By Greg Staley, CEO of SynergySuite, shortlisted for this year’s SaaS Awards in the Best SaaS for Catering and Hospitality category

There’s no denying that the restaurant industry has faced unprecedented disruption over the past two and a half years. The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating for the hospitality industry, with shutdowns, quarantines, and capacity restrictions causing tremendous interruptions to restaurant service as we knew it. The pandemic fallout has been significant and ongoing, with supply chain disruptions, soaring inflation, and continued labor shortages. As the pandemic started easing up, Russia invaded Ukraine, which added to global inflation and supply chain woes.

And as 70% of restaurant operators say they’re still short-staffed, they still have to provide exceptional customer service and delicious, safe meals.

SaaS (software as a service) has been a game-changer during these challenging times, helping restaurant operators streamline operations, save time and money, elevate scheduling, increase transparency, and more. In addition, SaaS solutions are user-friendly, affordable, accessible, and secure – ideal for restaurants of all sizes and budgets. SaaS can streamline operations, manage inventory, optimize scheduling, and much more!

An industry that (formerly) resisted tech

The food industry has been notoriously hesitant to leverage tech solutions in the past, lagging behind other sectors in tech adoption. But one of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic is that food brands have become more willing to invest in – and use – tech solutions. The significant industry challenges we’ve recently experienced have prompted food brands to utilize tech tools to innovate and adapt to a changing environment.

SaaS solutions can help restaurants and other food brands work smarter. For instance, digital tools provide operators with robust data that helps them make more informed, educated decisions about their businesses. Tech solutions also make tasks easier, faster, and more accurate, which is essential as many restaurants work with reduced staff.

Additionally, as customer demand has shifted since March 2020 – with takeout and delivery options becoming much more popular – restaurants have shifted their focus from onsite dining, expanding their “to go” capabilities. Digital solutions have helped with this transformation, tracking inventory, ordering, staffing, inspections, and other critical daily tasks.

So, why should restaurants invest in SaaS?

SaaS restaurant management solutions make it easier to run your restaurant, and can help your business:

  • Streamline processes, saving time and money. Completing tasks manually (e.g., conducting inspections with paper checklists, using Excel docs to take inventory, etc.) is time-consuming, tedious, and prone to mistakes. Using digital solutions is a much smarter, more efficient, and more accurate approach. SaaS can help track inventory, notifying owners or managers when stock gets low. Digital tools help make daily activities, like inspections, ordering, inventory, etc., much less cumbersome. SaaS can also help identify and reduce wastage and theft by identifying food losses, miscalculation of portion sizes, overordering, etc.
  • Simplify reporting. A huge benefit to digital solutions is the ability to generate reports. Using digital tools allows operators to see real-time data about sales, profits/losses, inventory, ordering, staffing, safety audits, etc. It also allows operators to view historical sales data to help determine necessary staffing for busy (and less busy) shifts. Data can be viewed by restaurant location and/or across an entire enterprise. And it’s quick, easy, and accurate to pull reports using digital tools vs. going through stacks of paperwork or trying to locate critical documents in an overflowing file cabinet.
  • Elevate scheduling. As many restaurants are understaffed, scheduling smarter is imperative. It’s important to give employees the shifts that they want, while not overburdening them to the point of burnout. As operators are working hard to keep employees happy to reduce turnover, studies show that 62% of managers have had employees quit over scheduling conflicts. Restaurant operators must ensure that they have plenty of coverage for busy shifts and schedule fewer employees to work during slower periods. Digital tools allow managers to draw from historical data to determine how many employees need to work any given shift. It also makes it easy and accurate for workers to see their schedule and swap shifts, as needed. A centralized scheduling platform means that managers don’t have to rely on sticky notes and texts to remember who is out on vacation, who needs a night off, and who swapped shifts due to scheduling conflicts. Better communication means less frustration for restaurant teams, which will boost employee happiness, satisfaction, and retention.

