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Turn Data Into Dollars

Monday, August 28th, 2017

By Christy Simo 

Rich Chey. Photo by Sarah Newman

Whether it’s cloud-based POS systems, mobile loyalty apps or iPad POS systems, Georgia’s restaurants are continuing to integrate technology into their business model – and taking advantage of the data collected in the process.  

One such restaurant owner who is benefiting from using more technology is Rich Chey, who operates Osteria 83 Pasta & Pizza, Dragon Bowl and two Doc Chey’s Noodle House restaurants in Atlanta along with a third Doc Chey’s in Asheville, N.C. 

For many years, his company, HomeGrown Restaurant Concepts, used a loyalty card designed much like a credit card – customers showed the card when dining and got discounts and deals, and servers swiped the cards to keep it current. A few years ago, however, the company switched to a mobile loyalty app. Now, Chey says, there’s a lot of information at his fingertips.  

“We’re able to track their spending history – how much they spend, what they like to order. It’s pretty detailed, a lot of information on our customers’ spending habits,” he says. “We use it a lot for marketing, either through text messaging or through email, and communicating with these guests.” 

Chey can also use the data to thank regular or high-spending customers with customized rewards.  

“We segment our customers based on their spending habits,” he says. For instance, the company offers a birthday reward to all of its Karma Club members, but the amount’s not the same across the board. “It really depends on what your spending habits are and what your frequency of service is, the level of your gift,” he says. “So if someone only comes in once a year or a couple times a year, their birthday reward is going to be very different than someone who comes in every week.  

 

Tracking Trends

Chey’s switch from a physical loyalty card to an app tracks a larger trend in the restaurant industry. As people continue to rely on apps and smartphones to manage their lives, they’re expecting restaurants to do the same – and to interact with them that way, too.  

 “There’s this whole movement toward engagement and the dining experience. Having the guests involved in what we’re doing and the decision-making gets them more invested in what we’re doing. It helps with their brand loyalty.”  

According to Technomic, a research and marketing firm for the foodservice industry, that trend is impacting several aspects of how restaurants do business. Yes, guests think tech is important, especially at limited-service restaurants (LSRs) like the fast-casual segment and those restaurants that offer take out and delivery. At these types of places, 38 percent of respondents think technology amenities are very important – that number is even higher with the millennials (between the ages of 18 and 34), 50 percent of whom think it is very important.  

People also want to read menus on their phone, with 44 percent wanting restaurant websites to be mobile-friendly. Nearly half of 18-34 year olds also want to be able to place orders online or through their phones.  

Guest interaction with technology is not confined to quick-serve or fast-casual restaurants, however. In full-service restaurants, some 26 percent of consumers have used a tabletop tablet, with 38 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds doing so.  

“Customers ordering for themselves is going to definitely become more common,” Chey says. “All of our concepts are fast-casual at lunch, and table service in the evening. At lunch I could see having self-serving kiosks where people just order [for] themselves.”  

And while retail businesses have been mining data for years, it’s only recently that the restaurant world is getting in on the game. While several years ago there may have been only a few main players when it came to software for inventory management, seating diners or scheduling employees, now there are dozens of companies intent on helping you run your business better through technology. (See page 14 for more on some of these popular apps.)  

Many of the apps and cloud-based software, which typically run on iPads and smartphones, collect information on customer preferences – what time they came in to eat, how long they stayed, what they ordered, etc.  As more restaurants continue to incorporate the technology into their business, however, it’s led to another asset that was once overlooked – all that data that accumulates, both about your customers and your business.   

“Big data” – the big buzzword in the business world – is the huge amounts of information stored within those apps and software that can be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends and associations about human behavior and interactions. From what your customers order and how long they stayed to their drink preferences and whether they prefer to sit inside or out, it’s information that restaurant owners used to have to rely on their instincts and observations for but is now almost instantaneously at their fingertips.  

 

What That Data Can Do

So now that you have all this information, what do you do with it all? While the sheer volume of data generated can seem daunting, it is immensely helpful, especially since many of today’s cloud-based software and apps include ways to analyze the data it provides. Here’s just a few ways you can use big data to your advantage: 

Test specials and get immediate feedback. Chey often asks Karma Club members to provide feedback on menu specials.“We tend to use the feedback with the new menu items or with specials,” Chey says. “We always have our idea of what the customer will like, and sometimes we’re right on, and sometimes we’re way off. So it’s usually better to get a little feedback on that first before we actually roll it out.” 

Streamline your product inventory. No more clunky excel files and stacks of paper invoices. Today’s inventory management apps offer paperless invoicing, automated accounting and the ability to see price trends and track inventory turns. So you can determine why, exactly, your food costs went up one month to the next, or even week to week or day to day. 

