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For Restaurant Transformation, SD-WAN Is Your New House Specialty, FOH & BOH


When it comes to digital transformation, the restaurant industry faces an overwhelming number of options.  Business executives, with limited IT resources,  often struggle to make sense of the available choices. How much technology does the restaurant need? Is Wi-Fi analytics right for me? Do I need an enterprise Wi-Fi solution? Is it time to deploy SD-WAN. Given limited resources, where does technology make the greatest difference? A technology template provides structure for developing an effective strategy.

Front of House/Back of House

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

For the FOH, work backwards from the customer journey. Seek to remove areas of friction to increase customer satisfaction. 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.With FOH/BOH technology, each restaurant must carefully consider their legacy infrastructure. While today’s technology presents unlimited 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.

For the BOH, work forward from raw ingredients to final dish. Like retail, growth in the restaurants is happening outside  brick-and-mortar locations. The ability to use technology to increase operational efficiency will play a critical role. Restaurants must accurately anticipate customer appetites, while minimizing food and labor waste.

With 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 painful steps backward to move forward.

Digital Infrastructure

In the era of digital transformation, meaningful competitive advantage stems from restaurant network infrastructure. Network innovations enable cost savings and improve operational efficiency

Most restaurants have already made the migration from the expensive T1 lines to broadband for access to dramatically higher bandwidth at 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. A technology stack at one location may result in high customer and employee satisfaction, while an identical technology stack at another location may not. 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, “Sometimes work and sometimes not.”

When customers routinely expect Guest WiFi to be available, there is no such thing as, “having enough bandwidth.”

To exceed both customer and employee expectations, the restaurant infrastructure must be designed to perform under all situations, particularly those where the 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 significant inconsistency with the numerous SD-WAN solutions on the market today. To identify the right solutions, the restaurant must stress test the SD-WAN solutions with congestion to fully understand which solutions will ensure a satisfactory end-user experience under all conditions.

Network Security

For today’s business, network breaches have become a norm. It is not a matter of “IF” it will happen, but “WHEN” it will happen. And “WHEN” it happens, businesses must be able to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable measures to secure their environments. If businesses fail to do so, they run the risk of incurring severe financial penalties in addition to negative impacts on the brand.

While PCI compliance provides a reasonable starting point, it is important to understand that cyber security threats continue to evolve. As a result, businesses must make appropriate ongoing investments, internally or externally, to keep up with the dynamic threat environment.

In addition to technology considerations, restaurants must also focus on their people. The employees are often the weakest link and the point of greatest exposure. The most effective cyber security technologies are hard pressed to compensate for actions of the employees.

Cloud/Internet-of-Things (IoT)

The cloud enables FOH/BOH innovation by providing outstanding agility in breadth of innovative solutions and economics. The cloud has dramatically reduced the gap between the conception of a new idea to its 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 grow, 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 footprint 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.

“No Network” means “No Cloud.”

“No Cloud” means “No Applications.”

“No Applications” means “No Business.”

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.). Additional investments (e.g., backup connections) are required.

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 cyber security 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.