Setting up a restaurant network
For a long time the only thing that required a networking setup in the restaurant environment was the Point of Sale (POS) equipment. In the restaurant of today there are so many more business critical systems that rely on a robust and secure network, both wired and wireless. The number of systems depending on the restaurant network is only going to increase as more technology, particularly IoT devices and sensors are introduced. This is a guide on best practice for building or retrofitting a restaurant network, so that you can provide the best possible environment for today’s requirements as well as making sure that you cater for future technologies. This is not an in depth technical document, but rather a high level practical guide to provide some guidance for all stakeholders, including the restaurant owner.
Elements covered in this guide
There are several broad areas that we cover in this guide to setting up a restaurant network. We will go into detail in each of these areas in the main part of the piece. The broad categories for setting up a restaurant network are as follows:
Network Device Requirements
As a jumping off point, we will explore the types of devices that you will require in your restaurant network. These are the devices that will run your network and manage other devices that are connected to your network:
- Broadband Modem – Provide internet access for your network
- Router/Firewall – Provides network devices and clients with IP addresses and routes data through network
- Network Switch (at least one) – Connects the network physically to other parts of the building through cabling. Also manages VLAN’s
- WiFi Access Point – Extends your network via wireless so devices can connect without a physical cable connection
Cabling and Network Infrastructure
This is the most important part of your network and it is vital that you get this right at an early stage. While everything else, including routers and switches can be easily changed, the cabling and infrastructure is an entirely different matter. Running new cables in a busy restaurant causes all sorts of headaches. Your network infrastructure will comprise the following elements and each one is critically important to get right
This is one area where most restaurants fall down and they end up hiding all the equipment in behind the POS terminal. It is important to have a secure and spacious cabinet to house your broadband modem, router, switches and any other network equipment you may have. Ideally it should have restricted access so that only the right people can access it
Patch panels are placed in your comms cabinet and and it is where all of you cables throughout the restaurant will come back to. The cables are terminated (connected) to the back of the patch panels so that it is easy to connect network cables in and out. Sometimes you might see loose cables just being connected to a switch which is not good practice. Even if you only have a small network, a small patch panel inside your comms area is a must have. Another important point – make sure they are clearly marked so you know here the cables behind the panel run to.
All of your network devices need to be connected by cable back to the comms cabinet, specifically back to the patch panels within the comms cabinet which should be clearly marked. There are a few important considerations here. First, if possible, run two cables to each location, each one terminated to a wall plate as it is possible that one cable could get damaged over time and you will be very relieved to have a backup. Secondly, use the highest spec cable as possible. As of today CAT6 cable, while not being the most recent standard, is the best option to use.
The cables are terminated to network points, which are fitted to the wall close to the area where you need the network. It is important to terminate the cables to a network point and not having loose cables lying around a bar counter or similar. These will run directly back to your patch panel, and should be clearly marked.
Current Network Use Cases
There are many uses cases for devices and equipment in the restaurant, both now and in the future. First we will break down, one by one the main uses cases for the restaurant of today.
Point of Sale (POS)
The restaurant POS system is probably the most important requirement for your network. It will consist of one or more cash/order terminals and facilitate customers being able to pay their bills after service. These will certainly need to be connected to have a wired connection to your main switch so that they can communicate across the network and access the internet. They should also be on a VLAN and be encrypted at the terminal for PCI compliance
Card payment Terminals
Payment terminals typically connect directly to the internet, and so will need an internet connection. This can be either a wired or a wireless connection. If it is wired then the terminal, or the base of the terminal will connect back to the main switch. If using WiFi then it can connect to the restaurants wireless network. Again for PCI compliance, these payment terminals should encrypt traffic at source. Very often the card terminals and the POS equipment will be connected and therefore should be on the same network. In any case, the network that the card terminals is on will need to have a VLAN. It is worth bearing in mind that older payment terminals will not roam (connect to the closest WiFi access point) very well and can drop the signal if moving around the restaurant. Newer models are much better at managing this movement between areas.
In this case we are talking about IP cameras, as opposed to the older CCTV cameras that need coax cables. IP cameras run through your main network switch and will be connected back to your main comms box to a controller device of some variety. Like the other core network functions, the camera should be on its own network with a VLAN.