Know whats up with your employees. You can get more accurate information on the number of sick days, vacation or hours works per week for each of your staff, how often they’re working at each of your locations, working opening or closing shifts, and more.   

Provide precisely tailored products or services to different types of diners. You can narrowly segment your customers based on anything from how often they eat at your restaurant to whether they order vegetarian dishes to how often they order take-out.  

“We can segment those guests based on what their frequency is or their spending levels are,” Chey says. “We can get a better idea of what our really regular guests feel about what we’re doing, as well as just the occasional visitor.”  

Create a more effective menu. Figuring out which items are big sellers and which ones aren’t – and why – used to take time to figure out at best, and was a guessing game at worst. Some apps provide information to help you price menu items more effectively, promote specials and to which group of diners, and determine which ones are too costly to keep on the menu.  

Boost employee performance and loyaltyEspecially with younger employees, managing their shifts or communicating with managers via an app makes life easier for them, too.  

“With the millennials, they’re definitely more comfortable with this kind of management tool. … They’re comfortable with the interface and the fact that we can communicate with them fairly seamlessly and as frequently as we want to,” Chey says. “It’s a really good thing. The whole excuse of ‘I didn’t know I was working today’ just goes away.” 

Some apps even can tell you how often you’re selling appetizers and dessert and which employees successfully upset more frequently than others. Not only could this help boost server performance, it can also show managers where more training may be needed.  

As restaurant owners become more comfortable with using these apps and software, many predict the industry will start to change as a result. Restaurants will eventually start customizing their offerings to suit individual guests through everything from menu offerings to server behavior. And these types of technology are not just for the big chains or big-city restaurants. In fact, according to industry research firm SMB Group, 18 percent of small and 57 percent of medium-sized businesses of all kinds are already using what it calls “business intelligence and analytics solutions.”    

For Rich Chey, who also uses 7shifts for scheduling employees and Aireus, a cloud-based POS system, it’s not only helped the bottom line, it’s allowed him to free up his time to focus on building his business, not doing the busy work.  

“We all kind of look at this administrative stuff as being necessary evils. We don’t really enjoy doing it, but we have to do them,” he says. “A lot of these tasks that aren’t making any money, you’re spending less time on those, and you can actually spend more time on tasks that either improve your customers experience or increase sales.”

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Restaurant Technology to the Rescue

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

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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Pouring On Innovations – Stats and Novo Cucina

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

By Helen K. Kelley

While restaurant owners are always seeking out ways to increase efficiencies and improve the bottom line, they are also continuously working to enhance the customer’s experience and satisfaction. New and evolving technologies are providing restaurant owners and managers with innovative ways to achieve these goals.

Tapping Into Potential

Legacy Restaurant Partners - Jeff Sime

Jeff Sime

One area where technology has helped make the diner’s experience more positive and improved the restaurant’s bottom line is in beverages. There are several self-serving beer and wine dispensers on the market that can help make the diner’s experience more enjoyable, track what beers and wines are popular and how much is consumed, and enhance the waitstaff’s ability to serve customers well.

STATS Food + Drinks in downtown Atlanta serves a lot of beer. Located in the heart of the city’s tourism district – which includes the Georgia Aquarium, the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Center for Civil & Human Rights and more – and a short walk from the Phillips Arena and Georgia Dome, it welcomes lots of tourists and sports fans alike.

The restaurant features five bars, 70 high-definition TVs and nearly 16,000 square feet of restaurant and private event space. It also features table-top beer dispensers built into nearly a dozen of its tables.

Seven years ago, the restaurant was the first in the U.S. to install TapTable units, which feature two kegs and taps through which diners may self-pour their own beers without ever leaving their seat. After a contained hood fire caused the restaurant to close for repairs last fall, the restaurant’s team decided to upgrade their beer systems to the TableTender beer dispensing system (www.thetabletap.com).

TableTender is a long-draw glycol-cooled beer system with taps located on the tables. The kegs are remotely located inside a cooler. and the beer lines are run out to the tables, hidden in the floor, through walls or in the ceiling of the establishment. Glycol, a liquid chemical that can maintain relatively low temperatures, is circulated throughout the entire piping network to ensure the beer is ice cold once it is poured into the glass.

TableTender monitors the amount of beer poured to provide accurate and user-friendly reporting. Each table has its own display, featuring the quantity of ounces that have been poured from the tap, and records real-time information. Flow meters and valves, designed specifically for beer, allow the system to control and record the flow. The dispense information is also transmitted to the TableTender software, which allows management to view dispense data and run reports.

The TableTender beer dispensing system has increased both pouring efficiency and guest satisfaction at STATS Food + Drinks, according to Jeff Sime, vice president of operations for Legacy Restaurant Partners, which operates STATS and multiple other restaurants in the Atlanta area.

