Like many veteran operators, I have worked extensively in all aspects of bars and restaurants, from nightlife to corporate to fine dining. But one vantage point of mine that is not so common is that I also have 13 years of experience as an IT System Administrator (aka programmer). My experience in this field has allowed me to fully utilize technology in all of my service industry operations.
That being said, it never ceases to amaze me how overlooked technology is in the vast majority of operations. And this isn’t referring to complicated programming solutions, but simple applications that every venue can use to help their business grow. To give an overview I have divided the main areas of potential into four groups: spreadsheets & databases, social networking, 4-wall marketing and disaster recovery.
Spreadsheets & Databases:
Take a minute to think about anything you do on a daily basis that is repetitive. 9 times out of 10 there will be a way to automate these tasks. Inventory, schedules, reports, employee/customer databases and product lists are just a few of the processes that can be simplified or enhanced using the right tool. One example in my own operation is with inventory, where I use a simple script to update all of the state liquor pricing with the click of a button. This gives me constant access to dynamic cost analysis and saves me hours of time each week (fellow Pennsylvanians, feel free to contact me for a demo of this software).
How are you using technology to connect with your customers? Do you have a solid web and social networking presence? Are you constantly building your fans and followers? Most venues are at least to the point where they realize this is important, but what is less known is that the real key is not just in the numbers, but the interaction. Sure it’s impressive to have 50k likes on your Facebook page, but if you do not have anyone interacting with those people, it might as well be 0. In the tech world these are called “dead” pages. To evaluate if your page is dead look at your “talking about this” number. For most pages this is going to be about 1% of your total likes, while the standard for successful engagement is around 3%. This is the point where you are really going to start seeing a profitable return on your marketing posts.
If your TVs are only playing sports and music videos you are losing out on an amazing opportunity for free marketing. You already have the customers in your front door, why not influence their purchasing decisions and increase the likelihood that they will return? I am not saying blast advertisements on every TV, but you should be doing some type of digital in-house advertising. Specials, events, shout outs and new menu items are all things that should be included. And if the obvious benefits weren’t enough, this also eliminates the cost of continuing to print static signs, posters and flyers.
What would it cost you to completely restore all of your financial data? If you are like most venues you have no idea … but as you can probably assume, it’s a lot. These numbers are the core of your business and must be protected. Simple backup processes will allow you to sleep worry free knowing that your data will be saved even in the event of a disaster (hard drive failure, weather damage, theft, etc.) Similarly POS backup possibilities are also available. Most of us have experienced a busy shift where the internet connection is lost. Without credit card processing you end up with stressed employees, dissatisfied customers and significant revenue loss due to slow service. This is especially frustrating in that it is completely unnecessary, as a simple redundant connection such as a modem backup could have made sure this situation was avoided.
In conclusion, technology can be a very powerful tool when it comes to management, especially in terms of things like sales forecasting, organization and overall efficiency. It’s even another step in becoming more green. I have used the word “simple” a number of times in this article, but I would like to reinforce that aspect one last time, as making your life and business “simple” is what technology is designed to do.