Restaurant VARs Transition from “Necessary Evil” to “Growth Partners”

Insights and highlights from Restaurants Canada 2023 and the RSPA Canadian Community Networking Event in Toronto

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

I recall 10 years ago a hospitality VAR sharing with me the uphill battle he and other technology providers faced with their solution essentially limited to the POS and payments. “Restaurant owners want to cook food and serve it in a great atmosphere, and they don’t want to think about the point of sale,” he said. “I get it – we’re a necessary evil to keep their business running.”

I’ll have to catch up with that VAR again soon because what I heard this week in Toronto at the Restaurants Canada Show, held April 10-12 at the Enercare Center, and during the RSPA Canadian Community Networking Event the evening of April 11 at the Hockey Hall of Fame, shows that merchants today view solution providers and technology in a much different light. A few of the comments I heard from merchants during RC Show panels:

  • “Technology is critical — it gives us our edge. We are a convenience store and use technology to enable us to provide the convenience our customers seek.”
  • “Handhelds can reframe the experience. It gets the order to the kitchen faster and it can allow different kinds of relationships between the server and guest to be enhanced.”
  • “Ensure the technology you put forward aligns with the guest experience you want them to have.”

Notice those comments don’t dwell on tracking cash, inventory, or other behind-the-scenes functions the POS handles. They mention customer, convenience, guest experience, and relationships which all lead to increased sales for the merchant. “You can use technology to drive sales, not just reduce expenses,” a restauranteur noted. “Knowing who your customers are and their consumer behavior and then incentivizing them drives up their frequency dining with you and their average check.”

The talk in the tech pavilion at last year’s Restaurants Canada event was “labor, labor, labor!” as merchants grappled with the (still ongoing) worker shortage. VARs can still help with that, so can you imagine how powerful your pitch would be if you could help merchants both fill the labor gap and enhance the guest experience?

There’s significant opportunity in 2023 and beyond for restaurant and retail solution providers who can transcend beyond their status as an operations-focused trusted advisor to becoming the merchant’s growth partner.

More from the RC Show: Technology Evolution is “Remarkable – and it’s Here to Stay”
I scratched as many notes as a I could during a session titled “The Future of Dining & Technology” moderated by Groupex Canada President Paul Methot and featuring Stuart Lachovsky of Libro Reservations and R-P Plourde of UEAT, two Canadian-based ISVs:

  • This labor shortage is here for the next 9-10 years. Technology can be a tool to help this industry.
  • It’s not all doom and gloom. Restaurants need to be wherever the guest wants to connect. The technology is there to make that happen.
  • Give consumers the choice to order how they want to order – in person, with a QR code, on a self-order kiosk. Give them the chance to make reservations where they want to make reservations.
  • If there’s one word to walk away with today it’s “convenience.”
  • It’s all about restaurants taking all that data we collect and ensuring their customer gets information that’s pertinent to them.

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  • It’s not just about collecting data – it’s about acting on said data. Do you know who your top 5% customers are? Are you giving them a personalized experience?
  • Technology companies have operated in silos – POS, loyalty, reservations, online ordering – but today those are all connected together. Restaurants can get the best-of-breed solutions now because they work together.

A main stage executive technology panel I attended offered insights from Julie Denton of restaurant Recipe Unlimited, Bethany Zak of foodservice innovation hub Relish Works, and Nav Sangha of restaurant technology platform Ambassador:

  • There’s a massive opportunity with omnichannel to sell in-venue and online. That’s where technology can really come in. There’s a lot of new profit in omnichannel.
  • The beauty of technology is you can run tests and turn functions on and off, like dynamic pricing, without spending a lot of money.
  • I can’t help but think about the word “agility.” We have to make sure we don’t lose the nimbleness we developed in 2020. The cost of entry to stay agile has gone down dramatically.
  • Start by getting a handle on your data to help you navigate the rest of the technology.
  • The amount of evolution in the technology pavilion here is remarkable – and it’s here to stay. There’s no end to the amount of integrations available.

The RSPA community was well represented in the RC Show expo hall. Among the exhibitors were members Armagh POS Solutions, Deliverect, Givex, Global Payments Canada, Matrix Integrated Solutions, Moneris, Payfacto, and Radeon Technologies.

Record-Setting Crowd Experiences RSPA Canadian Community Networking Event
The RSPA Canadian Community Networking Event April 11 in downtown Toronto attracted 123 attendees, a record for an RSPA in-country Canadian event. Established VARs and ISVs plus several startups trekked to the Hockey Hall of Fame to meet with Canadian Community sponsors apg, BlueStar, Global Payments, PartnerTech, Star Micronics, Toshiba, and Touch Dynamic as well as listen to featured speaker Carl Boutet.

Boutet, a Montreal-based retail strategist well-known throughout Canada, presented his perspective on the retail industry before being interviewed on stage by follow retail strategist (and RSPA Board member) Michael LeBlanc. Boutet, who recently published his first book The Great Acceleration: The Race to Retail Resilience, talked about how that topic and other 2023 retail trends apply to VARs and ISVs:

  • Seamless Stores: Physical retail stores need to deliver frictionless experiences
  • Enabled Frontline Workers: “We’ve been empowering the consumer. I’m glad to hear brands are caring about empowering their workers.”
  • Shopper Engagement: New routes to engage with the store continue to emerge
  • Changing Relationships: Marketplaces, retail media networks, collaborative commerce networks redefine relationships between consumers, retailers, and brands
  • New Era of Generative AI: “There was a shift from ‘digital’ to ‘smart’ to ‘generative.’ I’m not sure if what’s next it will be called ‘generative’ but it will be something beyond ‘smart.’”
  • Immersive Commerce: Digital, data, and bandwidth will all play an expanded role
  • Sustainable Relevance: “RSPA is a perfect example of this. Retailers aren’t looking for vendors; they’re looking for partners.”

Tying in with the theme I heard at the RC Show, Boutet added, “VARs need to ask, ‘How do I help my customers delight their customers?’”

Restaurants Canada announced the 2024 edition of the RC Show will be held at the Enercare Center April 8-10 – so you can expect the RSPA Canadian Community event to fall on April 9. Between now and then, shore up your offering to ensure you’re helping your merchants accelerate their growth.

Don’t forget to register for RetailNOW 2023, July 30-Aug. 1 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. It’s Where The Industry Meets!

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact