Ahh, hipsters. Is there anybody who doesn’t sneer at them? But why is that? I mean, sure, you only have to look at an egregious affront to taste and decency like that artisanal mayonnaise shop in Brooklyn to say, “That’s why, Dave.” But if you could smell my beard right now, a mix of pine and cedar oils that I bought from a skinny jeaned hipster on Etsy, you might see things differently (full disclosure: I was a hipster before it was cool). And the team over at Priceonomics has released a book entitled “Hipster Business Models,” that sings the praises of the unique markets that are created—and then served—by the newest generation of entrepreneurs. One of the conclusions they’ve reached is that the success of the “hipster economy” (my term) isn’t solely because the world suddenly developed a taste for Fair Trade Macrame dog sweaters. In a post over at time.com, Priceonomics writer Zachary Crockett notes,
Whereas creating a business with national reach once cost hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of work, it can be done today in a couple of hours, for a few bucks a month.
He’s writing, of course, of the impact of technology—and the cloud, specifically—on a small business. This is especially true for small time restaurants and cafes, businesses which inherently face significant cost challenges before you even get to the customer acquisition phase (the ingredients in an apple pie are in more flux than those in an Apple computer).
But now, with more and more big business tools being made available to small and medium sized shops as cloud computing slashes traditional computing costs and overhead. There’s probably never been a better time to open a restaurant, a bold statement which I can make because I put the word “probably” in front of it. But there are tons of apps for restaurateurs out there, and If you’re a restaurant owner (or bar, or cafe, or bistro, et cetera), you’d do well to take a look at our list of the best.
Xero – http://www.xero.com
Let’s start this list of restaurant flavored apps with one that has nothing to do with restaurants. Xero is the online accounting software brought to you by our Kiwi mates across the Tasmanian Sea, and I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of it by now. Their cloud accounting software—designed and priced for small business—has become so popular that Xero is probably too big to use its own product at this point. Any POS worth using will integrate with Xero, though some do it better than others.
Beat the Q – http://www.beattheq.com
Move over, GrubHub: you’re lame and expensive. If you’re a quick-serve or casual dining restaurant, one way to beat the competition is to start using Beat the Q. This coud app can operate independently of—or integrate with—your POS, with payments made right from your customer’s smartphone and the money (minus a nominal flat fee) going right into your BtQ vendor account. If your customers are under the age of 40, I can guarantee they don’t want to talk to you on the phone. If you’re doing takeout, you need to give this one a try
Collect Rewards – http://collectrewards.com
Collect Rewards takes loyalty to the next level. You weren’t aware there was a next level to punch cards and point systems? Well, think again. Back in the day (and that day was a Thursday in 1982), customer loyalty programs were meant to encourage repeat business. This was good for getting people who’d already been to your cafe to come back, but what about those who’ve never set foot inside? Collect adds a social media component to highly customisable rewards schemes, meant to foster repeat AND new business.
Deputy – http://www.deputy.com
Immanuel Kant held that time was neither an event nor a thing; those who subscribe to this way of thinking view time as a human intellectual construct used to make sense of the world around us. I’m not saying the developers over at Deputy were channeling some kind of Kantian ethic during beta testing, but the app does do a lot to affirm the notion that time actually is what you make of it. Using mobile apps and accessible from anywhere, Deputy makes scheduling your staff a participatory process, one that’s transparent and keeps you all on the same page, regardless of your superposition in space-time.
Wunderlist – http://www.wunderlist.com
A restaurant is one of the smallest operations that could really benefit from an org chart, and with so many different departments—hosting, wait, kitchen, and bus staff—it’s imperative that everyone knows the big picture. Wunderlist brings the to-do list to your phone, which OK: yeah. You’ve already go a to-do list on your phone. Wunderlist is collaborative—everyone’s got an eye on what needs to be done, and there are no questions as to who’s responsible for doing it—and interactive. Chattiing in the app keeps all communications around a project or event organized in place. If this all sounds boring, that’s because it is. And that’s the point: no one needs the excitement of surprises stemming from miscommunication.
Yelp! – http://www.yelp.com
Yelp isn’t just a social networking site where opinionated blowhards can write that the Bedford, Ohio IHOP has sullied the good name of the franchise’s signature Rooty Tooty Fresh n’ Fruity breakfast plate. It’s also a way to take your research to the streets, without ever having to set foot on the streets. Besides getting a feel for what people are saying about your restaurant, responding here and there lets people know that you’re paying attention and responsive. It goes a long way toward fostering a give and take between you and your regulars.
Survey Maker by Loop – http://www.loopsurvey.com
If the success of Yelp! proved anything, it’s that people love to express their opinions if it means they get to hold an iPad for awhile. Hand your customers a comment card and a pencil at the end of a meal, and you’ll have an empty suggestion box while your customer gets a free, pre-made shiv. Hand over a shiny iPad, though, and they can’t wait to tell you about their feelings. This is scientific fact. Alternatively, you can email or text a link to the survey so customers can do it at their leisure.
Key Ingredient – http://www.keyingredient.com
This app is a social database of over 2 million recipes. You’ve probably got your own recipes that you’re proud of, and I’m not suggesting you just take someone else’s and call it your own. But as a tool for inspiration and menu planning, Key Ingredient is a bit like having a Big Data consultancy telling you exactly what people who love food are making for themselves, giving you insight into popular ingredients and food trends.
