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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Get On Board the Restaurant Technology Train

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

By Charles Marvil

In 2015, there was a 72.1 percent turnover rate. Sounds bad doesn’t it? And yet it is lower than pre-recession rates that, according to the 2015 NRA Forecast, averaged 80 percent.

Compounding the turnover issue now is the fact that the labor pool of employees is shrinking and wage increases are becoming mandated around the country. Operators are going to have to deal with these issues by increasing productivity, increasing prices, increasing the use of technology or a combination of all three.

To top it all off, a new generation has entered the workforce and is changing the rules of the game when it comes to how to recruit, train, manage and retain your employees. This young group is different because it has never been without the Internet or mobile technology.

If you want to hire the best employees for your company in today’s world, you’ll need to make a radical shift in how you interact with potential staff. Several established and new technology platforms can help the restauranteur navigate this shift and address the issue of retention.

Finding and Training Good Employees

Recruitment, or getting the word out that the operation is hiring, is typically done through a job posting site such as Craigslist, Indeed or Monster. But to keep up with the current “on demand” economy, recruiting tools like Hirewire (hirewire.com) offer an alternative.

Using Hirewire, an employer creates a profile of the job they are hiring for. The potential employee also creates a profile, which includes experience, availability, location and salary requirements. In addition to the traditional profile information, employees create a video profile of themselves that is included in their overall package.

Hirewire analyzes the two user groups, employer and potential employee, and sends a notification to the employer when there is a potential match. The employer can then contact the potential employee via text message to set up a time to meet face to face.

Founder and CEO Chau Nguyen says the video component has saved a tremendous amount of time and effort for the employer, as it gives them the ability to quickly determine whether there is a good fit based on initial communication skills. Currently the product is in beta mode and is being offered to employers for free to try. By this fall, Hirewire plans to begin offering the product using two potential pricing structures: frequency of hire (pay per hire) or, for larger employers, a subscription service.

Once the employee has been hired, the hospitality operator should provide an adequate amount of training to prepare the employee to interact with the guest. Many organizations do a good job providing this training, however, many small, independent operators are so stretched that providing training for new employees may be something along the lines of “Hi, welcome aboard. Here is your employee manual, read it when you have time. Here is Joe, follow him around today and watch what he does. You will be on the floor tomorrow as a server.”

Unbelievably this scenario is commonplace, but PeopleMatter (peoplematter.com) can help. PeopleMatter provides an operator with a way to offer training for employees that is effective and relatively easy to enforce. Since Millennials constantly access the Internet, PeopleMatter offers a number of training modules that are appropriate for the hospitality industry, and they offer the ability to create customized video training appropriate for the operation.

The platform allows for quizzes to ensure that the employee actually is retaining the needed information. All of this training is designed for desktop and mobile access, is trackable and can be put together in advance. This way, a new employee can be hired, given a link to the required training modules and be asked to complete them before reporting to work for their first day.

The PeopleMatter platform is very robust. In addition to the training module (LEARN), it includes modules for hiring (HIRE), scheduling (SCHEDULE) and data analytics (PERFORM). The PeopleMatter platform is extremely customizable and is well-suited for larger independent operations or multi-unit operators of typically five or more units.

Solving Scheduling Hassles

Scheduling has always been a hassle for any hospitality operator. In the “old days,” schedules were frequently created using an Excel spreadsheet and a request book that was usually hidden in the manager’s office.

Schedules were done at the last minute because the manager was too busy dealing with every other issue that arises in the restaurant. The schedule may have been posted or emailed the day before the next weekly schedule started, creating anxiety for many employees as well as the management team. Often when a group of employees all wanted the same day off, such as a major holiday, it created sen more problems.

Several technology platforms help relieve the stress of scheduling and provide improved lines of communication between employees, including ShiftNote (shiftnote.com) and HotSchedules (hotschedules.com).

