Digital Dish

A roundup of ways tech makes operations easy

Technology is infiltrating the hospitality industry like never before with the arrival of mobile devices at the table, online reservation systems and alternative payment methods.

“Restaurants have been slow to adopt new technology, but there’s no avoiding the smartphone and tablet revolution,” says Aaron Allen, CEO of Aaron Allen & Associates, an Orlando, Fla.-based restaurant consulting firm.“ It’s time to update.

Mobile Waitlisting

Deep six paper waitlists and buzzers. NoshList notifies customers by text or phone message when their table is ready, tracks wait times and the number of guests waiting. 

Who’s using it: Approximately 3,000 restaurants including Umami Restaurant Group in California, and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers nationwide. 

Cost: Free for unlimited one-way text messages and end-of-day summaries. The premium package ($49 per month) includes two-way texting, customized text notifications and additional analytics. 

Streamlined labor management

Schedule requests and shift changes can be a time suck. Web-based platform HotSchedules, which updates and streamlines scheduling via desktop computer or smartphone app can help. Managers and employees can view their schedule, request a shift swap or release, and message co-workers to see who’s working during a particular shift. HotSchedules can be integrated with most major POS systems.

Who’s using it: About 2,000 customers such as Bobby Flay restaurants nationwide and AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar in Destin, Fla.

Cost: Starts at $25 or $62.50 (per month) with an existing POS system, plus a one-time setup fee per location.

Instant customer feedback

Unhappy patrons will turn to Yelp to vent instead of a manager. TalkToTheManagerallows restaurants to receive and respond to anonymous texts from customers as they dine. It also lets customers know when an issue is resolved. Positive feedback can be posted to social media.

Who’s using it: Restaurants include Serendipity Cafe and Lounge in Seattle, and Pinocchio’s Italian Eatery with locations in Colorado. Projected to have 2,000 service and hospitality businesses on board by year’s end. 

Cost: $29 per month per location for unlimited text messaging. 

Digital sommeliers

Many diners are uncomfortable ordering wine from traditional wine lists because they don’t want to gamble with an unfamiliar bottle. New iPad app Uncorkd features a database of thousands of wines, beers and spirits with pictures of labels, information on vineyards and food pairing recommendations. Restaurants can customize wine lists, which customers can browse via tablets at the table for an interactive experience.

Who’s using it: Restaurants, hotels, country clubs and casinos that offer a separate wine list and typically carry more than 60 wines, beers, spirits or cocktails. Customers include the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and Mesquite Chop House with locations in Memphis, Tenn. 

Cost: Starts at $150 per month.

Daily business analysis

Restaurateurs often receive more data than they have time to analyze. Copilot Labsaims to break through the “information overload” with software that reviews everything from sales volume to table turnover in conjunction with Micros and Aloha POS systems. Copilot also compares data anonymously to similar businesses and identifies opportunities for growth. 

Who’s using it: Approximately 100 restaurants and small restaurant groups, predominately in California.

Cost: Currently no fee for software or email reports. Fees for additional services are being tested in San Francisco and are expected to be available by the end of the year.

Monica Ginsburg is a business writer for a variety of publications, including Crain's Chicago Business.