November 22, 2022

Technology In Restaurants: Paper to Digital and The Learning Curve Managers Are Facing

In this article: Why restaurant teams are adopting technology, how to gain knowledge about the technologies available, and the learning curve that restaurant managers face when implementing new systems.

Technology is taking over the restaurant industry. Whether we’re talking POS systems, reservation platforms or scheduling apps, running a successful venue in 2022 requires you to implement technology in one form or another.

However, there seems to be a pretty big learning curve when it comes to adopting new systems. Restaurant managers love keeping things old school, and are often creatures of habit. Why fix something that isn’t broken? 

Sometimes it takes a bit of convincing that a new technology isn’t just meant to fix a problem, but rather improve your restaurant in ways you aren’t able to do with more traditional methods.

What are the most common challenges that restaurant teams are up against when it comes to learning and implementing new technologies? How should we be adapting to the wave of tech that’s currently taking over our industry? Let’s break it down.

Related: 5 Reasons to Use Technology In Your Restaurant

We aren’t really computer people

The number one comment I hear from restaurant operators I work with is that they “aren’t tech savvy.” Introducing a new technology is overwhelming, because usually they are already wildly uncomfortable with the technologies they are using.

This makes sense when you think about it. We don’t start working in restaurants because we like being on computers. We’re hustlers who like physical work where we get to interact with people, not screens. 

There’s always at least one person on the team who serves as the in-house tech guru, guiding everyone else through the chaos of crashed POS systems and unruly email glitches. Ironically, this person is usually the 18 year old college freshman helping the 50+ year old GM to simply convert a PDF file. 

How do restaurant managers become more tech savvy?

Restaurant teams that are functioning at the highest level have one thing in common - extremely sharp and efficient management. In 2022, being efficient means knowing how to find systems and technologies that improve the lives of your employees so they can be more productive (and just happier! Um, hello lower turnover rates.)

If you’re reading this and are starting to panic because you know technology is one of your weaknesses - fear not! I’ve outlined a few steps that can help you start reframing your mindset around technology and move your team forward with confidence.

#1: Define the problem you're trying to solve

Before you get too overwhelmed by all of the solutions and systems that are being advertised to you, start by defining the problem you are trying to solve. In other words, where are the pain points?

Is the host team struggling to stay organized on a busy Saturday night? Perhaps a new reservation system can give them more tools to help reduce wait times and confusion.

Dishes being prepared inconsistently? Look into digital recipe tools with step-by-step training to help your BOH streamline processes, meaning more consistency for your guests.

What about inventory and ordering? If your managers are spending more time on par lists than on the floor during service, you might want to put a new system in place.

Once you’ve figured out where your teams weaknesses are, you can start to solve them! The next step is to put your glasses on and start doing some research.

Related: Why Running A Successful Restaurant Shouldn’t Be Complicated and 4 Steps To Simpler Operations

#2: Read, read and then read some more

Just like anything, the more you know the more confident you become. Technology is overwhelming when you don’t understand how it works, and tech companies love to over-complicate things to sound fancy and “state-of-the-art” (big ol’ eye roll here).

Start your research by outlining all of the available solutions for the challenge you’re trying to solve. Make a list - as simple or as detailed as you want - include at least the name of the product, price point, and key features that your team will use.

Next, you’ll want to start reading about other restaurant teams’ experience with each product. Reviews, blogs, and forums are a great way to understand what the technology actually does. The product website may list 25 features (overwhelming!) but reading how other restaurant operators realistically implement these features will give you a better understanding of its pros and cons.

Take your time here! Remember that your goal isn’t simply to buy something as quickly as possible, but rather to learn. You want to walk away feeling confident about the products, what they can do, and how they will actually perform in your venue.

Once you have done your research and narrowed down your options, it’s time to talk to the professionals. 

#3: Talk to the professionals

At this point you should be feeling pretty confident in what your problem is, the solutions that are available, and what implementing them in your venue will look like. You understand the functionality of each product, and have a clear outline of questions you still need answered.

Now it’s time to talk to the professionals. This means scheduling demos or at least a phone call with someone from each company. Your goal here should be to get as much information about the product and company as you can. 

Of course you want to learn about the product, how it works, and maybe some tips and tricks that aren’t highlighted on their site. However, make sure you’re paying attention to the culture of the company. Do you like how they do business? Do they make you feel confident and capable? 

Especially if you are “tech-challenged”, this relationship is going to be very important. You want to work with a company that understands your challenges, your industry, and who explains things to you transparently. 

Do they offer extra training services or other resources that cater specifically to the learning curve you’re going to face during implementation? What is their tech support like? Can you even find a phone number on their website? Things to consider for your pros/cons list here!

Implementing technology successfully

Once you have decided on a new system to invest in, it’s time to implement it. 

Too often a restaurant team will purchase a new technology thinking it will solve all of their problems, and then quickly realize that they actually have to use it in order for it to work.

This is where we see the learning curve of transitioning from pen and paper to digital solutions. How do we get in the habit of using a new system, especially when we are busy trying to run a venue and don’t necessarily have time to learn something new, let alone train a whole team?

#1 Decide that the new system is the only system

The answer is pretty simple - decide that the new system is the only system. Everyone has to be on the same page, especially your management team. I say this all of the time, but I truly believe that restaurant success depends on management. I don’t care if you have the most experienced team in the world, if your managers aren’t holding them accountable to the new systems, you can bet that they will continue doing things the old way forever.

Do you want servers placing orders table side using handhelds? Make that a standard within your restaurant and be firm in your decision. The first few weeks might be chock full of mistakes and frustration, but before long they will forget that they ever even kept guest check pads in their apron.

Are you converting your employee handbook and training material from the classic binder to a digital platform? Make sure your managers are updating the new platform instead of the old documents. You won’t be able to see the benefit of your investment unless your team is actually using it.

Related: Removing “The Binder Method”: How Restaurants Should Be Modernizing Their Staff Training

#2 Communicate with your team and get feedback

After a few weeks of fully implementing your new system, start gathering feedback from your team. Do they love it? Hate it? Does it make their life easier or harder? This feedback will tell you how to move forward. 

Everyone loves it and it solves your original problem? Fantastic, move on to the next pain point and start the process over again. 

Everyone hates it and it makes your problem worse or the same? Make sure you and your team have given it an honest try, and then move on to the next option.

Keeping any system - digital or not - in place if it doesn’t work is a mistake! We move too quickly and run on too slim of margins to not work as efficiently as possible.

Related: How Guest Experience Improves When Restaurant Managers Communicate Clearly With Their Team

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Technology is overwhelming for us as humans living in the 21st century. Most days it feels like apps and robots are taking over the world, and the rapid pace of change is scary! Try to keep your perspective open when it comes to learning about new technologies that can help you and your team perform at a higher level. 

Again, the more you know the more in control you’ll feel about the decisions you’re making, why they will help you reach your goals, and how challenging the implementation and learning curves will be.

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