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Menu Change: Finding a Software Developer for Your Restaurant

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The transformative impact of new technologies like mobile apps, virtual reality and cloud computing is disrupting every aspect of the restaurant business. To remain a thriving member of the restaurant industry yourself, you’ll need a software developer who can anticipate your needs and keep up with the blinding speed of technology. But finding a software developer may feel like a gargantuan task.

After all, custom software has a lifespan far beyond the day it’s activated. The right developer will provide product support and updates, as well as necessary system integrations and add-ons, for months (or years) after the initial product launch.

Learn how to find a software developer for your company who can help you create the ideal experience for your customers — for the long haul.

Today’s Special: Goals

What do you want to achieve with new technology? Faster mobile ordering? A more seamless online reservations system? Be specific about what your particular business is looking for.

Just as a fun sign of how fast the technology is evolving, it’s interesting to see some of the edgier applications being used. For instance, Wow Bao recently added facial recognition to its kiosk-based POS for repeat guests. Starbucks, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Wingstop added voice recognition to their mobile apps.

But don’t worry about bells and whistles. First, define the scope of your new software program, its scalability requirements, its launch deadlines and ongoing support or maintenance requirements.

Then, consider the potential need for hardware, backup storage, off-site hosting, security upgrades or in-house training. The more insight you can provide at the start, the better.

The top drivers for POS upgrades are adding mobile functionality, achieving tighter integration with an e-commerce platform and preparing for Europay, Mastercard and Visa (EMV), according to a 2017 report by Hospitality Technology.

Let’s say you want to roll out digital menu boards in multiple locations. Let’s also say that you want these boards to be simultaneously managed and updated across a network from a central location.

Consider the following:

  • Do you have the hardware and bandwidth to handle the files?
  • Does the system need integration with the POS?
  • Will the individual locations have access to any of the functions?
  • Do you want to collect customer data in the POS to provide a more personal customer service experience?
  • Do you own that data — and how can you access and manipulate it?

Prep Your Software Developer Search

Look for a professional software development company that offers one-stop shopping. This usually means a robust team of developers, designers and project managers, as well as a quality-assurance team. Freelance developers rarely have the resources or bandwidth to tackle a complex, long-term custom software project.

Word of mouth is the best way to find a software developer. Reach out to your industry peers and professional network for recommendations. If you see a system you like, ask the owner who built it for them.

Research the development company’s reputation and ask for references. Many companies post customer testimonials on their websites or have recommendations on LinkedIn. Vet them on review sites like Clutch.co and GoodFirms.co. Look for reviewers with project needs similar to your own and see what they had to say about their experiences and the final results.

Draw up a short list of companies and start scheduling interviews. Try to visit their offices in person for face-to-face meetings. An in-person interview will give you a better perspective of the company and their team than any online research or conference call.

Order Up: The Interview

When sitting down with a potential technology partner, ask lots of questions:

  • Have you recently worked on food-service or hospitality projects similar to ours?
  • Can I see past or current projects?
  • What certifications do you have? Ask about payment card industry (PCI) and EMV compliance.
  • Will we be working with the same staff members for the length of the project?
  • Are there any processes you currently outsource?
  • Who will own the finished product?
  • Will I have to buy any licenses?
  • Do you have agreements in place with any mobile-ordering patent holders, and how will my restaurant be protected from patent infringement?
  • Will we be able to integrate with my other third-party systems?

Pay attention to the questions they ask about your business. Are they making an effort to thoroughly understand your concept, market, challenges and needs? Are they listening and pitching innovative ideas?

Conclusion: Take Your Time

Rushing through this process to hand you a proposal with a quote is a red flag. A software developer should invest significant time researching your business operations to uncover efficiencies you may have missed. They should be able to communicate effectively, providing consistent reports and updates. Find out about their workflow process and how you can report issues back to them. Know your role in the development process after the initial project requirements are hashed out.

Culture chemistry is critical. Your software developer will become an extension of your internal team, so carefully assess if their culture fits with your own. Consider giving them a test project to see how you work together.

Do whatever it takes to ensure you feel comfortable with the software development team you choose — because chances are they’ll be with you a long time.

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