Mixology – http://mixologyapp.com
Admittedly, cocktails are where the hipsters I praised earlier take things a little too far. No one needs to go out in public and order a Corpse Reviver #1, or the unfortunately spoonerised Hock Cobbler. But if they do, your bartender’ll be ready with the Mixology app, a database of over 8,000 cocktail recipes.
NoWait Host – http://nowaitapp.com
NoWait is more than just a we’ll-text-you-when-your-table-is-ready app. You can also create a table layout, assign server sections, and use all this data to get an idea of turnover rate and who could use improvement. It uses predictive technology to provide an estimate of wait time, and allows users to join the NoWait network to see their place in line and real-time estimated wait.
Tastevin – http://tastevinapp.com
Here’s the dirty truth about your massive wine list: most of us stare vacantly at it, confused by the verbiage and wondering WTF a “tannin” is? Then we find the cheapest bottle on the list and go with that. With Tastevin, customers can scroll through your list on an iPad, read descriptions that you write—tailored to your menu—and also get your suggested pairings. Customers can share items via Facebook, which sounds kind of pointless until you realize no one can remember the name of that great wine they loved after they’ve downed a few bottles of it.
Restaurateur – View on App Store
Wherever do they come up with these names? Marketing people are so clever! Restaurateur is an app for those looking to open a restaurant, or with dreams of expanding their existing operations. Enter variables like square footage, the rental price per square foot, and average amount of a check, and Restaurateur predicts your sales based on “standard key performance indicators and common industry ratios.” It’s not for comprehensive business planning, and they’re quick to point out that that’s not their aim, but the app can give you all kinds of useful data to quickly determine the worth of your aspirations, and to fine tune your business plan accordingly.
Shelf Life – View on App Store
Shelf Life is a food expiration tracker, and if you need me to expand on why that’s useful in a restaurant let me know, so I can never eat at your place. Who wouldn’t want to minimise wastage by knowing at a quick glance which ingredients need to be used up quick? Having to throw stuff out is a hard decision, but that decision becomes easier when you’ve got empirical proof that a food poisoning lawsuit will be your daily special if you use that shrimp you remembered you bought on Monday. Or was it Saturday?
Hootsuite – http://hootsuite.com It should go without saying that social media is an important part of any marketing strategy these days. So I’m not going to say it. What I will say is that the wider you cast your net, the more results you’ll see. Hootsuite lets you manage all your accounts—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et cetera—from a single dashboard. You can schedule posts across multiple platforms, follow conversations other people are having using keywords you define, and get detailed analytics on what’s working and what isn’t through its reporting tool.
Snappy Timer – View on App Store
From the moment an order is placed to the point where the dish is set down in front of a customer, everything that goes into its creation is a function of precision timing. This is especially true in more upscale and fine dining establishments. Snappy Timer lets you set up multiple timers as presets, each with its own icon and puts them all on one easy-to-read screen. Single tap starting and stopping each timer keeps it simple, while everybody in the kitchen can tell in a single glance what station needs attention.
Dwolla – http://www.dwolla.com
Probably the least complicated of all the mobile payment apps, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dwolla were the least expensive one too. Your Dwolla account is linked to a real bank account, and the same goes for your customers. When you accept payment through Dwolla, your customer sends money from her account to yours. If the transaction is under $10, it’s free. If it’s over $10, you get charged a flat rate of 25 cents. That’s it. What are you waiting for?
Partender – http://www.partender.com
This app solves the problem of keeping an accurate inventory for all your liquour, and it does so in the simplest of ways. Organize your inventory into sections or categories, and then add in all the bottles of liquour you have on your shelves. Inventory is kept visually, using a picture of the bottle and a slider to record the current level of liquour. Multiple people can take inventory simultaneously, and because you’re just sliding your fingers on pictures it gets done in minutes. Reporting helps you quickly identify variances in levels and revenue. And by setting certain thresholds in advance, finalising your stock take at the end of the night generates an inventory report and purchase orders for any bottles that need reordering.
Rockbot – http://rockbot.com
I believe it was the great Talmudic scholar Madonna who once urged a generation to “get into the groove.” Decades later, the geniuses at Rockbot have heeded this clarion call to communal groove-tasticity with their social jukebox app. You define a master playlist, and your customers can make requests off of it through the smartphone app. Tracks with the most requests move up in the queue. It sounds simple, and it is, but it makes for a more interactive and engaging experience at your restaurant or bar.
Convert Units – View on App Store
Easily convert between litres and cups, ounces and grams, or just about any other unit that you can think of. Note that if you’re making dishes out of the Cookin’ with Coolio cookbook, you’re on your own: this app does not convert from or to “dime bags.”
Food Safety Exam Prep – View on App Store
Not all the apps listed here are going to be sexy and fun. But your customers won’t care about your social jukebox while they’re doubled over in pain from tainted food. The Food Safety Exam Prep app covers all the major topics covered in the major food safety certifications, like the American Food Safety Institute and ServSafe. Anyone know why they dropped the E in “Serve” for that name? It’s dumb.
Kounta (iPad POS App)
Yeah, OK, this is #21 on a list of 20. But it’s like I’ve always said, There are three kinds of people in this world: Those who are good at math, and those who aren’t. But while all these apps are great at digging into the corners of your business, Kounta is a foundation that can support the whole structure. Designed to meet the needs of the hospitality industry specifically, Kounta’s advanced inventory and customer management, along with kitchen and bar specific features, feature matches with leading legacy POS systems—all from the cloud.