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New ideas and advice to help you improve the operation, turnover, and connectivity of your dining sites.

Seven Snakes in the Grass: Common Reasons Why Restaurant IT Projects Don’t Deliver

David Charlton

November 3 2016,
David Charlton

Burst budgets, trashed timelines, punctured projects… without careful forward-planning there’s plenty that can come back to bite you.

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The term “mission creep” or “project creep” may be relatively new, but what it describes is an age-old problem. In the middle ages, European kings often tried to solve minor problems and ended up waging wars that lasted for years. Thankfully IT project creep isn’t in the same league - although if you’ve experienced it you might still be nursing some wounds.

Project creep is when your project grows beyond its initial specification, budget and/or timeline, and there are multiple reasons why it occurs. The good news is that they’re all eminently predictable and preventable. Here are seven potential issues to anticipate and avoid when planning to introduce restaurant technology: 

Snake One:

If there’s one phrase builders love to hear, it’s “oh, could you also…?” What started out as a straightforward home extension soon becomes a project more ambitious and expensive than the Taj Mahal.

There’s an IT project equivalent, and that’s when the brief keeps being expanded. Each deviation from the original specification adds cost and complexity, and the more complexity you add the more likely you are to encounter unforeseen problems.

Snake Two:

Many organisations have multiple brands, and those brands have very different ways of working - so a restaurant software platform that’s ideal for Brand X might be completely useless to Brand Y because it has a completely different kind of customer or business. These issues aren’t insurmountable, but they need to be identified during the planning stage, not just before the go-live date.

Snake Three:

The benefits of the new restaurant software platform may be obvious to you, but that doesn’t mean they’re obvious to the people working front of house. It’s important to win hearts and minds at every level of the business, not just the board, because the success of your new system depends largely on getting buy-in from the people who will be using it. If a project is seen as just another unwanted imposition from head office, it won’t be welcomed on the restaurant floor.

Snake Four:

Introducing new technology in the restaurant industry involves multiple parts of your business: not just IT but marketing, operations, training and front of house staff. If those multiple parts aren’t involved in the process, your project could be heading for the rocks. Successful project teams work together to ensure that nothing falls through a gap. Unsuccessful ones don’t look beyond their own fiefdoms.

Snake Five:

How do you know if your new restaurant software platform is a success? Setting specific, measurable objectives at the very beginning of the project is crucial, because if you don’t have targets then you have no way of knowing whether you’re hitting those targets or not.  It’s also important to set milestones within the project, as these can be the canaries in the coal mine, the signs that something serious might be going wrong.

The more solid the objectives, the better. “Improving efficiency” is meaningless, because there’s no substance to it. Setting goals such as improving table occupancy by X percent or reducing waiting times by Y is clear and easy to measure.

Snake Six:

Not in the kitchen; we mean metaphorically. Successful restaurant IT projects have a clear chain of command and a clear project head, with overall responsibility for the entire project. Other key figures must be involved too, of course, but that involvement needs to be via the project head. Managerial meddling has been the undoing of many a promising project.

Snake Seven:

Stepping out of the restaurant industry for a moment, one of the most famous examples of mission creep took place in Denver, when the airport wanted to replace its manual baggage handling system with an automated one. The project finished 16 months late, was $560 million over budget and didn’t meet the original specification. It was so bad that the airport had to build a second manual system to do all the things the automated one didn’t. The new system ended up used in just one concourse, by one airline.

The disaster wasn’t a surprise. None of the original project bidders believed the project was possible in the proposed timetable. The city ignored them. Local officials then hired consultants to evaluate the proposal. The consultants said it was madness. The city ignored them too.

Worst of all, no-one at City Hall consulted the very organisations that would be using the system, the airlines. By the time they got involved huge parts of the new system had already been built - and lacked crucial features, such as the ability to handle skis and oversize luggage. Some already completed sections had to be rebuilt, while unbuilt sections had to be redesigned at great expense.

And Finally...

We are sure your next restaurant technology project will run more smoothly than this last example, but detailed planning is always important before things get moving.

There’s always some negativity around any new technology project affecting the entire business. Sometimes people just fear change or are reluctant to come out of their comfort zone, Sometimes the benefits simply haven’t been communicated well enough. But with careful planning to anticipate each twist and turn in the road, project teams can sweep away any snakes lying in waiting and create a smoother route for their own Big Switch.


  • Setting specific, measurable objectives from the outset is essential. You can’t hit targets if you don’t know what they are.

  • Designing complex systems on the hoof is a recipe for disaster. The specification needs to be nailed down before any work commences.

  • The benefits of a new system may be clear to you, but that doesn’t mean they’re obvious to the people who will be using it. Communication is crucial.

  • Too many cooks spoil the broth, and too many managers can doom an IT project.

  • Projects rarely fail because of technological issues. Poor planning is usually the culprit.

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