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Q-and-A: Heartland Payment Systems’ Tony Ventre on why restaurant managers should take IT off their plate

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Utilizing the latest technology is key for any successful restaurant, but that doesn’t mean restaurant managers and their staff need to be technical wizards. Working with a vendor that knows the ins and outs of payment processing and telecommunications can allow restaurant managers to make food and customer service their top priorities. Heartland Payment Systems is one of the nation’s largest payment processors and the exclusive partner for the National Restaurant Association. Before NRA Show 2012, I interviewed Heartland Senior Restaurant Specialist Tony Ventre about how restaurants can take charge of technology to save time and money.

What are some ways restaurants can connect the front-of-house and back-office operations to save time and money?

Consolidating multiple phone and Internet lines can save money right off the bat. Restaurants often have more analog phone lines than they really need to service their telecommunications needs, and bringing everything under one vendor creates immediate efficiencies. But the bigger savings is going to be achieved because time is money. Restaurant operators have had to put on an IT hat since the early ’90s, when integrated point-of-sale systems came into widespread use. That hat has steadily become heavier and often takes their management team off the floor and out of the kitchen for hours each day. Passing the IT hat over to IT professionals — where it belongs — removes that burden and creates a measurable increase in available manpower.

What is one of the simplest things restaurants can do to update their outdated telecommunications service?

Find a qualified vendor that can really do it all, and eliminate the patchwork of telecom companies, POS providers, network engineers, PC technicians and third-party application providers. Restaurant operators will benefit from one monthly bill, one call for support, one committed, accountable partner — and no finger pointing.

What is the biggest mistake restaurants can make when it comes to telecommunications and technology management?

Integrated POS systems were among the first restaurant technologies to rely on network connectivity, so many operators have come to rely on their POS providers to manage their networks. It varies by provider, but that can be a big mistake if the provider doesn’t have the expertise and bandwidth to do anything beyond the initial installation. Even if they do, their focus is on keeping the POS system running and not on making sure telecom circuits are up or that freezer monitoring is functional or that someone isn’t trying to break into the back-office computer from the public Wi-Fi in the café. Restaurants make food; POS providers install and maintain POS systems. Restaurant operators should get a managed network provider to set up and manage their networks.

What are some tips to keep in mind for training staff and keeping them up to date when implementing technology in the restaurant?

Work with the technology provider to minimize or eliminate the need for staff training on the technology so you can focus on training related to your food, beverages and service style. You have to question using a vendor that expects floor managers, chefs, servers and bartenders to take technical actions to resolve issues or even just to use the solution. Support and proactive issue resolution should be built into the service contract, and requirements for staff to do anything beyond “turning it on and off” should be clearly spelled out.

How does updating telecommunications and technology in the restaurant add value for customers?

Having a fully managed, secure network backbone for all of a restaurant’s applications — from VoIP phone systems to POS and electronic payments to public Wi-Fi to loyalty programs — enhances the customer’s perception that the restaurant is in control, on top of things and aware of every, single detail. When customers perceive chaos in a restaurant, it’s a turnoff. In the back of their minds, they’re thinking, “If they’re so slow and disorganized about something as simple as printing my check or taking an online reservation, I wonder how well the kitchen is run?” When a general manager is seen behind the bar tinkering with cables and PCs at 9 p.m. on a Friday while a problem in the kitchen is slowing down food orders, all the customers know is that the restaurant’s priorities are not in the right order.