The cloud can be a scary place, but it’s one well worth exploring, a panel of operators agreed at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago this month. 

Consultant Fred LeFranc, founding partner with Results through Strategy, kicked off the discussion by enumerating some of the pros, cons and other considerations for operators looking at moving some of their technology functions to the cloud.
 
Among the advantages of cloud-based computing, LeFranc cited cost savings, a reduced need for on-site human and capital resources, the ability to scale up as needs change and quicker implementation. Fear of change and adapting to new procedures were two of the minuses. Considerations to factor into any decision include your level of comfort with new technology and future plans for your business, he said.
 
“Technology needs to be an accelerant for something you already do well,” LeFranc advised. A restaurant that already has the basics down—producing food at reasonable cost and providing good service—will probably benefit from pushing some tasks to the cloud. Operators struggling with the essentials probably won’t.
 
For Stacy O’Fallon, v.p. of finance at Minneapolis-based Crave Restaurants, the decision to adopt cloud-based technologies for a multiple functions reflected a desire to move away from servers. After asking managers about their technology needs, her company evolved into a totally cloud-based operation, with everything from POS to training, labor, marketing, security and more now sourced from the cloud. “We tried to think of everything we had on someone else’s server,” she recalled.
 
O’Fallon said one big advantage of the cloud is adaptability. “If it’s  not working out for us, I can move on,” she says. But she cautioned that any agreement with a cloud-based provider needs to spell out exactly who owns data, where it’s stored and what happens if the agreement ends. 
 
Mark Braver, g.m. at The Little Goat, said Stephanie Izard’s latest restaurant opened with a number of cloud technologies in place, including an iPad-based reservation and waitlist function, security and scheduling.
 
The iPad system uses cell numbers to inform guests when their tables are ready and can be used to produce marketing promotions. 
 
Scheduling, once a time-consuming ordeal involving spreadsheets, now takes five minutes and five minutes, and employees can check on their assignments via text, e-mail or the by going to a website. Requests for days off and schedule changes are handled much more efficiently. 
 
“Instead of a two-hour process, we can do it in five minutes,” Braver said. 
 
Mario Gonzalez, owner of two Blue Agave Tequila Bar & Restaurant units in Chicago, said he is just starting to migrate some functions to the cloud. His first step was to adopt cloud-based reservations and waitlist system. He also uses the system to market current specials. And he has been moving sales reporting and inventory management to the cloud.
 
Gonzalez admitted that a year ago he was hesitant to use cloud service because of privacy concerns. But he realized that no one could see his two restaurants’ information without his permission. 
 
O’Fallon suggested that operators evaluate what systems cause problems when determining what to take to the cloud. “What is not working for you? Is it a scheduling issue? A financial issue? Your reservations system? Security?” When exploring the options, she recommended talking to other area restaurant owners to see what kinds of services they use.