Competition and narrow margins in the restaurant business demand a nip-and-tuck approach to efficiency. In other words, streamline and integrate everywhere and anywhere possible. And the growing number of tech services expected by restaurant customers today makes tech integration a topic worth looking into.
On that front, international information and communication technology company ParTech Inc. has plenty of customer stories to tell. The company has helped many restaurant brands to integrate technological innovations into their stores and systems to amp up efficiency, drive down costs and ultimately, receive better returns on their tech investment.
One of these clients, fast casual pizza brand Uncle Maddio's Pizza, worked with the company to streamline its use of technology across the chain. We recently asked leaders from the two companies some questions about tech integration in food service that might help other restaurateurs learn more on the topic.
What follows are notable take-aways from a conversation with Uncle Maddio's Pizza Vice President of Operations Jenelle Brown and ParTech Inc. Chief Strategy Officer Paul Rubin.
The two leaders fielded questions from this site's editor about the pros and possibilities — as well as the cons and cautionary tales — of tech integration for restaurant efficiency and operational performance.
Q: The list of tech tools available to restaurants is forever growing, from mobile apps and marketing to food safety tools and purpose-built hardware. Which systems has Uncle Maddio's been most anxious to integrate?
Maddio's:It's important for us to be able to support our entire system and be involved in their operations and business decisions, so it is in the best interest for everyone involved in our brand. Brink's admin portal [used by Uncle Maddio's] makes this easy for us and our franchisees. It allows us to track and forecast initiatives associated with key performance indicators, loyalty, LTOs, online ordering [and more.] …
We want to be able to expand our reach while growing within the industry. Layering in technology that supports positive sales growth and increased guest counts will help us achieve that goal. Expanding our loyal customer base is just one avenue where integrating new technology has shown proven results.
We're constantly testing ways to reach our loyal guests through our loyalty program, as well as iLoyal, an email database we use to build more guest relationships. With Brink's loyalty program we have the ease of instant access to guest's rewards and also are exploring features such as online redemption codes and double-points days. We are actively working to install third-party delivery directly into the POS.
Q: Is this similar to the integration objectives of other restaurants you work with?
ParTech:This is a fluid conversation and varies from client to client. Our ecosystem includes integrators of online ordering, loyalty, back-office, EMV/P2PE, credit cards, gift cards, accounting, payroll, kitchen videos, order confirmation, analytics, HR, [and more.] …
There are benefits to the all-in-one approach including higher levels of "integrated" functionality and the ability to obtain more of that functionality from fewer vendors. This is especially true for smaller operators that do not have the resources necessary to wrangle multiple vendors into working well together.
Q: How are you integrating additional or newly available tools into your system going forward?
Maddio's: We want to be able to expand our reach while growing within the industry, layering in technology that supports positive sales growth and increased guest counts will help us achieve that goal. Expanding our loyal customer base is just one avenue where integrating new technology has shown proven results.
[Also] third-party delivery is continuing to expand and we're exploring all ways to make its integration in our restaurants as operationally seamless as possible, which in turn will benefit the guest experience.
Q: How has the Uncle Maddio's brand benefited from these efforts?
Maddio's:Improving the overall guest experience is a priority for us and we're able to do so through a comprehensive loyalty program and detailed data and reporting available through Brink. Technology like our loyalty program and online ordering lets us build our loyal customer base on the store level, while the Brink admin portal helps us manage our operations from a distance on the corporate level.
It's been really exciting to see the responses we've received from our franchisees, managers and, ultimately, the guests. We've launched initiatives via social media or iLoyal e-blasts to promote special offers, and the technology we're utilizing helps make it all possible.
Q: What is typically required on the restaurant brand's end to maintain a healthy integrated system?
ParTech: This has changed over the years and has been simplified by cloud-based POS. In the old days, the integrated components needed to be developed such that the point of integration was installed and maintained on the restaurant's back-office server.
Any time a new integration needed to be installed someone needed to either go to the restaurant or connect to it remotely to perform the installation. Likewise, if there was ever a malfunction someone would need to have access to the restaurant in order to diagnose and correct the issue.
With cloud-based POS, the majority of these integrations are "cloud-to-cloud" which means that no software need be installed or maintained in the restaurant. The integrators' applications speak to Brink via our web API, resulting in lower costs for installation and maintenance.
Each integration offers a distinct value proposition. The brand's profit can come from happier customers and increased revenue or from increased efficiency and improved margins.
Q: What are some of the dangers of integration and how can they be avoided?
ParTech:Among the largest dangers of purchasing any new product or service is the possibility it will not work as you expect. To avoid this, it is important to define what success will look like before the process of selecting a vendor.
In addition to ensuring that the needed functionality is accounted for, it is important to ask yourself if this company will be a partner that will be around for the long term. As has always been the case, it's important to check references before entering into an agreement.
With Brink POS we are seeing that our clients can achieve much higher store counts prior to needing to bring in professional help either in the form of dedicated employees or contractors for restaurant technology. This owes to the reduced complexity of technology in the restaurant as a result of our Cloud-based architecture.
Q: And finally, since the proof Is in the pudding, what has Uncle Maddio's gained from this integration effort?
Maddio's:Everybody is constantly seeking the most efficient way to achieve the task at hand. What does that mean to us? We need to be faster than our competitors; integrating technologies that help us expedite speed of service helps us make progress on delivering industry-leading experiences for our guests and franchisees alike.
Companies: PAR Technology Corporation
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.