by Marylise Fabro
Whether you are an independent restaurant owner or a large, multi-unit CIO, the problem remains the same: How do you successfully deploy new technology in your restaurant, or throughout several units, while encouraging and facilitating adoption of the technology by your employees? This question is far from being relevant to only the food services industry, but it is a hurdle restaurant owners and multi-unit HQs face on a regular basis. While this list of tips is far from exhaustive, it will give you some guidance on improving your chances of success.
Test the new technology inside and out, and test it again once it’s on site. New apps or software only get one chance at making a first impression. If it’s buggy or hard to use, employees will not want to spend time with it, and they will ignore it if they don’t immediately feel that it can make their life easier. If it breaks during a busy shift, you can be sure it will take forever to gain your employees trust again. So make sure it works well before putting it in front of them.
Younger employees tend to be more comfortable and open to adopting new technologies. Bank on it. Identify one person at each location who you feel can be your product champion. Include them in the decision process, get their feedback on new apps, then train them first. Give them ownership of the new tool, and empower them to train other employees. They can be the difference between a seamless process or a big fiasco.
Your employees are not robots. If you force them to use a new system without explaining how they will benefit from it, you are just making it harder on yourself. Take half an hour to go over the benefits for them. For instance, a new table management system will allow a fairer distribution of tables among servers and a faster turnover, resulting in more tips. Explain it this way, and you will find yourself with an entire team rooting for your new system’s success.
Don’t skip training. Again, this is where you should turn to your product champion for support and advice. Getting a new system in a restaurant and not training your team on how to use it is much like getting a new oven in your kitchen without providing the manual to the chef. The chef knows that it could be faster or better to bake with it, but she would first have to spend a significant amount of time figuring out how it works without the instructions. Chances are, she will never have time to do so and will continue using the old oven until it finally breaks.
In short, dedicate time for training and make sure all employees know how to use the new system. Don’t expect them to learn in their free time or during their shift - because they won’t. And imagine how customers would feel standing there waiting while your employees try to figure out how to use the new system during a busy shift.
Empower the product champion to be the first line of support. If she doesn’t know, give her the tools and time to figure out the answer. Put her in contact with the vendor and make sure she gets all the support she needs from them so that she can then pass along the advice to the rest of the team.
Once deployed, create and implement a process to collect rapid feedback on the adoption. This will help you correct problems quickly and make sure the new technology deployment is a success. Small issues that could have been easily addressed may impede new technology adoption and result in complete (and costly) failure. Communication is key for success.
The quick and painless adoption of new technology will save you money. You can ensure your success by rewarding the teams that made the extra effort to make it work. Be creative and find rewards they will value. If you manage/own several units, share their success stories and info about their rewards with other locations to encourage them.
Deploying new technologies, especially in the restaurant business, can be daunting and downright scary. Margins are slim and implementing changes can be risky. However, the benefits for your business are high and worth the effort. With a plan in place, it doesn’t have to be so insurmountable.