The dinner date has long been ripe for reinvention. Arid bread baskets, house wine, and stilted conversation about career paths and siblings hardly spark joy, let alone world-altering romance. Then there’s the expense. A 2023 survey found 84% of singles prefer a casual first date to a white tablecloth affair—dinner dates have become expensive and fussy, a relic of a bygone era void of right swipes and emoji. Hungry singles are desperately seeking fairly-priced, novel dining option. Must be intimate, creative, flatteringly lit. Fast-food burger joints need not apply.
Luckily for those looking for love (and Thai meatballs) in Philadelphia, restaurateurs Jan Brookes and Donrutai Jainon heeded the call. Early in their relationship, Brookes picked up on Jainon’s tendency to leave no menu stone unturned. Their table for two would crowd with plates and shallow bowls until it resembled the inside of a clock. Brookes also picked up the check, and the feeling that other couples were experiencing the same phenomenon. Together, they developed Grandma’s Philly, a Thai tapas restaurant that marries Jainon’s family recipes with Brookes’ entrepreneurial eye.
Jainon, who goes by Chef Locket, brought a depth of restaurant experience and culinary knowledge gained from the scents and spills of home cooking. Chef Locket had navigated her restaurant, Ratchada Thai, through the COVID-19 Pandemic, pivoting to delivery and maintaining her team despite industry-wide upheaval. As they looked to increase operational efficiency, Ratchada Thai onboarded with SpotOn’s POS for restaurants.
Brookes was struck by the seamlessness of the whole experience. Brookes’ father owned a restaurant and the one piece of advice he passed on was “never go into the restaurant business.” Brookes listened and spent the next 20 years in technology consulting, only to find himself back among quart containers and product mixes. But his technology background honed his spidey senses for operational inefficiencies and he quickly started seeking solutions.
With Ratchada Thai as the test case, Brookes and Chef Locket opened Grandma’s Philly with a foundation of smart tech. “Opening Grandma’s Philly, I quickly realized the point-of-sale is the brains of your operation,” says Brookes. “Every piece of technology is bolted onto the point-of-sale to create your business's tech stack. What you choose matters.”
Grandma’s Philly’s romantic-date-spot origin story quickly expanded to include out-of-towners, bustling families, and theatergoers looking for a quick bite pre-show. Brookes knew that the lines that snaked the restaurant’s entryway upon opening would quickly lose their charm. He implemented a restaurant reservation system to increase table turns and equip their servers with more information about guest preferences.
When you’ve got a line out the door, it looks great regarding market visibility, but it’s not great for the customers. Who wants to wait 30 minutes?
The restaurant reservation system didn’t just change the game for the guests and servers at Grandma’s Philly. The smoother operations quickly reflected in the business’ bottom line. Where they used to assign a team member to field the 40 or so reservation requests they received by phone each day, Brookes can now transfer that person to different tasks. Increasing efficiency and automating simple tasks has helped them save around $150,000 in labor yearly.
In addition to reservations, Grandma’s Philly found that smart tech could ease the infamously tedious checkout process, particularly during peak shifts. If there were a place to fumble the first date, it would be the payment process. The elaborate choreography of the checkbook reception and proffering of various payment options is worthy of anthropological study. For their part, Grandma’s Philly has smoothed out the wrinkles by offering guests a convenient payment option so they can turn over their table and depart (if that’s to a second location, who is to say).
In restaurants, as with dating, authenticity goes along way. From the start, Grandma’s Philly had no shortage of originality. Chef Locket’s recipes are inspired by her Grandmother and transform traditional Thai flavors into something equal parts new and familiar. The Drunken Noodles are by far their most popular item, not to be outshined by their meatballs, the well-seasoned subjects of many an internet ode.
Looking at my dashboard and seeing what items we’re selling and what items we need to procure is really simple. It makes my life so much easier to not have to dig deep for this type of information. I know the Drunken Noodles are my best seller—I wouldn’t know that without SpotOn.
When they opened in July 2022, Brookes took a local approach to marketing. They focused on giving the local community a great experience, knowing word-of-mouth is the gold standard when it comes to restaurant marketing. The strategy paid off, with their revenue almost doubling each subsequent month. “I’m happy to say that everything I intuitively felt we were doing right, we did,” says Brookes. “We’ve beaten every goal we’ve forecasted.”
For many independent restaurants, success comes from harmony: between front- and back-of-house, bustling dining rooms and intimate service, popular menu items and profitability. Bringing disparate parts together can be a tall order. But Brookes and Chef Locket are up to the task, and the dining public of Philadelphia have one more thing to be grateful for.