[Roundtable] How to Design a Technology Strategy for Your Restaurant

Posted by Brad Brooks

Brad was the Sales & Marketing Director at SpeedLine Solutions from 2019 to 2022. He utilized his 20 years of experience in the restaurant technology industry to help him lead the sales and marketing teams to provide innovative solutions for our customers.

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Brad: Hi. Welcome. My name is Brad Brooks and I'm with SpeedLine Solutions. Today we're going to be talking with Travis Miller and Niko Frangos and going through what I would like to call a restaurant technology roundtable. We'll spend the next hour or so talking about key pieces of restaurant technology, the decision process that different companies use in order to decide on a new solution. And then finally, how leading companies have solved some of their key issues with their technologies.

Why don't I just start off by doing a quick introduction. Travis, thank you for joining us. You're with Cottage Inn. Why don't you maybe just tell us a little bit about Cottage Inn and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Travis: Yeah, thank you for having me, Brad. My name again is Travis Miller. I work for Cottage Inn Pizza. I am the director of technical and financial operations for the brand. Cottage Inn is a Midwestern pizza chain that we focus on a gourmet pizza with lots of variety and options in the gourmet pizza sector. We have about 55 locations right now, mostly through Michigan, and a couple in Ohio.

Brad: Very good. Now, about yourself, Travis, your position, you're director of technical and financial operations at Cottage Inn. What does that mean? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?

Travis: Yeah. I've been in the pizza industry since I was about 14 years old. I got moved up to management about seven years ago or so, and I started with a focus more on accounting and financials and ended up working my way up to overseeing the accounting processes, systems of the brand. And then, we adopted a new point of sale system in SpeedLine, and there was a need for somebody to kind of be the figure-it-out guy on that.

Brad: Sure.

Travis: And that's where I started to move into more of a technical role with the company, and now I'm overseeing pretty much all aspects of the technology involved with the brand.

Brad: That's very good. Thanks, Travis. Niko, tell us a little bit about Rascal House.

Niko: Thanks for having me guys. Nice to be with you. Rascal House, it's a 40-year-old brand. We've been a Cleveland-based brand and we have five locations in the surrounding areas. We just laid the foundation right now for a franchise program so I'm heading that part of it up. But essentially, we are an elevated quick-serve that has a pizza center. So again, simplified menu offering, burgers, fries, milkshakes, pizza of course. And we take that sort of simplified menu, deliver it out, much like a typical pizza place would, with a real heavy focus in catering. So excited to be here with you guys and share what I can.

Brad: Yeah. Niko, what was your journey to where you are now?

Niko: That's a really, really long story, but I'm going to make it super short. My parents founded the company, so by virtue of that connection, it's a simple story there. But I moved to Los Angeles many moons ago in the early '90s, pursued film and art, and worked in film primarily for many years. Had a connection with my parents of course, and as I saw the opportunity that they had developed, I came back full circle and wanted to champion really packaging of the brand and getting the brand to scale. So that's my connection back from the west coast back to the Midwest.

Brad: Very good. Okay, well let's jump into it. So let's talk a little bit of what your text stack looks like in the stores. So Travis, you mentioned you have SpeedLine in the stores. What other technologies do you have in the stores besides your point of sale system?

Travis: At store level, we do use Zenput a little bit, which is kind of like a reporting and auditing and compliance kind of program. Our franchise consultants use that to do site surveys. Outside of that, I think one of the important ones for us is actually our phone system.

Brad: Okay.

Travis: We have a 4G LTE fail over on most of our stores. So for online order connections, credit card processing, and invoice service, that's all backed up, with caller ID. And LiveMaps has been a part of SpeedLine, but definitely a huge part of our tech stack in the store level.

Brad: Right. And for those that don't know what LiveMaps, maybe if you could explain that.

Travis: Yeah. LiveMaps takes all the deliveries that are incoming into the SpeedLine system and maps them for you so you can do multiple delivery zones or different delivery fees. All stores that we have it deployed in use a secondary monitor, typically a TV, that's mounted near an expo area that shows all the deliveries that are pending or on hold, where they're located.

It's definitely a huge help I think mostly for managers who are working at a cut table area or an expo station. It's a very quick visual to look up in the corner of the restaurant and see, all right, driver one take the two that are north, driver two take the two that are south. And that's a very helpful piece to that puzzle.