  • Improve accounting. Even in “normal” pre-COVID times, it could be difficult for restaurants to stay profitable in an ultra-competitive marketplace. According to research, 60% of new restaurants go out of business within a year, and 80% fail within five years. And, of course, the pandemic ravaged our industry, as restaurant sales fell by a record $240 billion in 2020 alone. The COVID-19 pandemic showed how one crisis could significantly and negatively impact the food industry. The profit losses, shift in consumer demand, new safety protocols, and numerous other factors meant that restaurants’ needs were changing so fast that outdated manual solutions couldn’t effectively serve operators’ needs anymore. In contrast, SaaS restaurant accounting solutions provided the necessary flexibility and scalability that operators needed to navigate this difficult chapter. Digital solutions can integrate with other tech stacks to make it easy and accurate to track money coming in and going out, pay invoices, handle payroll, assess profits/losses, and manage all aspects of a restaurant’s accounting needs.
  • Improve supply chain visibility. Events from the pandemic to the Russia/Ukraine conflict have negatively impacted the supply chain. Not only are certain supplies difficult to get, but the cost of many products has skyrocketed. Additionally, there’s considerable waste and risk coming from restaurants’ supply chains. Consider, for instance, vegetables coming from the West Coast to the East Coast, sitting (and possibly rotting) on hot trucks during a long journey to their final destinations. Or suppose there’s a contamination incident at a farm in Arizona, and contaminated lettuce is shipped to stores and restaurants in surrounding states. How could a restaurant operator instantly know if their lettuce supply was tainted before serving it to guests? Supply chain delays and disruptions can lead to spoilage, which could waste your money and possibly endanger your guests’ health. Also, food safety infractions can impact businesses if they don’t have visibility at every point along the supply chain. SaaS supply chain tracking solutions can boost visibility, track shipments in real-time, help reduce waste, and increase food safety and quality efforts.
  • Stay abreast of industry trends. Food delivery was trending even before COVID hit. Since 2014, online ordering and delivery have been growing 300% faster than dine-in restaurants. And COVID accelerated the trend, as food delivery more than doubled during the pandemic. The restaurant industry showed its agility and willingness to adapt when social distancing, quarantines, and capacity restrictions prevented “normal” dine-in options. SaaS solutions allowed operators to be nimble, transitioning from exclusively (or mostly) onsite dining to offering more “to go” options.

The rise of delivery and ghost kitchens created an increased demand for digital ordering software, as traditional software (or manual systems) couldn’t manage the new take-out demands. SaaS allows restaurants and ghost kitchens to consolidate orders coming from third-party delivery operators so meals can be prepared quickly and properly. Additionally, digital tools help operators track their stock, and staff properly, accommodate food allergies, and order/prep appropriately. As a result, restaurants can keep up with critical trends, meet consumer demand, and prepare delicious, safe meals.

SaaS restaurant solutions offer many benefits

Operators praise SaaS and its many benefits, including its:

  • User-friendliness. The latest solutions are incredibly easy to use. This means less time learning complex systems, training staff, trying to integrate with existing tech stacks, and troubleshooting. Restaurant-specific digital solutions were designed with restaurants (and their challenges) in mind. They’re simple, modern, fast, and tremendously valuable.
  • Integration. The newest digital solutions are integrated, allowing your restaurant to easily utilize all the features in a consolidated tech stack. Brands no longer have to struggle with disjointed systems that don’t “talk” to each other. Integration means restaurants can easily leverage many critical tech tools and functions, which is a true game-changer for the industry.
  • Cloud-based design. SaaS systems are automatically backed up on the cloud, which has many significant benefits. First, operators can easily access data anytime from anywhere. Having remote (and secure) cloud storage is tremendously helpful, allowing operators to ditch their bulky, old, in-house servers. Having automatic data backup is great, as operators no longer have to try and remember to conduct regular data backup, which is just one more tedious chore during busy days. With old systems, forgetting just one crucial data backup could mean losing valuable business information in the event of a power outage, system failure, or other events.
  • Security. The number of cyberattacks and data breaches increased by 15.1% in 2021 vs. 2020. And, frighteningly, cybercriminals can penetrate 93% of company networks. As the restaurant industry wisely implements more digital technology, they need to be mindful of cybersecurity and their network vulnerabilities. For instance, a ransomware attack on meat processor JBS shut down one-fifth of the nation’s meat supply until the company paid an astonishing $11 million ransom. Restaurants likely don’t have cybersecurity experts on their payroll, so they can rely on SaaS solutions’ state-of-the-art security solutions, which help minimize cyber risks. These cloud-based solutions will provide proper, necessary, and hands-off protection, giving operators peace of mind that their data (and their businesses) will be safe from cyberattacks.
  • Easy upgrades. Older, disjointed tech systems often required significant, time-consuming manual updates and patches to keep everything running smoothly. When restaurants run multiple, disjointed programs, this process can quickly become a tech and logistical nightmare. Since SaaS solutions are cloud-based, it’s quick and easy to get the necessary updates seamlessly and effortlessly, allowing operators to focus on other tasks than tech upkeep.

With the huge amount of “churn” that the restaurant industry has experienced lately, restaurant brands are wisely investing in digital technologies to stay competitive, save time and money, boost transparency, increase food safety and quality, and make more informed decisions. SaaS solutions help restaurants work smarter, stay agile, and accelerate growth. While, hopefully, the worst of the disruptions are behind us, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Digital tools will allow restaurants to better handle any challenges that come their way moving forward.