“We upgraded to the TableTender system so that we could monitor and enhance the beer service at our tap tables at Stats,” he says. “There are two separate taps available at each table – one dispenses a common domestic brand of beer and the other dispenses a craft brand. Guests can choose to sit at a table that has a beer they prefer or would like to try.”

Orders are placed and regulated through a tabletop iPad system that shows guests exactly how much they’re drinking, down to the ounce. With its regulating and reporting features, TableTender ensures that management has the necessary controls on the system to promote responsible drinking.

The benefits for the restaurant are threefold – it keeps waitstaff from having to constantly bring refills, which then allows them to better attend to their guest’s other needs, and every drop is paid for by the customers, including any pour off. Plus, managers are able to track trends in customer preferences, comparing sales of different beers as well as determining which tap tables have the highest sales.

If a particular beer isn’t selling well, management can change out that keg for a different beer. Tabs are run at a main portal and later, the information is taken from that portal and run through the restaurant’s POS system to generate the customers’ bills. Sime says the system’s tracking capability is probably its most important feature.

“TableTender provides an inventory reconciliation function that tracks every ounce of beer that’s being dispensed through the draft lines at each table,” he says. “It eliminates the possibility of human error, such as overpouring a glass or accidentally filling a glass with the wrong beer and having to discard it,” he says. “We know exactly how many ounces have been consumed, and the customer is billed for every ounce that he or she pours from the tap.”

As for the guests, they experience the convenience of immediately pouring a glass of their chosen beer, without having to wait for a server. Plus, they don’t have to leave their table. In turn, this self-serve capability creates a more efficient system for servers.

“The server doesn’t have to take the order, go to the bar, wait for the bartender to fill the order and then return to the table,” Sime says. “Servers are able to spend more quality time with the guests, ensuring that they’re being hosted appropriately, and attend to their other duties more efficiently.”

When asked if there were any challenges in implementing TableTender, Sime says there have been only a few small difficulties, such as the need to change out kegs of beer more frequently for larger parties.

“The efficiencies far outweigh any of the smaller issues we’ve encountered with the technology,” he says. “Making the upgrade to the TableTender technology was a great decision.”

Uncorking Opportunity

riccardo ullio

Riccardo Ullio

Novo Cucina, the new restaurant concept by Atlanta chef Ricardo Ullio, features an innovative way to both serve wine and save on the bottom line.

Using the Enomatic wine system, the restaurant’s wines are held unoxidized and at the perfect temperature, extending freshness and preserving them for up to four weeks after opening. This gives restaurants the freedom to expand their wine list or even offer tasting menus without worrying about wasting a whole bottle of wine when it’s ordered by the glass.

When a diner orders a glass of wine, the system dispenses the liquid directly from the bottle using inert gas preservation, preserving the flavors and characteristics of the wine for more than three weeks as if the bottle had just been opened. Waitstaff can input the exact amount of wine to be poured each time. This allows guests at Novo Cucina to sample its wine offerings before deciding on a glass.

The system helps regulate portion control, allowing the restaurant to virtually eliminate waste due to overpouring or mistakes in selection. And, it also self-cleans the pouring spouts after each pour to ensure maximum hygiene.

“We offer a refreshing list of boutique wines at our wine bar,” Ullio says. “The Enomatic ensures that our guests can sample whatever they desire and then enjoy a perfect glass of wine, every time.”

Ullio and partner Mike di Paolo also implemented a unique card system that allows patrons an easy way to explore the restaurant’s many offerings.

The restaurant features a “greatest hits” of menu items from Ullio’s other intown Atlanta restaurants, Sotto Sotto and Fritti. It also has a unique way for diners to pay for their meals.

“The card, which is the size of a credit card, can be used for your tab from the moment you walk into the restaurant,” Ullio says. “Whether you order something from our wine bar or gelato counter, enjoy cocktails or coffee, or place an order from your table, each transaction is recorded on the card for the duration of your visit. Then, you simply pay on your way out.”

Di Paolo engineered the card system, which has created an unprecedented level of convenience for customers. In addition to keeping track of customers’ tabs, the cards provide an easy way to create separate checks for individual customers or divided parties.

“The card removes the worry of transferring items among customers,” Ullio says. “With individual cards, customers don’t have the hassle of dividing up the check at the end of their meal – and they only pay once.”

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Technology promotes healthier bottom line, healthier customers

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Tin Drum: The Value of the Personalized Ordering Experience

By Helen K. Kelley

Tin DrumIncreased revenue. Decreased costs. Decreased customer wait time. Increased customer satisfaction. These are the results achieved by Tin Drum Asia Cafe after implementing Usable Healths SmartMenu terminal. But there was one other benefit that Tin Drum owner Steven Chan found so intriguing that he agreed to pilot the technology in his six restaurant locations.