Both allow the manager to create a schedule online then distribute it either via email or a text notification. Employees are able to make schedule requests electronically, although the manager must still approve the request. A manager can also restrict the number of employee requests for certain days, such as a major holiday, and the employees can search ahead and know this in advance.

In addition, swapping a shift with another employee can be done electronically, taking this responsibility out of the manager’s hands and putting it in the hands of the employees. Because there is an electronic record of the transaction, there cannot be a “he said, she said” situation if an employee does not show up for a scheduled shift.

These software programs interface with various POS systems and allow for clock-in enforcement. If an employee is scheduled for 9 a.m., the software will allow the employee to sign in up to 9:05 a.m. (or whatever window the manager establishes). After that time, the employee must get manager approval before clocking in.

In addition, scheduling software uses sales and guest count data to help predict future sales data, thereby providing proposed staffing level based on historic data. By comparing scheduled labor dollars with actual labor dollars, the manager can control labor costs more effectively.

One additional component that both ShiftNote and HotSchedules incorporate is the concept of a manager’s log book. Not surprisingly, both put the manager’s log book online, which allows for remote access by managers, owners or the corporate office. The log book is useful for tracking shift notes, employee issues, repair needs, accidents, inventory and much more. This type of technology is effective for improving company communication levels.

The hospitality industry is first and foremost a people-to-people business. No amount of technology will completely remove this element from the business. However, as wage rates increase and the labor pool shrinks, operators are forced to come up with solutions that will allow their employees to do their jobs more effectively and easily.

The next generation of worker is in the pipeline and completely comfortable with technology. Millennials are looking for an employer who shares this ideal, and when they find this fit, they are able to step into the gap and provide employers with quality work.

Today’s operators cannot expect to communicate in the same way they have communicated previously. Pen and paper is out, email is out, text and short video is in. By considering the capabilities of software platforms like Hirewire, PeopleMatter, ShiftNote and HotSchedules, hospitality operators will be able to attract, train, manage and retain the next generation of hospitality employees and leaders. It’s time to catch this technology train before it pulls away from the station.

 

Charles Marvil has more than 35 years of experience in the hospitality industry, including hotels, restaurant management and POS technology. He is currently a full-time instructor in the Michael A. Leven School of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw State University. 

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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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Preventing Cyber Intrusions

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Data breaches can happen to anyone, from large multi-location restaurants to mom-and-pop spots, so protect yourself with these tips

By Ellen Hartman

The idea that cyber-thieves would target a Dairy Queen probably seemed laughable once. But that’s just what happened in 2014 when a malware called Backoff infected 395 Dairy Queen stores nationwide, along with more than 1,000 other businesses, including P.F. Chang’s and Jimmy John’s locations. Hackers exploited a weakness in point-of-sale remote access tools to steal customer credit cardholder data.

When a breach like the ones attributed to Backoff happen, the ramifications go beyond the immediate financial impact to profits. Affected restaurants also face the risk of losing customer trust. Stores in Georgia, for example, are required by law to immediately inform consumers about breaches, defined as “the unauthorized acquisition of electronic data that compromises the security, confidentiality or integrity of personal information.”

Chick-fil-A recently faced such a situation. In December 2014, reports that the Georgia-based chain might be the common connection for a data breach impacting almost 9,000 debit and credit users surfaced. Chick-fil-A issued a statement in response promising that guests would not be liable for any fraudulent charges and that Chick-fil-A would provide for free identity protection services, including credit services, to affected customers. In the end, however, Chick-fil-A’s investigation revealed no evidence it was compromised, and the chain issued another statement saying it had “no reason to believe that any customer’s payment information was stolen or at risk of being stolen from Chick-fil-A.”

Incidents like those are why the issue of how to protect consumer data has become an area of great interest to lawmakers and lobbyists on the state and national level. And with good reason. Credit card fraud cost U.S. consumers and businesses more than $6 billion in 2014.