Brad: Sure, that's great. Niko, tell us about your operations. What does it look like in-store?

Niko: In-store, it again, SpeedLine is sort of the foundational piece. We do have a program called Jolt that we've connected with, which is a training, onboarding orientation checklist. Things like that. So it's a platform that is crew member facing primarily, and some scheduling also connected to that piece.

We also have a piece called... I guess this isn't specific to operations per se, but it is connected to our operational piece, which is the hiring, which is through a company called Workstream. So we started a relationship with them. It's a pretty good platform. Just to streamline the multiple people that need to touch hires. So that's been a good platform. To really kind of go down the whole list too quickly, would be even Chowly. We have that as a third-party connectivity piece, or ItsaCheckmate where we're looking at both of those. We have the-

Brad: So that'll take your third-party orders from DoorDash and Uber Eats and so forth, put it directly into your point of sale system?

Niko: Correctly. So it's a good... that consolidator.

Brad: Okay.

Niko: Instead of having all the multiple tablets. And then again, just lightly the Office Suite all of our locations work off of Office Suite and the Cloud for OneDrive, again, to have their buckets for each store and the things, the files that they need to work off of. And then we do use Zoom and some things like that too at the store level. So I mean, if you kind of go through our whole stack if you will, that'd probably be the big, high-level ones that I think are core right now to what we're doing.

Brad: Are either of you using anything for marketing automation? Emails that you send, communication, SMS to any customers?

Travis: Yeah, so-

Niko: Go ahead, Travis.

Brad: Go ahead, Travis. Go ahead, Travis and then...

Travis: All right. Yeah, we have a text marketing program through Mobidity that does automated messaging to select stores for selected offers. Email marketing, we're using Constant Contact right now. But yes, those are automated messagings. Outside for automated-

Brad: Okay.

Travis: Go ahead, Niko. Let me think a little bit more on that.

Niko: Yeah. At the store level, we don't really have any of our team members needing to interact with any technology that is... In other words, they don't have to administer to it. We do have a text platform. I think it's called Boostly if I remember right. And then we also use Mailchimp as our mail platform. And then we have some stuff that also integrates with our Facebook and all the social stuff that we do. So there's that ecosystem there.

But again, store level-wise, those guys don't really interact with it on the administrative standpoint. They're really just, they're aware of the promotions, they're aware of the stuff that's going on. They push people to adopt and sign up for text messaging and things like that. But they're not really in charge of those platforms. That's more corporate-level that we manage that.

Brad: I get asked this question a lot by people, what food cost system are you using? Are you using one that's integrated with point of sale, or are you using one that's outside of that, or nothing at all?

Niko: For us we're adopting the SpeedLine piece. So we've done it sort of old-school at the other operations that we have, but we're onboarding a real robust version of food costing in the POS through SpeedLine right now.

Brad: Okay. Travis, what about you?

Travis: Yeah, for us we're still doing quite a manual process I would say. I think the challenge in the industry is getting staff to make proper counts and proper receipts for food ordering. That's a challenge in the SpeedLine system, in any system, any form of inventory management. Especially when... Our menu is quite large, so to count all of those fees accurately with weights or portions, or whatever it might be, and get an accurate look at that, sometimes it's difficult to get it from that store level feedback.

So I think the approach there is definitely still taking full inventories, but to do maybe the key items more frequently on a daily or weekly basis and take that full inventory more on a period basis, but still out there shopping for the perfect solution [crosstalk 00:09:52].

Brad: The perfect solution, yeah. I've had a long history, before I crossed over to the dark side on the sales side of point of sale, I was director of technology for a 50-unit chain. So I have some experience in this and I actually built some food costing systems. And I tell people I built four, and the reason I built four is because the first three were terrible. So I understand a little bit about the challenge that you go through with that. I think I'm always surprised when I find that there are a lot of companies of substantial size that don't have food costing in place. And because of some of the specific challenges that you mentioned there, Travis, that's good insight.

Let's maybe shift the conversation a little bit and talk a little bit about what happens when you're looking at new software. Travis, let's start off with you. Who do you go to? Who on your team provides input into technology solutions? Is it at the C-suite talking with the CEO and president, or are you talking with right down at the store level?