Another important requirement for your restaurant network is to provide WiFi access to your guests. Free WiFi is pretty much expected by guests, however it is also an opportunity to capture valuable guest data. using a service like MyPlace Connect, you can capture guest email address and integrate with an email marketing provider, like Mailchimp. Building a restaurant network is a cost, but if you can capture valuable customer data then you can generate a positive return on investment to recoup that cost. Any guest WiFi network should be on a VLAN to keep it separate from other network traffic
VOIP Phone System
If you are going to go all in on your restaurant network you will also mos likely have a VOIP phone system. Each VOIP system is different, however it is best practice to put your phone system on a separate network with a VLAN
Third Party Delivery Tablets
It is quite likely that you will have at least one third party delivery tablet in your restaurant. These will need to at least have internet access, and possibly a connection to to your POS network if there is a deeper integration. Ordinarily, it will be sufficient if they are connected via WiFi to the guest network
Kitchen Printers are becoming more mainstream as ordering apps allow instant order dispatch to the kitchen. Kitchen printers are likely to be on the same network as your POS system and probably be cabled, although connecting via WiFi may also be an option. In fact a WiFi connection may be more desirable as any equipment stored in or near the kitchen tends to get greasy pretty quick.
Every restaurant will have its own PC/laptop to manage bookings, send receive emails and facilitate general admin activities. These devices may need access to the POS system, depending on how it is setup, or it may need a VPN back to head office.
Many of the screens in your restaurant, including digital signage will require a connection to the internet. In all likelihood, TV’s will be only connected via the internet in the future so best plan ahead for this eventuality now. For digital signage, a WiFi connection should be fine, but if you do plan to connect an IPTV then a wired connection would probably be best
Chromecast and casting content
The way we interact with devices continues to evolve and the availability of casting technology allows content to be shared from smartphones or other devices directly to TV and screens. This will be done over the WiFi network and it does not always work well if the WiFi network is in guest mode, so a workaround will be required. Do not be surprised if request for casting to a TV/Screen become a regular occurrence in the future.
Your equipment will facilitate setting up of a number of networks. A network is a range of unique IP addresses, called a subnet that will allow all devices in that range communicate with each other, as well as reach the internet (if desired). As a general guide you will need the following networks:
- POS/Card Terminals/Kitchen Printer
- Camera Network
- VOIP Phone Network
- Guest Network
- Private Network
Each of these networks should have their own VLAN for security purposes
Future Network Use Cases
As important as a robust network is for a restaurant is now, it will become even more important in the future. Pretty much everything in the restaurant will be connected in the future. We have listed some potential future use cases below, and indeed some of these are probably already in existence but just not widely adapted
Voice search and command is going to become increasingly important, especially in the restaurant environment where people use their hands often and don’t always have access to a device. This would be especially useful in the kitchen where chefs can easily complete an action using their voice, instead of washing hands etc to write something down.
Internet of Things (IoT)
There will be sensors all over the restaurant of the future. From cleaning station sensors to temperature sensors and beyond. There will be a sensor for every type of thing that can be measured. These sensors will need to be connected to the internet and it will be WiFi that connects them. If you think that they outdoor goods entrance does not need WiFi coverage, then maybe think again. At the very least make sure that there are cables running to these areas so you can always add a WiFi access point later if required
Drone Collection Points
Third party delivery companies like Uber Eats and Deliveroo are already planning the next evolution of third party delivery services with the use of drones to deliver food to your customers. There are even companies like Manna who will be offering drone delivery as a service. Which ever way you get your delivery orders, it will need a process and the functions of that process will need to be connected. Take the opportunity to plan ahead
What is the best network equipment for restaurants?
There are many different brands of equipment that could be used and from a technical perspective there really isn’t that much difference. All WiFi and network technology is very much standardized these days. That leaves cost, ease of use and scalability as the most important factors for consideration. In this regard, it is our opinion that Ubiquiti UniFi is the best range of equipment for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Most affordable, most flexible and completely scalable with minimal ongoing costs. There is also ready made guest portal solutions if you would like to capture email on UniFi and launch a WiFi Marketing service. Ubiquiti also have a range of IP cameras that can be part of your core network for a neat all in one solution.
Guide to setting up a restaurant network
So that concludes our ultimate guide to setting up a restaurant network. The most important thing to get right is the core cabling infrastructure as this is the foundation on which you build your network. Everything else can and will changeover time and equipment gets upgraded and new technologies are introduced. The network of the modern restaurant will become more important as it is expected to manage more and more functionality. It is best to start well and grow your network in a controlled and manageable way over time