“We are seeing several bills on the hill intended to direct merchants on how to prevent and handle credit card breaches,” says Laura Knapp Chadwick, director of commerce and entrepreneurship at the National Restaurant Association (NRA). “As an industry, we want to have a voice and show that we’re doing what we need to do to protect our customers’ data.”

To that end, the NRA is developing a set of new foodservice-specific resources. Those will debut in October of this year. In the meantime, we talked to Chadwick about the ways restaurateurs can prevent and respond to breaches.

Two-Step Prevention

  1. Become PCI compliant. The first line of defense against would-be hackers is making sure your payment operations are Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant. There are 12 requirements, ranging from installing and maintaining a firewall to restricting physical access to customer credit card data.

“The process can be time- and capital-intensive, but the likelihood that you’re going to be breached decreases significantly,” Chadwick says. “And if you aren’t compliant and there is a breach, the credit companies could fine you out of existence.”

  1. Invest in enterprise security. PCI compliance covers the processing of payments. But restaurants store data for up to 90 days in case of customer disputes. Hackers know this.

The good news is that such attacks are now preventable.

“The widely published ‘best practices’ are effective,” Chadwick says. “And the good news is there are experts who can help.”

Enterprise security best practices include:

  • Application Whitelisting. Create a list of applications authorized to run to protect your computers and networks from harmful software.
  • Application/Operation Systems Patching. Track, download and apply security updates to your computers on a regular basis.
  • Restrict Administrative Privileges. Limit administrative rights to only those who need them, then ask them to limit high-risk activities such as browsing or e-mailing from third-party accounts.

Implementing and optimizing these practices protects your hardware and network from infection by preventing malware from exploiting weaknesses. Think of it in terms of your home. Whitelisting is an invitation to enter. Patches are the locks that keep unwanted intruders out and administrators hold the keys.

A Strong Response

Industry best practices for handling a breach are also effective, Chadwick says. She suggests restaurateurs familiarize themselves with resources like the Weil’s “Security Breach Notification Laws Data Privacy Survey 2014,” which outlines a plan of action should a breach occur.

Weil suggests the following:

  1. Secure Your System. Prevent further data loss by working with cyber-security experts to isolate any malware and fix any breaches.
  2. Analyze the Breach. Work to understand what type of information was comprised, the risk to consumers, who needs to be notified and who is responsible for related costs.
  3. Implement a Communications Plan. Prepare to relay information to the public and regulatory bodies in a consistent and strategic manner.
  4. Understand Your Liability and Rights. Speak with legal counsel to determine if civil suits are a possibility.

Chadwick urges operators to be as vigilant about prevention and advocacy as they are with food safety in their stores. “It’s about continuous education and monitoring,” she says. “You wouldn’t check the temperature on your refrigerator once then forget about it. Same thing with your network.”

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, Frist Watch, Fresh To Order, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board of the Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.

 

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Ready to Book Your Ticket for Dinner?

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

By Charles Charles MarvilMarvil

High-end restaurants often face the dilemma of “no-shows” and have used several creative ways of preventing this from happening. Unfortunately, the methods used, requiring the guest to provide a credit card number in advance, calling the reservation the day before to confirm and emailing a confirmation have not prevented the customer from changing his or her mind at the last moment.

When this happens in a high-end restaurant with few seats and high average checks, the effect can be damaging to the restaurant’s revenue and overall profitability. Taking a cue from the airline industry, Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Alinea, Next and The Aviary in Chicago, has created a ticketing system, Tock Software, (www.tocktix.com), that allows the customer to pre-purchase a number of seats and prix-fixe meals, thereby eliminating the economic impact of a no-show. Much like an airline, if you miss your flight/meal, you will need to rebook your ticket/dinner.

That this system benefits the restaurant is without question, however, according to Kokonas, there are also benefits to the customer, primarily transparency. In the traditional reservation booking model, a customer calls a restaurant and is frequently told, “No, I am sorry we cannot accommodate your party of 4 at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night.”