Travis: Yeah, I think this is an interesting question because for me, I feel that most often it's someone else from a different department coming to me. I have this problem and I need a solution for it. Let's find... Like Zenput for example. We were making these audit questionnaires for store site visits, and I was watching people make these spreadsheets to print out, like a fillable, handwritten form. And like, "Hey, is there an easier way to do this? Can we find this quicker?"

So that's one part of the solutions where people are coming to me looking for things. But when I look for something new in the tech space, I'm looking to solve typically other people's problems. And I'm seeing how it needs to interact with operations, how it needs to interact with marketing. Our franchisees are something to definitely consider as far as pricing is concerned. Budgets, does it fit in the budget?

But I think one of the most important parts of all that is that end user adoption, making sure that it's something that solves the problem completely and is not just part of it, or doesn't overlap with some other solution that's in place. And then once it's deployed, getting everybody to adopt it, to get the maximum value out of that typically software as a service, or what have you.

Brad: How about you, Niko? What type of input do you take from your team? You've got a smaller team so it's a slightly different situation.

Niko: Yeah, it's a little different. Generally, we tend to be more proactive on our C-suite, if you will, about trying to find new technologies, trying to stay in contact with our franchise guys and even our operations team, and saying, "What are the pain points?" And because we know that those guys are busy too, they're not always sitting around looking for things. So we take that responsibility on at the corporate level and in a lot of ways kind of go, "What things can we improve on? How do we reduce costs? What platforms are getting some traction, or that we're hearing other brands use successfully?"

So that tends to be our process is to really kind of stay open to the noise, if you will, around either a pain point or new technologies that are effective. And then we'll kind of... Our real funnel of that process starts to be that we'll have those conversations, we start looking and vetting them out, and looking at technologies. But fundamentally, it starts there. That's kind of where we start. We start by getting their input and then also being very aggressive about how do we improve as we want to scale.

Brad: One of the struggles that I ran into fairly frequently, was I would have someone come and they would have a preconceived notion of what that solution should look like. They would say, "I need to get product X." And then we'd get into it and say, "Well, why do you need that, and what will that do for you, and how will you know that's successful, and will people actually use this?"

And by the time you get into it, you realize, "Okay, product X might not actually be the right solution." But there's definitely a real problem there. And pushing off of that solution just for a half second so we can at least explore other possibilities, seemed to really helpful in that decision-making process. I'm seeing nodding so I assume that that's something you run into as well.

Travis: Yeah.

Niko: Yeah.

Travis: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Niko: Yeah. It's definitely important to really identify what the core issue that you're trying to solve before you hop in because me being sort of a visionary creative type for the brand, and I like shiny new things, and I'll chase the squirrel once in a while. So it's good to have the team kind of bring me back a little bit. But to your point, we definitely want to, when we get into these conversations like, "What are we trying to solve?" Let's be very, very specific about why are we doing it and how does that fit into our needs right now, our priorities to vet those new things and whether we want to chase that rabbit right now or not.

Brad: Travis, is there a disciplined approach around getting return on investment when you look at new solutions or is it more just sort of a gut feel I think this will work?

Travis: In some cases there's a return on investment consideration. But to add to what Niko was saying, really sitting down and having an understanding of what it is you're trying to solve, sometimes before you even go shopping. Sometimes there's situations where things pop up that you explore and, okay, that gives you the idea of we need to find something that solves this problem we have. But if you already know you have the issue, it's really good to sit down and have a good understanding of what is the problem you're trying to solve because once you get started exploring, you kind of get sucked into that sales funnel and, "Oh, this is going to be perfect. It's going to solve all of our problems and worries," and especially when it creeps out of the technology department and into upper management, or one person that they think they might benefit the most, it kind of strays away from the real problem at hand.

Brad: Right.

Travis: And sometimes we just get sold on these concepts that really might not really hit every checkbox we need to hit.

Brad: Let's talk a little bit about what that planning looks like because as I think about it, it's a good, natural segue way to this, what you just said there, a lot of times I'll see people come out and they'll say, "I want to do an RFP." And so they'll start that RFP process. If you don't start with a specific product in mind, you end up with a laundry list of all of the things I'd like to do sometime. Well, you never know. We may open up a pizza place on the moon, so everything should have rocket ships attached to it, right? That kind of idea. Or you end up with something that is not sufficient in order to make an actual evaluation and you end up missing critical, core pieces of that technology. So do you do RFPs, Travis, in your organization?

