SpotOn was named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative companies in 2024, joining past winners like OpenAI, AirBnB, and Microsoft. Listed as number 9 in the dining category by Fast Company, SpotOn was recognized for its continuous innovation with products like Seat & Send and Marketing Assist. We sat down with SpotOn Chief Product Officer Bryan Solar to weigh in on the significance of the award and, more importantly, how restaurant operators can approach innovation with a practical mindset to help improve profit margins.

What does it mean for SpotOn to be named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list?

I think it's an incredible honor for us as a business. But more than that, it's so important for our customers. Historically, the restaurant industry has been slow to adopt new technology and, at the same time, underserved by the technology sector. And so for an industry that is facing challenges unlike any time that they've ever faced, us being able to innovate on their behalf, and us being able to constantly find new ways for them to be successful is super exciting.

Restaurant operators should expect more from their technology partners. They should expect innovation. The world is rapidly changing around them, and they deserve a partner who's going to rapidly change as well.

“Innovation” is a term that gets thrown around a lot but often doesn’t translate to real-world practicality. What is SpotOn’s approach to innovation and how is it actually helping restaurants?

For us, innovation really starts with understanding our customers and their problems. We're in a space where I think a lot of people are trying to help restaurants, but it's very easy to just look at everyone else and try to copy what they’re doing. Instead, what we're doing at SpotOn is working hard to deeply understand our customers and their problems, and then identifying new and important ways to address those challenges. 

I look at the Fast Company award as a forward promise to our customers of what to expect from SpotOn.

I look at the Fast Company award as a forward promise to our customers of what to expect from SpotOn. The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive, and it’s not going to get easier, but now we get to be an innovation partner alongside owners, operators, and their staff—a partner that's going work right alongside them to constantly look for new ways to thrive in this new world.

Seat & Send is one of those practical innovations. Who’s this solution designed for and how can they best leverage it to improve their operations?

Ha, you know, Seat & Send is for restaurant owners. It's for their staff. And selfishly, it's for me as a guest. One of the things that restaurants look at when it comes to profitability is table turn times and average ticket values…but as a father of 3 young kids, if I go into a restaurant and it takes 30 minutes for 3 grilled cheese sandwiches to hit the table, I'm in for it!

So what Seat & Send does is let guests order while they wait to be seated. Their order is fired to the kitchen as soon as they’re seated—without having to wait to place an order with a server—and the food hits the table much faster. 

It’s one of those very rare win-win-win situations, where it's really good for the guest because they get their food faster and they get a better experience. It's really good for the business because they turn tables faster and maybe they get in that second margarita or the dessert the guest wouldn't have otherwise had time to order, meaning higher tickets. And then, finally, it's good for SpotOn because we're real partners with our customers, and we want to see restaurants packed with as many folks as possible, every day, every night.

Marketing Assist is another recent innovation from SpotOn that’s gotten a lot of buzz. What’s the idea behind this tool?

Being a restaurant operator is not a 40-hour-a-week job. It’s something that requires wearing a lot of different hats, and often what ends up happening is operators have to make trade-offs. Am I going to work on marketing or am I going to spend time coaching my staff? Am I going to spend time meeting my guests or am I going to spend time watching my costs? And one of the recurring things we hear from our customers is, “I wanna be able to do these things, but I don't have time to do them.”

Time is one of the currencies that we want to be giving back to restaurant owners.

And so, with Marketing Assist, what we've done is we've taken the power of AI alongside the customer list that our restaurant POS platform helps build for each restaurant, and then created a way for operators to run set-it-and-forget-it marketing campaigns. It's one more thing that they can know is getting done without them having to be the ones to do it. 

Time is one of the currencies that we want to be giving back to restaurant owners, and with this product, they’re able to maintain that guest relationship outside the restaurant without spending 20 hours a week doing it or having to hire someone who's really expensive to come in and do marketing campaigns for them.

Innovation is typically focused on software solutions, but SpotOn has taken an innovative approach to our proprietary point-of-sale hardware as well. What’s the unique approach to our hardware that will help restaurants?

Our restaurant POS hardware is really exciting in part because of what went into designing it. It’s the product of countless hours of talking to our customers and Restaurant Advisory Council about what works for them and what they value, whether it be counter space, the way a handheld sits in your hand, and so on. But you know, every concept is different, so we really went the extra mile to make our hardware scalable.

Beyond just being fast and durable, the hardware can be configured in dozens of different ways depending on your concept. Then under the hood, the hardware is powerful and that’s where you’ll start to see the real innovation—not just today, but in the years to come.

What are you most excited for next as SpotOn continues to bring practical and impactful innovations to life for restaurants?

We’re kind of obsessed with helping restaurants when it comes to their staff and labor. The cost of labor as a percent of restaurants' total cost has gone up dramatically over the last 5 years, and so one of the things that we're looking at really, really closely is all the ways that we can help restaurants empower their existing staff to be more efficient, whether it’s with data-driven scheduling, handhelds, KDS, or new ideas no one’s even thinking about yet.

Another thing we're also looking at is how do we pipe increasingly better information into restaurant owners so that they can run a more efficient business. Data is one of the next frontiers where we're most excited to deliver innovation on behalf of our restaurants.

How will SpotOn continue to deliver on that promise of delivering innovation? 

By listening and by putting hospitality into everything we do. I was personally on-site at 6:30 this morning for an install at one of our new customers in town. Our product managers will literally go and work at our restaurant clients’ locations. Not just observing. I mean we're going and doing full shifts right next to the servers in those restaurants. 

We get to work for amazing, hard-working folks who spend their time feeding their community and creating jobs for their staff.

The mother of innovation is understanding, and when we understand our customers, when we understand their problems, when we understand, “Oh, man, my feet really hurt ‘cause I've been doing this for 8 hours and damn, and now I have to hit that password in again for the fifteenth time today,” that's when I think we start to get really, really cool innovation. 

I think everyone needs a why. Why do you come to work? Why do you go the extra mile? And for our Product team, and me personally, our why is actually our who. We get to work for amazing, hard-working folks who spend their time feeding their community and creating jobs for their staff. Who we do it for is why we do it!

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