The frustration level is significant for both the customer and the restaurateur who would like to accommodate more guests, but cannot. With the adoption of the Tock software, however, all available times and table sizes are outlined clearly on the web, and a guest can choose what available time is most suitable. Frustration is reduced, and the reservation is booked much more efficiently, with no back and forth calls or emails.

The Tock website notes that operators will enjoy the benefit of “big data.”

“There is a big difference between parsing data — how many people ordered this menu item vs. that, red wine vs cocktails, etc. — and offering up actionable data,” Kokonas says. “Check average IMO is a worthless statistic, and yet pretty much every restaurant tracks that. Here’s why: Restaurant ABC has a check average of $45pp. By changing their menu around, they now average $55pp. Looks like improvement. It’s even the case that they’ve kept the same number of customers, so revenue has gone up. However, the labor to produce the new menu has changed a great deal, and while they are only open an hour later per night (people are staying longer) the staff is also getting in earlier in the day. So at the end of the month, your POS data looks great, yet your EBITDA is lower.

“Tock tracks five points of time: arrival, seated, first food, last food, egress,” Kokonas adds. “Then we compare that over time to optimize the revenue per seat minute. This may mean, as it did at Aviary, that we should seat more three-course tastings between 6 and 7 and not even start a la carte until 7:15. Very counterintuitive, but [it] had a huge improvement in revenue per seat minute. It’s about yield management, not solely increase in revenue. And of course, the reduction in no-shows, on time arrivals, etc. is improved significantly by booking with Tock.”

Tock software works well with high-end reservation-only restaurants as well as being adaptable to less high-end, more traditional restaurants, and, in the case of The Aviary, bars.

So how does the system interface with POS systems, and how is a “deposit ticket” credited in bars?

“It’s very simple,” Kokonax says. “We issue a report via Tock crediting each deposit ticket to a check. When the server has the final a la carte bill, they simply indicate in the POS which deposit type was made and it subtracts that amount from the bill and notes it.”

The software isn’t just for high-end, reservation-only restaurants.

“Tock makes sense for all restaurants that take reservations because it is web-based, has a super clean and modern interface, is hardware agnostic and saves a great deal of money vis a vis competing systems,” he says. “More importantly it allows a restaurant to create ‘experiences’ rather than reservations, so they can easily create and market items like a chefs’ tasting menu, kitchen table, private dining or special events, and co-mingle those simply with ordinary zero-cost reservations.”

What also sets Tock apart from other, similar options is its ability to sync across restaurants within a restaurant group, not just for individual locations.

“We had cases where a great Next customer who had been in 20+ times arrives at Alinea, and the systems we had in place would not share information,” he says. “So we’ve now built Tock by restaurant group, not only restaurant. That was a huge step for us, and I believe it will solve that problem. Ultimately we want to know if a great customer comes into one of our places regardless of whether that’s in Chicago or eventually NYC or Singapore.”

Tock software is being deployed in restaurants in Chicago, San Francisco, Arizona, New York and soon in Yountville at The French Laundry. Kokonas says there are two restaurants in Atlanta that will begin using the software this summer.

The software is priced at $695/month/restaurant and is hardware neutral. Statistics provided by Tock software show that software users reduce no-show percentages from approximately 12-14 percent down to 1-3 percent, indicating that the ROI is significant in most cases. Additional data analysis and menu implementation, as shown above, also provides an additional ROI.

The question now is whether this system of booking a table, like booking an airline reservation, will catch on.

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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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New Fresh To Order App Now Available

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Fresh2OrderFresh To Order (f2o) now offers a new mobile app, where guests can pay for their meals and earn rewards through their cell phones. The Fresh To Order App is now available through the Apple App Store and Google Play for iOS (iPhone) and Android platforms. The Fresh To Order App will integrate with Apple Passbook (Apple’s mobile wallet) and Google Wallet beginning in October. Fresh To Order will accept NFC (Near Field Communication) payments through the app starting in 2015.

