Note: This paid partner content was created in collaboration with Science On Call, a Back of House Preferred Partner.
Consider, for a moment, two indisputable realities:
Fact #1: Choosing the right restaurant technology is vital to the current and future success of your restaurant.
Fact #2: You are busy, and governed by the immutable laws of space and time.
What can we learn from these self-evident truths? One conclusion: you’ve got to make the absolute most out of the restaurant technology demos you schedule, and you can’t risk choosing the wrong solution. That would cost you time and money, and probably a few headaches to boot.
So once you’ve done your research, narrowed down your list, and scheduled demos with prospective vendors for, say, a new POS system for your independent restaurant, it’s time to get serious about your demo strategy. After all, this is a sales call by another name. If you don’t ask the right questions to vet them properly, you may wind up with something overpriced, underpowered, or ill-matched for your restaurant.
To make sure that doesn’t happen, we tapped Ken Tsang at Science On Call, for a run-down of the questions every restaurant operator should ask when they’re demoing a new solution. Science On Call is an all-in-one IT consultancy purpose-built to help independent restaurant operators achieve their technological dreams (and, just as importantly, avoid costly, time-consuming technological nightmares), and as its chief technology officer, Tsang has ridden shotgun on countless tech demos for customers.
“My main approach is just to listen,” he told Back of House. “Not only to what the vendors are offering; I also want to hear what our customers are trying to get at, as well.”
Once listening is over, Tsang gets down to business vetting capabilities, scrutinizing the fit between operator’s problem and vendor’s solution, and giving a good, hard look at whether a particular piece of tech is the right move for clients like Tim Wickes, the director of food halls at Chicago’s 16” on Center restaurant group. “Having Science [On Call] in my corner has made me feel much more confident in how we operate,” he told Back of House. “Not only via their accessibility but also through how they educate us to be better moving forward.”
16” on Call has been a Science On Call customer for about 2.5 years (“First people we call when bringing on new tech partners!” said Wickes) but even if you aren’t, Tsang wants to help you ace your next demo. Below, check out his expert recommendations on the questions independent restaurant operators should be asking in every single showcase.
Before booking demos, ask yourself: which solutions do I realistically need to demo?
When it comes to lining up tech test-drives, a little homework goes a long way. You simply can’t demo every solution out there! Tsang recommends putting pen to paper to come up with a list of factors that you think should inform your decision, then using that to winnow the field from there.
“Understanding what's important to you, coming up with some kind of rubric for determining how you're going to decide what's important” is key, he said. “It's worth being honest and saying ‘We're probably not going to go with these solutions because they’re just too expensive.’” By weeding out solutions that just aren’t a realistic fit for your business, you’ll have more time left to focus on the demos that actually could yield the perfect match. Shots on goal, baby!
Who are the key players in your category, and how do your features compare?
The restaurant technology landscape is complicated, confusing, and full of vendors who want to be all things to all operators. But you’re not all operators—you’re you! The operator they want to sign up for their platform! One way to find out if that’s a good idea is to quiz reps on how their solutions fit into the market. How do they see themselves? Who do they consider competition, and why are they better?
To maximize your effectiveness, Tsang recommends aiming to demo 3-4 solutions in whatever category you want to implement., from reservation systems, to third-party delivery platforms. “Generally that seems to be a good number,” he said, because it allows you to learn how different vendors are thinking about the space. “The thing about doing a few demos is you get to hear about features you might not have thought about” within the category. “It's totally worth asking, because you want to understand these products as well as possible.”
How does pricing work? What sort of ROI can I expect? Can you offer any breaks?
Figuring out whether a solution fits into your restaurant’s business model and cost structure is obviously key. You wouldn’t implement a new kitchen display system (KDS) if you weren’t reasonably sure it was going to pay for itself in the near- or mid-term, right? Solutions are there to deliver ROI and smooth out the operational flow of your restaurant—and any rep worth their salt should be able to articulate why their solution is worth the money. So ask direct questions about pricing, and listen to their answers.
“It's always worth asking, especially if it's a complex fee structure,” said Tsang. “Get those questions out of the way, especially if [price might] be a barrier. If you really like a solution but don't like the price and aren't willing to pay that amount,” he continued, it’s important to find out whether vendors can offer wiggle room. “Often times they'll just tell you, ‘this is how it is, but if you grow to a certain size or you have more users, we can [give you] a break.’” But if they won’t budge, it’s on to the next one!
How much does my restaurant actually need?
Here’s a question that you should ask yourself and the rep doing the demo: is this the right tool for the job? “Most customers don't need the Cadillac version every time, but we want to know if they have a very particular thing like that’s only available in [a certain] tier,” said Tsang. “Understanding your requirements and how these companies segment their product, making sure it lines up” to your restaurant’s actual needs is crucial. Implementing a heavy-duty solution in a light-duty scenario means your tech spend isn’t optimized—and we simply can’t have that, can we? (No, we can’t.)
Who handles implementation?
OK, you’ve vetted out a vendor’s comps, pricing, ROI, and features mix. You’re on a roll. But don’t pull the trigger just yet. Just because a solution checks all those boxes doesn’t mean it just magically installs its software and hardware in your restaurant. We’re talking about implementation, and according to Tsang, you should most certainly ask about it!
“We want to make sure you know what's covered and what's not,” said the Science on Call CTO. “With implementation, who's in charge of it? Who's gonna make sure it gets carried through to the end? Is it largely dependent on the customer to come up with… or there somebody on the vendor side that's guiding the project and is going to be an active resource along the way?” Your reps should have solid answers for these questions in your demos. Tsang told Back of House it’s a good idea to take careful notes throughout demos, but during this part in particular, because you’ll want to make sure you can hold vendors accountable for what they tell you in these pitches.
What is your support system like?
The same wisdom goes for the support a vendor offers if/when you implement their solution, Tsang added. “I think that's a good question as well: ‘OK so we get this thing implemented, and something breaks six months down the road. What kind of support tiers do you have?’” Having gone through dozens if not hundreds of demos himself, Tsang knows full well that a slick demo is the best-case scenario—but he counsels Science On Call’s clients to consider the worst-case, too. Support considerations “are things that a customer doesn't necessarily think about when they're sort of getting wowed by the excitement of a demo,” he said.
What integrations do you offer today… and what about tomorrow?
Solutions solve problems, but the right partnership with a vendor can create opportunities you didn’t even know you were missing. And vice versa. So ask how well a solution integrates with your existing tech stack. “There are so many products out there that do niche things, but if they don't work with your POS system, for example, it's gonna be extra work for you,” warned Tsang. In other words, beware a solution that solves one problem really well, but creates three more thanks to limited integrations. That’s not a win!
The Science On Call CTO also said it’s worth asking a rep about their solution’s future plans. Maybe they don’t have waitlist functionality right now, but it’s rolling out in a few quarters. Maybe they’re introducing new integrations with lightning speed, and while they can’t seamlessly plug into your stack now, they’ll be able to soon. The upside to asking this sort of forward-looking question is two-fold: you get more info, and you get to see how the rep views your potential partners. “If you have an idea and you think a particular solution might be a good place to do a certain function or task, I think it's worth bringing up because you want to see how that vendor responds,” said Tsang.
“You should be willing to ask vendors whether their product will support your vision,” he added. “You definitely shouldn't be shy about it."