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Restaurant Technology to the Rescue

By Kevin Hogencamp

Penny pinching in the restaurant business is one thing. Freeing up 10 hours of your manager’s time each week to focus on what matters most – the food, menu and customers – is another.

That’s what Chris Smith says a Georgia technology firm’s app for ordering, invoicing and inventory is doing for the Savannah business he co-owns, Zunzi’s TakeOut & Catering, which serves sandwiches, salads and more with Swiss, Italian, South African and Dutch influences.

Orderly Snap appSmith says the Orderly app (www.getorderly.com) enables Zunzi’s to manage food costs, remove data entry from the restaurant’s daily duties and operate virtually without paper.

In short, the app produces a more efficient operation and a stealthier bottom line, he says.

“We’re pushing more customers through the line because my manager is able to be more productive with this time,” Smith says.

While most restaurant chains and franchises have automated, proprietary processes that increase efficiencies, many independent operations have been left behind by technology.

That’s why Mark Haidet says he helped launch Orderly through his company, Siftit Inc.

“I was frustrated with our manual processes and lack of information for running the business,” says Haidet, who is also co-owner of the Atlanta-area Takorea eateries.

Haidet says that when he asked his operating partner “why we were so bad at the back-of-house processes,” he was told that’s the way it is in most restaurants.

That didn’t sit well with Haidet, whose business management career is heavy in the information technology arena.

So he assembled some fellow restaurateurs to help him better understand the pain points and – over the past three years – has steadily developed simple, flexible technology solutions with Orderly.

For Smith, taking inventory no longer involves clipboards and spreadsheets; rather, he and other Orderly customers simply snap a photo of invoices with their smartphone or tablet. The technology and the people behind it do the rest, including integrating suppliers’ data, and restaurant bean-counters can access every invoice online and produce detailed spending reports

Orderly customers can get acquainted with the invoicing service by using a free app – and then upgrade to premium services. Later this year, Orderly will release a plate-costing module that will provide real-time cost-effectiveness data by menu item, giving restaurants control of their profitability.

Haidet says the way he looks at it, embracing technology takes away the way need for restaurant operators to have an MBA.

“We make all those processes paperless, painless and online,” he says.

After initially focusing on the Atlanta market, Orderly now has customers nationwide. Haidet says Orderly has doubled its business in the past year and now processes more than $10 million a month in customer orders and invoices for more than 1,500 restaurants.

“We will continue to evolve and be driven by our customers’ needs combined with our experience in process and technology design,” he says.

Smith says that his experience as a Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchisee helped him appreciate the importance of putting systems in place at Zunzi’s. So he knew from Day 1 that the Orderly product – which does not have an upfront fee and costs $100 to $250 per month depending on the customer’s choice of available modules – was a sure thing.

Smith says Orderly’s value to Zunzi’s will increase exponentially when he expands the concept to other locations.

“The chaotic, frenetic pace in a restaurant is too much and too important for the manager to have to worry about data entry,” he says.

The National Restaurant Association says that its yet-to-be-released 2016 survey shows that while most restaurant operators agree that innovation can help their business, many don’t embrace new technology because of the cost and perceived complications involved.

For restaurants that other equipped to embrace technology, it’s a matter of which app or software to implement.

And getting started.

Turn Tables Faster and Reduce Identity Theft

Tavernpointe restaurant’s Patrick Reels says that until recently, he discouraged large groups from splitting the check individually.

It was time-consuming for the servers and, thus, a burden on other customers.

Now, Reels uses splitting checks as a selling point at the Midtown Atlanta restaurant, which opened at the corner of Spring and Peachtree streets last summer.

“Before, when people would get bold enough to ask, ‘Can you separate our 70 checks, and I’d say, ‘Uh, no,’” he says.

Awkward.

“Until this app came out.”

Split ApplicationThe app is Split (www.payandsplit.com), an Atlanta company’s innovation that aims to reduce the time and friction associated with serving large groups by enabling diners to view, pay and split their checks directly from their phones.

Reels says the free app is a godsend at Tavernpointe, which does a huge chunk of its business in its spacious private dining room.

“The customer simply tells the server they are paying with Split, and the tab magically appears on their phone; from there, they can pay their share with the app,” Reels says. “They don’t even have to see their server again – because, you know, when you’re ready to go, you’re ready to go.”

The tab can be split among diners or by menu item, and customers can share the bill with friends by tagging them. The app integrates directly into your POS and does not require extra hardware. Transactions are handled behind Split’s PCI-compliant gateway, eliminating the risk of identity theft when customers hand off their cards.

“It’s really like the greatest thing ever in this business,” Reels says, noting that customers without the app can pay their bill the old-fashioned way.

“I wish this had come out a long time ago. All of us in the restaurant industry would have made a lot more money,” he says.

Split CEO and co-founder Jimmy Patel says restaurants whose customers use the app are turning tables up to 15 minutes faster because diners don’t have to wait on servers, and servers don’t have to wait on credit cards to process.

Patel says the app is a much more robust all-in-one-mobile solution than originally intended. For example, customers are able to privately rate their experience, and restaurants, in turn, can directly market to customers with the app.

“The point of payment isn’t the end of a diners’ experience, but the beginning of their continual engagement with the restaurant,” Patel says.

Also, Split customers can view menus, order takeout and pay in advance through the app.

Patel says the enhanced customer experiences are paying off at the cash register for Split’s restaurant partners. On average, Split customers’ tab amounts are at least 10 percent higher, and their tips are 4 percent higher, he says.

Split is the first app from The Ampersand Group, a mobile development company that specializes in productivity tools for the restaurant and hospitality industry. The 1-year-old company, which charges a monthly fee to participating restaurants along with a cut of transaction fees for take-out orders, recently expanded beyond Atlanta.