Travis: We do for larger projects. For example, we work with an outside firm for website development.

Brad: Right.

Travis: That's a large overhaul project that requires a lot of check boxes and you're really vetting the vendor when you make that selection. So for those kinds of things, absolutely. For smaller solutions, not necessarily. Right?

Brad: Yeah. How about you, Niko? Have you participated in RFP?

Niko: Yeah, to some degree with... Echo what Travis said in a lot of ways, it depends on the scope of the project and how big it is. If it's, again, redoing our whole website, we went through that whole process. A lot of checkboxes, a lot of vetting, a lot of contacting references. What was the process like? Looking at that whole... before we got into the weeds. Because even you said a minute ago, it's very easy to get sort of into that sales funnel and everything's magical, everything's a solution and it's worked great. Until you're so far in you've cut the check and you're kind of going and go, "Wait a minute. I didn't think to ask this question."

Brad: Right.

Niko: But we're here. Yeah, we do on those big scale projects, but for little stuff, mostly all that, those questions and answers, again, go back to really what I said a second ago, we get very clear as a team what our real priorities are. We have a cadence that we fall into [inaudible 00:18:34]. "Okay, what are the big issues? Which ones can we tackle?" Just to be really crystal clear as a group and then we'll vet it all out, whatever we feel is the highest-level pain point and put that into the priority scope and push it through. Our whole team looks at it and decides and then we go through those processes.

Brad: Niko, when you make those decisions, does the decision and the decision to move forward, does that budget just lie within the executive team because of the size of your organization?

Niko: Yeah.

Brad: Or does it get delegated? Okay.

Niko: No, it pretty much, we approve from here. Because of this... We're not so huge, we have a leadership team. Our senior leadership team gets together weekly and we are pretty deliberate about our meetings. This would fall into that. So finance would be there, we'd talk about the budget implication or any other large-scale costs, we would kind of get into who needs to do what in this process. Is it going to impact? If it's a financial thing like a QuickBooks product or something that operations can ultimately use, well, what does each department have to worry about? What's their role? And can they take it on? If everybody's guns blazing to wrap up our quarterly initiatives, then we got to get clear about what everybody's role is. So we're pretty deliberate about how we will take something and move it and then decide that yes, we're doing it and here's the start time.

Brad:It sounds like you have a lot of discipline in your organization, Niko, just the way you talk about the weekly meetings you have with your management team, the level of deliberate action that you take. Is that a fair comment to make?

Niko: Yeah, and I would say it's maybe this is helpful to somebody that's listening. We've onboarded an operating system for our company, the foundation that our business runs on. It's called EOS. And it's entrepreneurial operating system, but it's very deliberate about your business cadence, how you operate as a team, the tools that you use. And we follow that structure and we found it to be very, very helpful. I mean, there's probably a dozen different platforms that a company could adopt.

Brad: Right.

Niko: We just were led to that one and vetted it out, and we're felt that it was the right fit for us. So we've implemented that. And that's really where our discipline sort of springs from, is just following those disciplines.

Brad: Just to put this in perspective, that vetting of the website creator, or when you had your website redone, and the designer and agency that did your website, how long did that process take to decide from the time you said, "We're shopping," until you decided that you're going to go with a certain vendor?

Niko: Honestly, I'm going to say it was the better part of... I mean, from the minute we decided that yes, we're going to do this, and yes we have a sense for the cost would be, and then in terms of what we felt we needed to spend from talking to a handful of people, from that point, that really started our vetting process.

Brad: Right.

Niko: Is this $100,000 project or is a $5,000 project? I mean, we had to kind of start with that before we figured it out. But I honestly would say it really probably took us the better part of three months. Two months at the very least. I was connected to it but that was more of our brand and marketing department really took that on. Again, I was there to support that decision and move it through and ask good questions, but they kind of took it. But I'm going to say about two months.

Brad: Okay.

Niko: Really to go from here to there and pick a winner.

Brad: Travis, for comparison, you went through a similar project, how long did that project take you?

Travis: I'd say we were probably on par with that, maybe a little bit longer actually. Probably three to five months, somewhere in there.

Brad: I find that the larger the organization, the more people you need to bring onboard in that decision-making process. And then even just the logistics of aligning of schedules can create some complexity. Do you hold the purse strings for IT in your organization or is that shared amongst you and operations, and finance?

