In sagebrush covered, big skied southeastern Oregon, you’ll find my hometown, Burns (pop. 2,722). Several hours away from large towns or major airports, the friendly inhabitants of this quiet little place have survived the ups and downs of the logging and farming industries. One of the few Chinese families in Burns, my parents owned and operated the only Chinese-American restaurant, the Hilander. The Scottish name came from the town being named after Robert Burns, the poet.
On the Hilander menu, egg foo young was king, but chicken fried steak ruled as well. As a small family business, my parents wore all of the hats as the cooks, managers, accountants and more. I started bussing tables as soon as I was knee-high tall, and was eventually promoted to waitress in my high school years.
At the Hilander, restaurant “technology” consisted of taking orders on paper guest checks. Our POS system was a manual cash register for handling cash. Credit cards were processed by hand with the “knuckle-tearing” credit card slider. We took reservations and takeout orders over the rotary phone or in person. Delivery was not available. Even in a small town, where life was seemingly slower, the pace of the restaurant was often hectic – lunch rushes, the very busy Mother’s Days along with other celebrations and the quick table turns to accommodate waiting customers.
After 32 years of running a successful business, my parents retired and sold the restaurant to another Chinese family. I left small-town life, post-university, and made my way to Silicon Valley in California. My career grew around technology marketing and interestingly, I ended up in the restaurant technology sector.
Looking back, the restaurant “tech” I grew up with worked for us. However, the monumental task of running a small business (6 days a week, 14 hour days) and taking the time to plan and integrate apps like a DoorDash would have been daunting. For those same reasons, many restaurants still operate with what my parents had at the Hilander: paper guest checks and a cash register.
The benefits of upgrading could have made all the difference to restaurateurs as busy as my parents. Today, they could have:
Started a delivery service
With online ordering, they could take more orders and serve more customers outside of the restaurant, without spending any extra time taking orders or risking hearing the wrong order over the phone. Online delivery is currently 43 percent of all delivery orders and growing because customers love the convenience.
Delivered orders without having to hire delivery drivers
Integrating apps like Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEATS would have given them marketing for their delivery service and a team of delivery drivers they wouldn’t have to take the time to hire or manage.
Saved money by cutting food waste
An app like MarketMan could have helped them streamline their inventory and ordering, tracking their food costs so that they could know and promote which dishes were making them the most money and which supplies were going to waste in real-time.
Saved them time on their payroll and accounting
Apps like Paychex and StratEx could have saved them countless hours on payroll and payroll taxes, streamlined their scheduling, and kept them up to date on changing labor laws.
Boosted their advertising budget
Today’s technology allows restaurants to easily add customer loyalty programs and track promotions in ways that let restaurateurs actually know whether or not the money they are spending on advertising is actually making a difference to their sales…or just being wasted.
But even with those options today, many restaurateurs still question if the time and financial investment would be worth it. Especially with the possibility that profits could take a hit if the technology doesn’t work. And it’s not just time and money buying and installing new services. There’s more time and money involved every time the staff needs to be trained on a new system. If you want to offer online ordering and delivery and automated payroll and a loyalty program, are those three different machines your staff needs to learn and three different points of failure? With all this in mind, the typical answer to new technology is simply no.
Currently, I work for Omnivore, a restaurant API technology startup. We work to make the investment into new technology worth it, by reducing the complications, costs, and points of failure. By installing our PCI-compliant agent onto the POS system you already use, you can test out and use multiple restaurant apps without adding iPads to your restaurant and with much less added staff training. You can easily start taking online orders and add payroll, inventory, and a loyalty program in the future, and have it all work together in the same POS system.
I was drawn to Omnivore for a variety of reasons including the amazing team, collaborative company culture and product offering. I had an instant connection with the company because of my restaurant background. POS systems have been around awhile and being able to easily integrate new technologies with Omnivore’s API appealed to me. Many of my co-workers have been a part of the restaurant industry – front of the house and back of the house. We all can relate to the restaurant clients we serve: how do we provide better customer service, how do we use the technology available, what do we do for the future, and how do we empower restaurant staff to do better.
Remembering my childhood years at the Hilander, I realize how hard change can be in the restaurant industry. But I also know how much easier that change can be and the possibilities that come once a restaurant makes the leap.