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Steve Smyth, Director of Restaurant technology, Taco John’s International

The Art of Hybrid Restaurant ManagementSteve Smyth, Director of Restaurant technology, Taco John’s International

What measures did you take throughout the pandemic to ensure business resiliency?

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we embraced mobile ordering and delivery to meet customer needs and expectations. Restaurants that once dominated the market through antiquatedmethods are nowentirelydigitizing and using advanced mobile applications to thrive in a digital world. Adding technology to traditional restaurant businesses has two-fold benefits. The first being,technology tools caneasily capitalize on the customers’ changing ordering preferences which drivesa more memorable dining experience for customers and the second, people behind the brand can focus on doing what they love most, which is preparing delicious foodefficiently.

When we implemented digital solutions at Taco John’s, the return on investment (ROI) in the first stages was not that high. We found a way to balance the online-offline cooperation by adding self-ordering kiosks at our dine-in stores. These kiosks started showing positive results due to the simplicityof the ordering process. Self-ordering kiosks alsohelpedin reducing wait times, improving order accuracyandboosting footfall. The solution resulted in being more cost-effective for restaurants as we could serve more customers with fewerservers and cashiers.

We also implemented a new point-of-sale (POS) systemwhich integrated easily with kiosk ordering. It simplifies the entire process- fromthe time a customer orders their meal to when customers receive their food. These digital tools are becoming the epitome of today’squick service restaurants (QSRs).

We are now takingexceptional care to effectively collaborate with our POS and online ordering vendors to ensure we offer the same customer experience across all our restaurants.

Can you elaborate on how you are promoting yourmodern restaurant initiatives?

Not only have we been working towards mobile ordering and delivery services, but we are also building modern and efficient kitchen areas. In pursuit of this, we have enlisted one of the leading modular kitchen solution providers, Welbilt, to help us construct an integrated kitchen thateasesmaking tacos in a shorter window and deliveringthemhot and fresh to customers.

We have done in depth data analysis to understanding the facets of implementing the best restaurant technology that makes our employees’jobs easier. In being successful with the implementation,we can increase production and minimize errors. Our employees are also at the forefront of everything we do. We communicate with our employees to understand the needs and challenges they face and aidthem with these challenges.This cooperative mindset helps us to supplya better experience not just to our customers, but most importantlyto our employees.

What are some of the most significant challenges you have faced while dealing with such transitions?

Taco John’s is a legacy brand, and one of the drawbacks to that is wehave beendoing business the way it has been done since we became operational. A sudden adaptation of tech-based operationshas beena challenging journey for us, but not unmanageable, and is certainly something we have welcomed. After the implementationof the first technology piece, we startedseeing how it could save time and instantaneously, efficiency. Tacos that used to take hours toprepare canbe madein half the time using robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

We believe in the necessity of implementing technology, but we also know that it needs to be done incollaboration with vendors and franchise partners to createa successful and sustainable impact. The kind of impact that guarantees we stand out in a competitive market while simultaneously supplying positive customer experiences.

Based onmy experience as a General Manager at Taco John’s, when I walk into a restaurant, I view things in two ways;I first look at the technology and decide what must be done to enhance it and secondly, I talk toteam members and gettheirinput on what they feel are the critical issuesthat must be improved to increase the operations level.

What are some of the technological advancements you see on the horizon in the coming years? 

The restaurant industry has embraced digital transformationwith advancements like intelligent kitchen equipment, digital twin restaurantand digital timing systems that don’t require any drive-throughdelivery services. Aside from leveraging technology, it is also necessary to strategically implement modernized services and proactively decide what the future will hold for your brand.From my experience, whenever a brand invests adequate time and effort for digitalization, restaurants automatically see a positive ROI.

It is also worth noting thattechnology is positivelyadvancingthe interaction of QSRs with its competitors.With this interaction, QSRs have fostered an open relationship to share innovative ideas and rise together as an industry. 

What advice would you give to other leaders in this industry to takein-house technology decisions for effective workflow?

Sustaining cross-functionality with all department teams should be the first approach to enhancing business operations. Taking guidance from managers and team memberssuppliesrelevant data grounded in practical customer experiences. Additionally, it suppliesdiverse input and thought ideas which in turn leads toopportunities to gain experience, enhance every aspect of the customer experienceand increases ROI.

It doesn’t matter the size of your brand;it should always be customer centric. Investing in the right customer-focused technology can lead brands to engage, keep, and expand their business base to be successful in a competitive market. Most importantly,fostering and keepinggood teamwork across departments ensures smooth business operations that will always yield a ROI.

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