative impact on the brand.

While PCI compliance provides a reasonable starting point, it is important to understand that cybersecurity threats continue to evolve. Implementing a secure SD-WAN can reduce your restaurant’s risks. As a result, businesses must make appropriate on-going investments, internally or externally, to keep up with the dynamic threat environment. 

In addition to technology considerations, restaurants must also focus on their employees. The employees are often the weakest link and the point of greatest exposure on the technology front. The most effective cybersecurity technologies are hard-pressed to compensate for any employee mistake.

Digital Infrastructure

Surprisingly, in this current era of digital transformation, the innovations which create meaningful competitive advantages by enabling cost savings and making significant differences in the restaurant’s operational efficiency are found in the most basic part of the restaurant infrastructure, the network. 

Most restaurants have already made the migration from the expensive T1 lines to broadband for access to dramatically higher bandwidth at a significantly lower cost. The challenge is that broadband is a dynamic solution. The bandwidth routinely changes due to congestion. For brands with nationwide deployments, the amount of available bandwidth varies considerably by region. The same identical technology stack may perform with both high customer and employee satisfaction at one location and horribly at another location. Cost-saving solutions, such as the same VoIP solution, may work well at one restaurant but not at another. Even worse, at the same restaurant, cloud applications may, work sometimes not others.

When customers routinely expect Guest Wi-Fi to be available, there is no such thing as having enough bandwidth. This is why SD-WAN can support this challenge and many more.

To exceed both customer and employee expectations, the restaurant infrastructure must be designed to perform under all situations, particularly those where a restaurant has insufficient access to network capacity. The customer’s experience with the brand is composed of every experience the customer has with the brand, not just at the restaurants with high-speed internet access.

With modern SD-WAN solutions, it is possible to achieve a consistent customer and employee experience even over those restaurants with insufficient network capacity. Unfortunately, there is a significant inconsistency with the numerous SD-WAN solutions in the market today. To identify the right solutions, the restaurant must stress test an SD-WAN solution with congestion to fully understand which solutions will ensure a satisfactory end-user experience under all conditions.

Digital Transformation in the Restaurant Industry

To navigate the overwhelming wave of opportunities created by the digital transformation of the restaurant industry, start with a technology template. For the FOH, start with the customer journey. For the BOH, start with the ingredients. With regards to cloud/IoT, carefully consider how the pieces of the puzzle not only fit with each other but also with your legacy solutions. Ensure sufficient investments in network security (internal and/or external) will keep up with evolving cybersecurity threats. Finally, recognize and reconsider the business opportunity in the network. It is the critical ingredient for success in the digital transformation of the restaurant.

To learn more about how Hughes can help your restaurant click here.