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The Role of IT in Restaurant Technology - Q&A with Tim Tang


As more industries enter into the realm of technology, it’s important to learn about how your IT can power success in your restaurant. Read our brief Q&A session with Hughes Enterprise Solutions Director, Tim Tang, to ensure you’re making the best informed decisions to stay ahead of your competitors.

What are some of the implications of the cloud that restaurant operators should consider?

The cloud provides some really exciting opportunities for restaurants to be able to rapidly introduce a wider portfolio of applications. But at the same point, there are some meaningful considerations to think about as the technology footprint in the restaurant gets smaller and smaller. The tradeoff is the network, the restaurateurs, and the applications become more and more dependent on their network infrastructure. If they lose the network, or if it goes down, they lose access to their applications, which could be everything from managing inventory, managing employee work schedules, but most importantly, the mobile orders.

Today, restaurant technology is very robust. You have the ability to recover from offline scenarios in terms of credit card transactions, but there's no such thing as offline recovery of mobile orders. If the network goes down, those mobile orders have no way of getting into the restaurant. The restaurant not only loses the value of those current orders but it also loses the future value of those customers who would have bought something from the restaurant but had to go somewhere else because they could not fulfill their orders. So, as we think about the cloud and we think about all the excitement in terms of its ability to empower and enable the restaurants, we also want to think about some of the liabilities and basically compensate for them with higher-availability solutions, such as multiple circuits into the restaurant, and then also think about how to more properly manage whatever existing capacity is—in other words, specifically managing the congestion that's very common over broadband networks.

In regards to network security, what advice would you give a restaurant operator?

My first piece of advice would be: PCI compliance has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, but that's a starting point. We want to think about network security in the context of threats that continue to evolve. If a breach were to happen, the first thing the investigators are going to look for is, has a restaurant taken all the appropriate actions to protect the interests of the restaurant and the consumer's identity?

As the technology continuously evolves, expectations of the restaurant industry's IT will continue to evolve. So my encouragement to the restaurant operators is to make continual investments as it relates to network security, either internally, utilizing those resources or externally through third parties. It's vitally important to be able to demonstrate that the best possible (and reasonable approach) and methodology has been followed in protecting the interests of the network.

Can you talk about the role that IT plays in orchestrating the technology that a restaurant needs to run?

There are a lot of exciting technologies, and what I've seen in working with a number of customers who are executives is there is an inclination from business and marketing to move ahead very quickly in the effort to try to keep up with the dynamic market changes to grab technology as it is available. But I think what is very important is that it's easy to do a proof of concept at half a dozen locations. It's much more difficult to actually roll out technology on a wide-scale-type basis, and that's where IT plays a very vital role.

So it's smart to encourage restaurateurs to basically engage with their IT counterparts, leverage their technology background—not only their technology expertise but also their skill in basically scaling technology in a wide-scale fashion and being able to address all the compliance and legal issues that are also involved as well. There are no shortcuts when it comes to technology. Either we do the homework up front together between the business groups and IT or the business groups can take a shadow IT approach initially, but eventually there's going to still be the same amount of homework that will need to be done, and it may be much more difficult later on.

There's been increasing conversation around customer-facing applications. What else would you recommend a restaurant operator look at?

While the customer-facing applications get the lion's share of attention, I would strongly encourage restaurant operators to think about the whole stack. And what I mean by that is not only the applications that the customers are engaging with but also all the supporting elements behind that—the cloud, specifically as it relates to the cloud, the network security, and the underlying Internet infrastructure.

If the security is insufficient or if the bandwidth is insufficient, the customer is going to have a miserable experience with these amazing applications that were designed to thrill and excite them, that will become, instead, points of frustration. Slow applications that take too long to work will frustrate the customer and drive them away. So when it comes to a compelling experience for the customer, it's not just the application in-hand, but it's all of the other elements (in terms of what will affect the responsiveness of that application) that create the entire quality of experience.

There's been a lot of discussion about how the POS is the center of the universe. What advice would you give a restaurant operator?

The point of sale is growing in terms of all the different applications it supports and its criticality to be a collection for all the data of all the activity that takes place in the restaurant. I think the key to the point of sale is to address a very common problem that, sometimes it works great and sometimes it doesn't. This inconsistency in performance is unacceptable for customers as well as it is for the employees. So I think one of the critical things to think about the point of sales, particularly the next generation point of sale systems, is to ensure a consistent user experience regardless of the underlying infrastructure. Customers don't care that one site has access to a significant amount of capacity and another site may have only access to some low-speed broadband. But they're going to insist on a high-quality experience across the board. As restaurant operators, we need to ensure that our solutions protect the integrity of that point-of-sale transaction.