The app also offers a loyalty program and exclusive rewards. For a limited time, guests can get a $3 credit at sign-up and earn an additional $2 credit by referring a friend. Guests will also receive $10 credit on their next meal when they have $100 in purchases.

“Fresh To Order continues to innovate our menu, service model and now its digital platform by introducing a mobile app which helps us maintain leadership in the “fast-fine” niche,” said Pierre Panos, CEO of Fresh To Order. “Whether they’re looking for the closest location, want to preview our latest menu options or use their phones for payment, we’re providing our guests with a rich digital experience in the palm of their hand.”

With the new app, guests will be able to quickly browse the selection of cooked-to-order panini sandwiches, salads and chef-inspired entrees, including grilled salmon and brown sugar roasted pork loin.

Mobile apps continue to be a growing part of the restaurant experience. According to FastCasual.com, 32 percent of Millennials look at restaurant menus online via a smart phone. With a spending power of $1.3 trillion, it becomes a business imperative that restaurants offer a variety of relevant ways for them to access their favorite restaurants.

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Retail Data Systems Deploys End-to-End Encryption and Tokenization on the NCR Aloha POS

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Retail Data Systems, a NCR Aloha POS provider, recently deployed TransArmor, an end-to-end encryption, tokenization security solution, in production for the first time.

Utilizing a tamper proof connected terminal encryption device integrated through the Aloha POS, which collaborates with vault decryption technology at First Data, TransArmor makes the data of no use to fraudsters and hackers from the time of swipe, or EMV chip read, through authorization, and token issuance. Since the data is never exposed in the clear, reformatted and scraped from memory, or stored at the merchant, there is nothing to steal. This particularly deters the remote access breach attempts from organized crime groups across the globe.

“Retail Data Systems collaborated with NCR Corporation and First Data Corporation to deploy a solution that removes card data from the customer environment while at the same time reducing merchant liability, and further lowering PCI reporting effort requirements while introducing token technology that can increase sales and loyalty,” says Jeff Barrett, General Manager of Retail Data Systems Payment Services Division.

For more information, visit rdspos.com.

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In the Driver’s Seat

Monday, August 25th, 2014

From Restaurant INFORMER, 2014, Vol. 4, Issue 1

By Helen K. Kelley

Anthony Joseph

Anthony Joseph, president, Concessions International

With an increasingly mobile population, smaller and more portable technology and the proliferation of social media, restaurants today are focusing on new ways to provide convenience and create interaction with their customers.

Convenience and Comfort

Concessions International, LLC recently installed iPad digital menus at two of its locations within Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The eTouchMenu interactive technology is available at Dos Equis Explorers Lounge and Samuel Adams Atlanta Brew House, the first restaurants at the airport to offer tabletop tablet ordering. At Dos Equis, there is a secured iPad available at every seat in the bar, and Samuel Adams offers the iPad at every bar seat and at seating along the bar area.

The menus, which are interactive and intuitive, were custom-designed by Menu Masters. Guests browse through the selections and enter their orders right at their own seat or table. The waitstaff is alerted to ordering activity and requests for service through a wireless paging service.

Anthony Joseph, president of Concessions International, says the technology offers many benefits, including the ability to show the restaurant’s entire menu.

“On a print menu, you can’t possibly display everything you offer,” he says. “But on a digital menu, we’re able to show the customer every item, accompanied by a great photo. It also gives us the capability to show brand and nutritional information.”

When time is of the essence, the digital menu offers customers a faster, more efficient way to order their beverages and food. They simply enter their selections by touching the screen.

Dos Equis Explorers Lounge allows customers to not only order, but also pay for their food and drink through the iPad menu – a big plus for air travelers who are often in a hurry.

“On average, the bill-paying process involves about three visits by the server to the table – delivering the bill, collecting the customer’s payment and then providing change or receipt. In an environment that is high volume and very busy, paying the bill can take up precious minutes for people who are rushed and anxious to move on,” says Joseph. “The option to pay through the tabletop menu gives customers the convenience of immediate payment, along with the security of having control of their credit card at all times.”

