By Dan Simpson, Chief Executive Officer, Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe
Welcome to 2019! It's been 72 years since the disruption of the drive thru, thanks to Red’s Giant Hamburg. It’s been 25 years since online pizza delivery hit the web, courtesy of Pizza Hut. Grubhub introduced an early online aggregator marketplace 15 years ago. It’s been 10 years since Square jumped into the credit card processing that led to a disruptive Point of Sale tablet, and it’s only been five years since UberEats made the convenience of delivery from nearly every restaurant a staple of society. Yes, a lot has happened, but it still seems that the restaurant industry is still playing catch up and still has a long to go to achieve a fully integrated and optimized tech ecosystem. That said, there are some exciting advancements to recognize and observe.
Let’s start with customer-facing technology, after all we’re in the people-business first, and foremost. Today’s guests expect digital ordering with an aligned omni-channel experience where “in-line” and “on-line” are equally outstanding.
At Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, we’ve had an app for years, but adoption was low and we initially treated it more like a bolt-on. And by the way, outside of a short pilot, “bolt-on” is not a good strategy.
As we’ve developed our technology strategy, we’ve prioritized components that integrate. We conducted research by looking at the best apps and re-invested in our iPhone and Android mobile app, in addition to online ordering with our partner ToGoTechnologies. Our goal was to support all order types and occasions including: takeout, curbside (with a new “I'm here” feature), catering, and delivery.
While many are still catching up to digital kitchen display screens, others are experimenting with augmented reality to project directly on stations and prompt what to make next
Rewarding loyalty was accomplished through integration with Square’s built-in rewards platform with API and custom UI/UX in our app. Again, while we looked at other attractive loyalty platforms with more features, we prioritized an integrated ecosystem with online and in-line, avoiding bolt-on devices or additional steps that would slow down the ability to serve our guests quickly. Even before looking at this as a growth initiative, our initial goals we’re operationally-focused. We were scheduling staff just to answer the phone for take-out orders and in a bustling cafe, it’s hard to hear and our ticket accuracy suffered. There were still labor savings to be had, so, we educate our guests about a faster, better way to order, and it proved to be a win-win.
Adopting a Growing Strategy
As we continue to invest in our mobile strategy, it’s important to note that a modern ordering app is more than just an ordering device. When a guest uses precious real estate on their iPhone, they are signaling trust, brand affinity, which comes with great responsibility on our part. We have to make it a great and safe experience, and one that makes them feel like they are in the inner circle. We adopted the latest facial recognition and biometric entry to ensure data security and streamline access. We built it as a communication portal, a way to share insider-only updates, to crowd source feedback on future limited time offers, and to listen to feedback.
Man vs. Machine
Many restaurants are weighing the benefits of ordering kiosks. Do they undercut human interaction? How much labor do they really save? I think about the airlines and how they have gradually moved the masses from lines, to kiosks, to our mobile devices (and wearable technology), all the while reducing their labor and improving experience. This realization casts doubt on whether kiosks have long-term value, or if they are just a stepping stone on the path to “order from the table”. And if so, why not just jump there now?
Operating in a Tech Ecosystem
We’ve been using intelligent systems to integrate our Point of Sale, mobile, online, and catering sales into a cloud database that informs sales projections. It could right-size ideal labor and food orders which have been happening for decades. But our menu starts with the farmers behind our food. We’re working with our tech partner, Fresh Technology to invest in tech-enabled farms that provide our local produce. For example, Cul2Vate farms in Nashville, Tenn. features greenhouses where robots plant seeds and IoT Bluetooth-powered sensors monitor moisture, temperature and light to optimize growing conditions and just-in-time watering.
Starting with the farm, food safety requires traceability so any issues can be isolated to protect our guests and limit unnecessary waste. At Taziki’s, we’re also expanding our food safety initiatives with a tech-enabled HACCP program which includes ambient and probe temp sensors, and an alert system when temperatures are out of range. A smarter digital recipe platform empowers better prep sheets and an integrated label printer to track and manage shelf life.
It is important to layer in an app for a scripted line check and Quality Identifiers (QIDs) that are integrated with the temperature sensors. Operators will have next generation tools to achieve the highest standards of food safety. My friends, this is not too futuristic or expensive given the current landscape. Consider the cost of shutting down your restaurant for just one day. Larger, more progressive brands have invested in augmented and virtual reality to demo new store prototypes, to illustrate store remodeling, and bring in-store training to life. While many are still catching up to digital kitchen display screens, others are experimenting with augmented reality to project directly on stations and prompt what to make next.
Investing in the Future
So, are we making meaningful progress? Most of us are still adjusting to the changes of the past 15 years, while working to integrate and optimize mobile and omni-channel offerings, discerning out best long-term delivery strategy. For those of us who have been pushing innovation, we also have to manage innovation fatigue, and provide space for new tech initiatives to fully take root.