Stryker Scales and Sam Josi, co-owners of 4 restaurant concepts in the Bay Area, including The Tipsy Pig, Mamanoko, Padrecito, and the 4-location “slow food” fast casual concept Blue Barn, talk about how direct online ordering not only helped them switch to off-premise dining at the outset of the pandemic, but also made their restaurants more resilient—and profitable—moving forward.

We like to run our restaurants our way. Neither one of us have fancy titles. We reject all the corporate concepts that a lot of other hospitality organizations use. And when it comes to technology, we usually take the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach.

Like most restaurant operators, we got into the restaurant business because we had a vision for improving the way people eat. Our concepts are very much about supporting the greater slow food movement by partnering with local, sustainable producers and taking inspiration from seasonal produce harvests.

High quality food is obviously important, but so is the customer experience, and from day one we’ve tried to control that as much as possible, whether it’s face-to-face interactions with guests or being on the phone taking to-go orders. We never did online ordering before because we just didn’t see how the technology could make for a good guest experience. And honestly, we didn’t feel like we needed it.

But the pandemic changed all that. March 2020 was a scary time. With our dining rooms shuttered, we realized that taking to-go orders over the phone wasn’t going to cut it—it was too time consuming and inefficient. At the same time, we didn’t want to rely on third-party apps because we knew their commissions would kill any profitability. So we reached out to our existing POS provider to see what they could do for us with online ordering. We quickly learned they couldn’t move fast enough for us and it was just going to cost too much. That’s why we contacted SpotOn.

The SpotOn team said they could get us up and running with online ordering in two days and that they could work with us to have the new POS hardware at all seven of our restaurant locations installed and programmed within a week. And they did it!

With SpotOn Order up and running, we were able to get revenue up to 60 to 70% of pre-pandemic numbers. And that was all through online ordering and to-go orders. No commissions, just a simple, affordable monthly software fee.

Online orders at Blue Barn still make up around 30% of our revenue, and the average order value for our online orders is 11% higher than our dine-in orders.

Flash forward to today and our restaurants are in a much stronger position than they were pre-pandemic. Even with our doors open again to dine-in customers, our direct online orders at Blue Barn still make up around 30% of our revenue, and the average order value for our online orders is 11% higher than our dine-in orders. And that’s with us making zero effort to promote online ordering. The only way we actively encourage customers to order online is that the links on our websites and Google business profiles point to our online ordering page through SpotOn.

As owners that held out for so long without online ordering, it was a pleasant surprise to see how user friendly SpotOn’s technology was. The whole system is user-friendly, streamlined, and easy to set-up. Most importantly, it allows us to control our guest experience.

Our customers aren’t getting routed to a third-party site or app where we have no control. They’re seeing our online menu, the way we want it presented, and when they tap the “order” button, two important things happen: 1) the order gets sent right to the kitchen ticket printer, cutting down on errors and keeping our back-of-house operating efficiently, and 2) all the order data, including the customer’s contact information, gets sent to our POS reporting where we can use that to forecast food inventory and staff schedules.

We’re as old school as it gets, but we recognize that you need technology to compete and adapt.

Look, we’re slow-food movement people. We’re as old school as it gets, but we recognize that you need technology to compete and adapt. What’s been so huge for us is finding a technology provider that lets us work the way we want, not the other way around.

Here’s what we’ve tried, what we like, and what we don’t.

  • Direct online ordering. Even taking away the pandemic factor, it’s been a game-changer. We used to have a staff member dedicated solely to picking up the phone for take-out orders. It was time consuming and there were always order mistakes. Switching to online ordering has allowed us to still control the guest experience while also eliminating mistakes and freeing up an employee at every location to help out in other parts of our operation.
  • Order pacing. We like the idea of throttling in principle, but found it just doesn’t make sense for our operations since we’re not actively promoting online ordering and don’t have the type of volume where we need to automate it. This is one of the areas where, for now at least, we like doing it the old school way and letting our managers handle the flow between takeout and dine-in orders.
  • Point-of-sale. SpotOn’s POS is fast and reliable, which is all you can ask for. And we know if we ever do have issues, there’s always someone just a phone call away—and it’s someone who knows how to fix problems.
  • Employee management. You always hear tech companies carry on about “cloud technology,” but this is one area where the technology really delivers. In the past, if we needed to add an employee, edit payroll reports, make time-clock edits, edit anything, one of us would have to physically drive to the stores to manually make the changes. Being able to go directly into our online dashboard from a computer in our home offices and make the edits right there is amazing.
  • Menu management. This is another element of cloud technology that really makes a huge difference for us. Making seasonal menu changes across all our locations used to take days and now we’re doing it in like 20 minutes.
  • POS reporting. Along with employee and menu management, the cloud based reporting has been priceless in helping us keep tabs on all 7 locations remotely. SpotOn offers a really robust reporting package with their POS, but the reports we mostly focus on are the audit, labor, and daily and weekly sales reports to see averages and how trends are changing week-to-week. We also love that it’s easy to send sales data to QuickBooks.

In short? As owners, we’re very involved in the day-to-day stuff, taking care of the back office work so our managers can be on the floor handling what they do best—managing their teams and creating great guest experiences. We were resistant to updating our technology for a long time, but looking back now, adding these new tools was a very healthy transition that saved us time, improved efficiency, and quite simply made it easier to do things the way we like to do them.

Read more from the Real Talk with Restaurateurs blog series.

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