Restaurant management systems

26 April 2005
Restaurant management systems

Restaurant management systems span a variety of different functions, from Electronic point of sale (EPoS), to table reservations, through to back-end food inventory and recipe management.

Understanding what features to look for and knowing how to integrate the various models together can make your restaurant stand out from the crowd by providing a better customer experience. This article explains how it's done.

What is a restaurant management system?

The restaurant management system is a collection of software products that helps to keep all aspects of your dining establishment running smoothly. Think of it as a two-part system, with one part of it managing the back of the house, and the other side managing the front of the house.

Do they come as a single package?

In an ideal world, one supplier would supply all of your restaurant management features, but this is not always the case. Some suppliers offer only the front-of-house features, while some suppliers offer a full system with multiple modules integrated into a central database.

The front-of-house system can sometimes be a separate facility to the restaurant EPoS, but in some cases the EPoS software will include many front-of-house features as part of the core product, leaving you with just the reservation system to purchase separately.
What features should I be looking for in a back-of-house system?
The back-of-house system runs the elements of the restaurant that the customers don't see directly. It is this part of the operation that maintains an adequate food inventory and keeps meals flowing properly to customer tables. It also ensures that enough staff are available to cover a shift.

Look for the following features as part of your back-of-house system:

• Staff management
There must be enough staff to cover each shift, and management should be able to monitor their attendance. Ideally, you will be able to manage payroll from this screen and schedule holiday leave.

• Stock control
Inventory is an important part of any restaurant's back-end operation. The stock control part of the restaurant management system should be able to provide real-time information on inventory levels, while also providing an estimate of wastage, based on a comparison of supplies taken in to dishes served. The stock control system should be linked to a recipe management facility, enabling you to evaluate the cost of each menu item and link it to inventory goods. A good restaurant stock control system should also be able to manage ordering and the processing of received goods.

• Funds management A good funds management system will enable you to keep track of your cash throughout the week, giving you an at-a-glance view of where your cash is (for example, in the safe, in the till, or in the bank), and who is responsible for it.

• Kitchen display
Keep your kitchen staff well organised with displays that help them to keep track of diner waiting times, flagging alarms if any of the meals are taking too long. Some kitchen display systems even allow staff to indicate whether the diner is a VIP or a rush order, and prioritise their meal accordingly.

• Reporting
A good reporting system should give your managers an in-depth view of key statistics from all of the above modules.

What should my front-of-house system do?

The front-of-house system is responsible for keeping the customer-facing part of the restaurant running properly. The EPoS part of the system will make it easy for customers to split bills, move tables and run a tab, but there are other functions necessary to make your front-of-house operation run smoothly.

• Reservations
Ideally, a reservation system should include the ability to remember particular guests' dining criteria, such as allergies. You may wish to remember regular guests' birthdays and note whether the reservation coincides with that date. Flagging VIP guests or regular diners can help create repeat business.

• Table management
Reservation systems and table management modules can complement each other. Reservations can be designed to help certain sections close early, reducing your staff overhead. Tables can be managed with the help of real-time monitoring, showing which server is managing a table, how long the guest has been seated, and how long they have been waiting for their meals.

It should be possible to change the table layout or keep multiple templates to accommodate special events and the opening of summer patios.

• Account management
A good account management system will enable you to keep track of corporate accounts and other group bookings, allocating special rates and preferential reservation policies, for example.

• Policy management
Your restaurant should be able to set different policies dynamically to tailor promotions and special offers. For example, perhaps you could extend your happy hour for slow periods, run a special promotion for Valentine's Day, or temporarily reduce prices on a poorly selling dish.

• Communications
Staff should be able to leave messages for each other, and the management should have an easy way to greet staff with new instructions when they log on for the day.

What things should the restaurant management system interface with?

Interfacing with the phone system can be an excellent way to enhance the guests' dining experience from the moment they make their reservation.

Caller identification information fed through the phone system to the restaurant management software can be referenced against guest records and used to access their information as you answer the phone. Greeting the guest by name and offering them their usual table will increase customer satisfaction.

The restaurant management system should also link to an accounting system that can be used to manage both back-of-house and front-of-house finances. Some restaurant management systems will offer this accounting facility as part of the package, while others will create bridges to generic small business accounting packages.

Can I take reservations online?

Some restaurant reservation systems will offer an online component, enabling people to make bookings online by integrating booking facilities onto a restaurant's website. The better systems will allow you to access this information from your desktop reservation system, so that you never double book a table that has already been booked online.

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