Earlier this year, Split was awarded with the title of FinTech Innovation of the Year Award by the Technology Association of Georgia.

“We will continue to improve and innovate upon the platform we have already built while adding additional services to help our restaurant partners deliver the best guest experiences in the business,” Patel says.

Launch That Cooking Class or Pop-up Dinner

Atlanta’s Robert Neidlinger has been in technology sales for 20 years. But he’s a lifetime foodie at heart who seeks out opportunities for social dining experiences and to enhance his kitchen skills sans culinary school.

Often, that hasn’t been so easy.

“In Atlanta, there were always great cooking classes and wine tours and other food-and-beverage events out there, but the information was not in one place, so they were hard to find,” he says.

Not, anymore.

Last year, Neidlinger launched CulinaryLocal (www.culinarylocal.com), a ticketing platform and marketplace for Atlanta-area restaurants, businesses and organizations that host food and beverage events. His company profits from charging a percentage for each ticket sold.

CulinaryLocal’s 100-plus partners include Pine Street Market, The Cook’s Warehouse, Bellina Alimentari, Symposium Wines and others who host cooking classes, popup dinners, wine-and-chocolate pairings, walking food tours and other events. CulinaryLocal donates 60 percent of its service fees for nonprofit fundraising events to The Giving Kitchen, an emergency assistance nonprofit for restaurant workers facing hardship.

“What we’ve developed is a beautiful showcase of their events online, along with a platform to help them sell more tickets,” Neidlinger says.

CulinaryLocal not only posts events on its website, it advocates for them by assigning “ambassadors” to write articles and promote the events on social media.

“Food is very visual art and needs to be showcased rather than treated just like everything else,” Neidlinger says. “We’ve quickly become experts in event marketing, so we’re constantly working with our partners on how to promote their events to get the most traction.”

Pine Street Market Chef Rusty Bowers credits Neidlinger and CulinaryLocal for boosting attendance at his Atlanta business’s whole hog, sausage-making and cured meat classes – while strengthening the Atlanta food-and-beverage scene.

“He’s a great promoter for us all, and he’s getting us in front of people who’d never heard about our company and our shop,” Bowers says.

Because CulinaryLocal is exclusively a platform for authentic culinary experiences and not simply a promotional avenue for restaurants, some event submissions are rejected.

“We vet everything that comes through,” Neidlinger says.

Prevent Inventory Loss

One week. That’s how long it took for Josh Carden to conclude that paying $100 a month to have White Columns Country Club’s refrigeration units’ temperatures continually monitored is an outright bargain.

A walk-in cooler quit working on a Sunday night, and the Milton country club’s food and beverage operation is closed on Mondays.

A text alert sent to Carden from Atlanta technology company VeriSolutions (www.verisolutions.co) saved more than $5,000 in food from spoiling.

“We made a call and got it repaired right away. Tuesday would have been too late” to save the food, says Carden, the Milton country club’s executive chef.

Founded in 2015, Atlanta-based VeriSolutions offers mobile applications that, in addition to directly saving customers’ money by preventing losses, ensures compliance with safety protocols in the restaurant, hospitality and healthcare industries.

“We were focused on building a solution that enables people to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to monitoring their refrigeration devices,” says VeriSolutions founder and CEO Michael Crocker.

VeriSolutions’ integrated software platform communicates with a network of sensors and runs on cellular data networks, so no internet connection is necessary to keep customers constantly plugged in their refrigeration units’ temperatures. There’s no installation costs or upcharges – just a standard monthly fee.

Carden says he impresses White Columns’ health inspector by showing her daily reports providing temperature readings every 30 minutes from each of the country club’s 11 refrigeration units. Along with receiving immediate notifications when the temperatures vary from his 33-to-42-degree threshold, Carden is emailed a customized summary report at 6 a.m. daily.

“The first time I showed her the report, she said, ‘That’s spectacular. I love your commitment,’” Carden says.

Crocker, whose background primarily is in the medical image software business, says VeriSolutions has plans to expand its monitoring services to employee handwashing.

The company’s foundation, he says, is to develop and provide cost-effective solutions that improve efficiency and safety compliance.

“I don’t think we’re revolutionary,” Crocker says. “We’re evolutionary.”

Enhance Your Guests’ Experience

Retail Data Systems, the mega-provider of point-of sale (POS) hardware and software, also has new technologybased solutions for restaurants.

Among them is software that enables staff members to use a tablet to take tableside orders, manage customer seating, set up reservations and text customers when it’s time to be seated. Integrated into the restaurant’s POS system, the mobile solution aims to enhance the guest experienceand increase speed of service, says Garry Easterling, sales manager for Atlanta-based RDS Southeast.

“It’s becoming high in demand at table-service restaurants,” he says. RDS also recently rolled out a restaurant solution that, among other attributes, displays videos of menu items on kitchen monitors. This technology shows kitchen staffers “what dishes should look like before they are plated and served to the customer,” Easterling said.

Postec, a 29-year-old Roswell-based provider of POS solutions for the hospitality, retail and grocery industries, also took a major technology step forward this year by adding Toast, an all-in-one mobile POS and restaurant management system to its portfolio.

Unlike with on-premise POS systems, Toast’s software updates are performed over the web and at no charge to customers. Also, Postec’s customers can manage online ordering, gift cards, loyalty programs and inventory over the web.

Alan Wright, Postec’s vice president of sales, says Toast’s applications provide an affordable, functional and serviceable cloud-based solution for Postec’s customers.

“Until very recently, the tradeoff between cloud-based solutions and reliability was too great for most professional operators to absorb,” he says.

Now, when it comes to what technology can do for restaurants, the future is wide open

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