Basil Banko, vice president of information technology for Concessions International, says that the interactive menus have been successful so far, but adds that there have been a few challenges.

“Most business travelers really like the convenience of the digital menu – they can place their orders without waiting, enjoy their food and beverages, and get on their way promptly,” he explains. “But we’ve found that some older travelers haven’t embraced it, probably because it’s new. So we offer a print menu to those who don’t want to use the iPad. And it’s the same with servers – some love the iPad and some would prefer to give customers a regular menu. That’s just human nature. But the majority of customers and employees seem pleased with the technology.”

The digital menu has increased some efficiencies for both the Dos Equis and Samuel Adams locations, especially in getting orders to the kitchen. Banko adds that Dos Equis is experiencing the benefit of customers having the option to pay by credit card through the tabletop tablet.

“Travelers want to get in and out quickly, and the tablet gives them the ability to do just that by paying immediately,” he explains. “After observing the customers’ reactions at Dos Equis, we’ve decided to implement the payment option at Samuel Adams, too.”

David Shaw, CEO of Postec, Inc., a company that provides customized point of sale (POS) technology, says that an integrated system works best in locations that have high volume and need to provide fast service – such as airports and fast casual dining establishments.

“With the tablet, the consumer is actually serving as the order entry person – self-service. This process speeds up service delivery time and allows the POS system to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of kitchen output as well as report sales activity,” he says, adding that this type of technology is steadily growing in popularity. “The adoption rate is increasing as the number of tablet users grows along with their knowledge of how to use a touchpad. It’s much like the implementation of automatic teller machines at banks or the pay-at-the-pump option at gas stations.”

Interactive Purchasing Trends

Charles Marvil, corporate operations manager for Bhojanic Restaurant Group, is conducting research on information technology (IT) purchasing decisions made by restaurants as part of his requirements for a Master’s degree in HRMT (Hotel, Restaurant Management and Tourism) from Auburn University. The study focuses on the decisions to purchase or delay purchase of technologies by small-to-medium sized restaurant companies in Georgia.

“Based on an analysis of current trends, including a yearly survey conducted by Hospitality Technology magazine, my hypothesis is that the economy kept IT purchases down in the past couple of years. Restaurants were a little skittish about investing capital in a new system or upgrades when their current system wasn’t broken or they didn’t truly need it,” Marvil explains. “Now that the economy is on the upswing, restaurateurs are starting to reconsider those purchases and moving forward with them. And most people feel safe looking at hardware and software that will upgrade their POS systems and/or allow them to interact with their customers.”

Marvil’s survey asks participants to name the pieces of technology they feel are most critical to purchase for their operations, and he will collect data about secondary and tertiary purchases as well. So far, the emphasis seems to be on purchasing interactive software that allows the restaurant to push out information – such as special deals or new menu items – to the customer via email, text or social media or allows the customer to directly place an order.

“Being able to send out information to the customer’s smartphone is an immediate marketing tool,” states Marvil. “It’s a faster, more personal interface between restaurant and customer.”

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PCI Compliance: Hope on the Horizon

Monday, November 12th, 2012

By Christy Simo

At the Georgia Restaurant Association annual meeting in June, several experts in the POS industry sat down to discuss why it’s so important for restaurants in Georgia to validate compliance with PCI requirements, some tools to help you, and what’s on the horizon. Here is a synopsis of their conversation.

According to 2012 Verizon report, 54 percent of data breaches in the past year have been in the hospitality industry, and that’s increased over prior years.

“You are a restaurant. You want to serve people and make them happy,” says Brett Lockwood, partner with Smith Gambrell & Russell who chairs the firm’s Technology Transactions Practice.“But you also have PCI security data issues to deal with, and that’s just the reality.”

“It really is important to check your business financially,” says Larry R. Godfrey, director of sales engineering for Heartland Payment Solutions. “Your customers are trusting you with their data. It really is your job to protect that.”

