Does your system cover all bases?

The right database can streamline your bar, restaurant or hotel business, writes IT consultant Richard Walsh

Databases play a ‘crucial’ role, according to Walsh.

BY the time you’ve looked at three new cars and taken them for a test-drive, you probably have a pretty good idea which one to choose.

It’s not so easy with database systems, which are crucial in the licensed trade for successful front-of-house operations.
Database systems can be very difficult to evaluate before purchase, as what you see in a software demonstration does not always translate well into a solution for your business needs. So it can be useful to work from a checklist when choosing your first or a new database.
Firstly, as a general guide, rule out any systems which seem either too basic or too complex, leaving you with a smaller range of systems in your middle-ground to consider. Also, ensure you have a rough idea of how much the system is likely to cost and set a budget.

The aim of getting the right database is to free valuable time from administration.

It’s important to identify which areas of your business consume the most administration time and prioritise accordingly. For instance, if you are managing any of your business information manually, it could be very useful to incorporate that information within a database; if you use a number of spreadsheets to help administer your business (eg for bar stock), you could consider using a database to do this instead.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if your business is steadily growing, you will have less time to monitor it using spreadsheets. Database information can usually be updated, shared and reported on more easily.
If you already have a database, consider how well it has met your needs. If your experience has been mostly satisfactory, you might like to upgrade it, instead of buying a new one.
Whether you are investing in a database for the first time, or upgrading your existing one, the main thing is to give yourself plenty of time to assess and choose the right database, using a variety of resources to help you.
You could try an online demo from the database suppliers, YouTube videos by the suppliers or customers and by reading independent reviews of the product. Online support forums can be helpful, too, and try to find out if there is a version you can download and evaluate.
For larger systems, you can ask for a site visit to a customer already running the system and find out if there is an active and independent user group. It’s also advisable to check whether your potential supplier belongs to a relevant accredited organisation, such as Hotel Technology Next Generation.
It is worth bearing in mind that you are unlikely to find everything you are looking for in one database package. Your eventual choice may have to be a compromise, so work out which package promises the most suitable mix of benefits for you.
And before you make your choice, it can also be useful to review the age of your PCs to ensure they are not too old to run or access the database you choose. Also, check your proposed new database can be installed on your existing server or if the new supplier is recommending a separate dedicated server.

The main thing is to give yourself plenty of time to assess and choose the right database.

If your business is larger, you may decide to take a ‘turnkey’ system (where all elements of software, hardware, training and support come from the same source). This can be comforting but beware of the ongoing costs for hardware and software maintenance and whether you will own, rent or lease the system.
Cloud-based systems are increasingly being offered as the ideal solution to your database needs, but even though your data is stored in the ‘cloud’, it can still be lost, so backing up your information is still crucial.
The aim of getting the right database is to ensure that your valuable time is freed up from focusing on administration and spent on more profitable activity.
It’s all about further improving the smooth running of your business, attracting more new customers and generating repeat business – that’s what every hotel, bar and restaurant owner or manager wants, so it’s well worth taking the time to choose and invest in the most suitable database system for you.
• Richard Walsh is managing director of IT Atwork.

Image – Databases play a ‘crucial’ role, according to Walsh.