One of the most interesting aspects of SmartMenu is that it is health-based. It can help the customer make better food selections by suggesting side items and other add-ons that make up a healthy meal, explains Chan. I don’t consider myself that knowledgeable about making healthy choices. I won’t think about how many calories are in the handful of chips I just put in my mouth. The general public just doesn’t have this wisdom. They’d like to make their own choices, but they’re not knowledgeable enough, so SmartMenu gives them the tools to help balance their diet. 

It’s all about choice

SmartMenu is an interactive POS system that providers diners with a very personalized ordering experience. The self-service terminal allows customers to select their meals quickly and efficiently and, at the same time, it tracks and addresses their preferences, such as if the person is health-conscious or price-sensitive. When a diner swipes his or her card, SmartMenu recognizes the person and automatically suggests what he or she ordered on the previous visit. If the customer asks for recommendations, SmartMenu will make suggestions for selections, up-selling from the regular menu or the healthier menu based on those stored preferences.

Jiten Chhabra, founder and CEO of Usable Health, says that SmartMenu is a great help to not only health-conscious diners but also to those with specific health concerns such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

If a customer indicates that he or she has specific health needs, the system will address those needs, says Chhabra. SmartMenu incorporates a food swapper engine that will make recommendations for menu items and suggest combinations of items, such as have a small salad and a small sandwich, to the customer. Even if a restaurant doesn’t have many healthy choices available, SmartMenu can make selections based on portion sizes.

It’s a win-win situation operators make more money on margins by selling combinations of menu items that wouldn’t otherwise be found by the customer, and customers are able to satisfy their taste buds and their health needs at the same time.

Customers also have a choice between using the technology or old-fashioned counter service. SmartMenu is meant to work in tandem with restaurant employees, so if a customer feels more comfortable talking to a real person, they can bypass the terminal and place their order with a cashier.

Personalized ordering = a healthier bottom line

Point of sale systems are designed to lower operating costs, but SmartMenu takes that design a step further.

The traditional POS system was not designed with improving the diner experience in mind, explains Chhabra. SmartMenu makes the ordering process interactive so that the diner doesn’t feel ignored. It also makes the ordering process intelligent by taking food item margins into consideration before making suggestions to the diner.

According to Usable Healths data, when SmartMenu is implemented, on average, operators start instantly saving at least $500 a month due to decreased labor costs, and the average increase in check size is at least 15 percent.

Chan agrees, stating that SmartMenu has definitely decreased Tin Drum’s operating costs by cutting down on labor. And since customers enter their own orders, there is less chance for cashier error this improved accuracy makes for less waste.

SmartMenu also has increased revenues for Tin Drum. It raises the check average by making up-sell recommendations to customers on a consistent basis, Chain explains. It also cuts down on customer wait time, so the orders are coming into the kitchen faster.

Additionally, the system manages the redemption process, saving the operator valuable time.

We don’t have to accept coupons anymore. I don’t have to count them manually and track them myself, says Chan. The system does it for me.

SmartMenu as a marketing tool

SmartMenu logs a variety of data about customers including how long a person looks at a menu item and whether or not they order healthy options. This information comes in handy as a marketing tool for operators who want to target certain customers with specific offers.

The system lets operators configure deals and promotions themselves without paying an outside vendor, explains Chhabra. For example, if you see that your restaurant is empty at certain hours, you can notify your customers to come take advantage of a special during that particular time and increase your business.

Chan adds that SmartMenu has given him the flexibility to launch whatever kind of promotion or loyalty program he desires.

In the past, restaurants had to go to the expense of printing gift or loyalty cards and setting up a program. With the SmartMenu system, I log on to my account and set up special offers for my customers whenever I like. Then, all I have to do is post the offer on Tin Drum’s Facebook page to get the word out, he says. And all customers have to do to take advantage of the offer is log in when they come in to one of our restaurants.

Personal choice represents opportunity

Serving as a pilot chain for SmartMenu has been rewarding both for Tin Drum Asia Cafe and for Chan personally.

In a way, I feel like I’m sort of a partner to [Usable Health] in developing SmartMenu. I can offer them opinions and share real-time experiences, ideas and suggestions, Chan says. I think this is just the beginning of this kind of technology. The personal choice terminal presents a lot of opportunity for both restaurants and customers.

Tin Drum Asia Cafe has five metro Atlanta locations and one in Forsyth County and has begun franchising in the southeast. All locations will incorporate the SmartMenu terminals. For more information, visit www.tindrumcafe.net.

To learn more about Usable Health and SmartMenu technology and see customer and diner testimonials, visit www.usablehealth.com.

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