The Current Dangers

The main issue in today’s hacker and credit card theft world is that the U.S. still uses a credit card with a magnetic stripe – that black bar on the back of every card.

“What makes it so dangerous is that all your personal data is stored on that mag stripe, such as your name, your phone number, your address,” says Walt Davis, general manager of Retail Data Systems Southeast. “As a restaurateur, you’re responsible for protecting your consumers just as much as some of these big companies.”

In 2002, credit card theft reach epidemic levels in the U.S. So in 2003, Congress passed the FACT Act (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), which prohibited businesses from printing more than five digits of any customer’s credit card number or expiration date on a receipt.

If a breach occurs, you have the option to do nothing, but it could ruin your business. In a nutshell, your bank will contact you that they have detected a credit card breach that has originated at your restaurant. You’ll contact your internet provider and credit card processor, and you’ll be required to stop processing credit cards immediately. You may have to pay a forensic auditor, who will find your security holes.

“That forensic audit is going to cost you anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 minimum,” Davis says.

You’ll also contact your POS provider, and they will have to re-secure the site. You’ll have to buy a brand new computer server, because your old server is now evidence of a federal crime and is now federal property.

Not only that, but if you are a small business that experiences a breach, you will then be treated as a Tier 1 company to ensure measures are taken to keep a breach from happening again.

“Tier 1s have to go through this validation process every year that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Even if you’re a Tier 4 that suffers a breach, you’re going to be held accountable for doing that for some time in the foreseeable future,” Godfrey says. “So if you want to take cards after the breach, you’re going to be treated like a Tier 1. You’re going to have to pay a company to come in and do an audit every quarter.”

Davis notes that on top of these costs, the restaurateur is also liable for the fraudulent charges – i.e. they are the one who must pay the customer back for the charges that showed up on their credit card statement.

Still, one of the most prevalent ways to steal credit card information today is through a RAM scraper, which accesses the credit card data on your RAM at the moment before it is re-encrypted. The criminal can use many ways to access your computer and install malware, including obtaining passwords or accessing your computer via Facebook or email. “This is the most common pattern of theft that’s being used in most restaurants,” Davis says.

“Why should you care about credit card fraud?” asks Davis. “Because you, the merchant, will be held responsible. Not your bank, not your POS provider, and not your credit card company.”

And that can get expensive.

There are four tiers of merchants based on the number of transactions they do annually. Most restaurants, aside from national chains, fall into Tier 4. While Tiers 1 through 3 are required to validate 100 percent compliance, they must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. Independent businesses like most of the restaurants in Georgia, however, cannot afford to spend that kind of money to validate compliance. But it’s important that they do so. The restaurants are expected to self-assess themselves and are still held liable if fraudulent activity occurs.

“The reason you have to do it is when you sign your merchant agreement with your credit card processor, regardless of who that processor is, there’s a section on data security and privacy,” Davis says. “It clearly states that you are to do the following things to be compliant: You’re supposed to have a firewall, you’re supposed to have data security, and you’re supposed to complete a self-assessment questionnaire.”

The catch-22 is that they will not ask you for proof of these things until a breach has already occurred.

“Most merchants totally underestimate credit card fraud and the consequences that follow,” Davis says. “Those fines cover the costs banks incur when they have to reissue the cards,” Godfrey says. “But the main cost is the buyback. Not only do you incur these costs, you’re responsible for paying back that consumer who had that fraudulent charge filed against them. So that, a lot of times, is the biggest expense.”

For these reasons and more, it’s so important to validate your compliance now and not after a breach occurs – not just for monetary reasons, but for your restaurant’s integrity.

“There are companies out there who will help you with the compliance aspects,” Davis says, “but nothing can help with the loss of your brand.

“This is serious business,” Davis says. “It is not about filling out these forms just to make the processors happy. Validate your compliance. There is no other option. As a restaurateur, you owe it to yourselves, your merchant and your customers to protect their data.”

New Technologies

Thankfully, there are several new technologies on the horizon that can help restaurants protect their customer’s data better. One has been around for more than a decade in Europe and is headed our way this spring.

“The primary thing about the European payment system is the microprocessor chip that’s embedded into the cards,” says Mike Seymour, COO of Postec.

Known as EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa), the processing system reads a 1” square chip in the corner of the card when you insert the card into the reader.

“The chip card systems based on EMV are being phased in across the world with names such as IC credit or, most commonly, Chip and Pin,” Seymour says, adding that 30 percent of payments worldwide today are EMV payments.“What that refers to is the microprocessor chip that’s embedded in the card, plus the four-digit pin that the consumer enters at the time of the transaction, like you would in the U.S. with a debit card transaction.”

Sixteen years after the development of the EMV and 12 years after its launch in Europe, Visa announced plans in October 2011 to push the U.S. toward adopting the EMV standard, and Mastercard has also followed suit, Seymour says. The initial push by Visa is to have all credit card processors in the U.S. support EMV by April 1, 2013.

“In dollar terms, credit card fraud represents nearly 7 cents for every $100 of debit or signature transaction in the U.S.,” Seymour says. “Based on EMV rollouts in other countries, fraud can be expected to drop by 50 percent or more once the transition is complete.”

Are EMV and smart cards enough to completely protect your business when they come online next year? Not necessarily. “Smart cards will prevent someone from using a fraudulent card. It’s much more difficult to make a counterfeit smart card than it is to make a counterfeit mag stripe card. Hopefully it will cut down on the amount of cards that come into your business that are fraudulent,” Godfrey says. “That’s really the power behind the EMV and smart cards.”

The transition won’t happen overnight, Seymour cautions. “Everybody’s going to have to replace all their card readers,” he says, adding that for a while, the readers will be able to accept all kinds of cards as the country transitions. “Ten, 15 years from now, mag stripe cards will be extinct.”

For now, there are still several things you can do to protect your restaurant from hackers and credit card thieves – and for good reason.

“A lot of folks think that hackers are just going after big business,” says Heartland’s Godfrey. “But what’s happened over the past few years, is that [large] Tier 1 merchants have done a pretty good job of securing their networks and systems, so really where the hackers are going now is where the doors are unlocked. They know with a lot less effort, they can get into a smaller business.

“They’re not going to get as much data back, but it’s a lot easier for them,” Godfrey says. “So that mid-tier merchant, with 11-100 employees, is really right in the crosshairs of the hackers.”

Along with the Chip and Pin card, tokenization and anti-encryption are two other methods that can help reduce the risk of your restaurant being hacked.

“The important thing to know about these technologies is that they’re not mutually exclusive of each other,” Godfrey says. “In fact, using all three is the way to really protect your system.”

Tokenization adds an extra layer of protection to your customer’s data. It’s similar to encryption, except it virtually can’t be cracked.

“There’s no mathematical correlation between that code and the original value, so there’s no way you can figure out that original card number from the token,” Godfrey says. He says this type of protection cannot protect you from customers using fake credit cards, but “it’s great when you have to hold on to that card number after the fact.”

Anti-encryption, aka point-to-point encryption, encrypts the card data as soon as the card is swiped.

“It’s tamper resistant,” Godfrey says, noting that it works best against RAM scrapers. “If somebody went in there and tried to mess with it, it would just wipe itself out. If you’ve got something hackers want, and that’s the credit card data, what encryption
does is it removes the value. So even if they do get in, there’s nothing of value to steal.”

Where is all this headed? While the Chip and Pin cards are coming our way next year, many experts predict that, ultimately, using our smart phones to pay for things will be most popular.“If you ask me, I think smart phones is where we’re going to go,” Godfrey says.

“The consumers are going to drive some of that. I think the younger generation especially wants that ability,” Seymour says.“When you look at the percentage of smart phones and how that’s increased over the past few years, my personal feeling is that yes, that’s where we’ll end up.”

 

 

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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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