Travis: A lot of the decisions, especially related to hardware, are pretty much my call I would say.

Brad: Yeah.

Travis: When something's at end of life and needs to be replaced, it's kind of my decision without really needing to seek any higher level to replace it or take care of it.

Brad: Sure.

Travis: When it comes to a new solution or an ongoing cost, that's where it starts to delve into needing to get with the team to discuss it. What I find a lot too is I think when you talk about that time is that somebody in one department, like maybe somebody in marketing, really pushes the initiative to rebrand the website or rebuild it to make it easier from a customer experience perspective. They start that push. They get with me. Now we're kind of aligned in our browsing and we come down to a final selection or three, and we take it to management and say, "Hey, we're really serious about this. This is the work we've done to find it." Take it to ownership for really seeking approval for that spend because those are larger scale projects and require a little bit more participation from the organization I'd say.

Brad: Sure. What role do your franchisees play Travis, in that decision-making process? Do you have a committee or a group that you typically bring in?

Travis: Yeah. We'll share new ideas with a select few of the franchisees. A lot of that comes down to communication too. Sometimes it's something that we feel that everybody and we can have those conversations with a couple of our franchisees to get their opinion on it. But we really want to kind and unify everybody in that process as well and say, "Okay, we found a solution what we think is going to solve X, Y, and Z for you. It's going to cost you this, but your return on investment is this."

It's a lot more about communication when you're involving the franchise community in those new solutions because a lot of them aren't looking spend much, but if you can give them examples as to the work You've put in to show that it's going to benefit them in some way and there's going to be return and it's going to help them in the brand as a whole, then it's a lot more easy to get them on board.

It's a lot more about communication when you're involving the franchise community in those new solutions because a lot of them aren't looking spend much, but if you can give them examples as to the work You've put in to show that it's going to benefit them in some way and there's going to be return and it's going to help them in the brand as a whole, then it's a lot more easy to get them on board. - Travis Miller, Cottage Inn Pizza


Brad: I think we've all developed a pretty healthy skepticism when a vendor comes to us and says, "We can increase your sales by X," or, "We can lower your cost by X." There is part of us that just says, "I don't believe it." Right? And I recognize this being on both sides of the table where I get products pitched to me, and then when we're pitching our own product, we're always very careful to find people and get an actual individual to say it, as opposed to us just saying it. And what we found, and this comes down to sort of shepherding that decision through the organization, the more you can make it feel like the idea is coming from the other person, the better off that you are in terms of getting adoption widespread.

That comes back to your point when you talked about getting the end user adoption, Travis. All of it ties together. How you make the decision, how the decision process itself can actually impact pretty significantly the level of end user adoption because they may not feel like they are fully vested in the solution. They may feel like it's just being pushed on them.

Travis: Right.

Brad: Let's shift the conversation a little bit. Let's talk a little bit about online ordering and talk about some specific solutions that you both have in your locations. Just, I'll lay out the groundwork a little bit here. Niko, you're using ChowNow. Travis, you're using RTO, and SpeedLine has its own online ordering system that neither of you are using, and that's good. That provides a great basis for conversation here.

So let's start with you, Niko. Tell me a little bit about your experience with your online ordering, and what you liked about it, and what you looked for when you chose it.

Niko: We kind of moved to ChowNow mostly out of a necessity piece. Not because we didn't have it but we've actually been dabbling in online ordering and adopted it really, really early. I'm talking about 15 years ago.

Brad: Okay.

Niko: I mean, it might be that far out that we've had online ordering. One of the biggest things that we liked in some of the earlier solutions was the direct connection to the POS. Order could come in, you could adjust the order if a customer called and said, "Oh, can I add something?" Or, "You know what? We need to do this." Or, "Can I move it for tomorrow?" Because we do a heavy amount of catering also. We're in central business districts. We have a lot of customers that need some flexibility. So it's important for us to have a tool that worked that way.

We had another provider; it spoke to the POS directly. It was a pretty decent solution, but then PCI compliance becomes a factor, credit card processing. So, as we had to move away from that company we needed just a stop-gap solution. So that's why we chose ChowNow because it was fairly quick to onboard and we could keep online orders flowing without really much disruption.

Since that time though, we really truly are looking to develop a solution that maybe is more brand centric and now a out-of-the-box solution because we have some particular things that matter to us, and now that's something that's on our radar, is to again, maybe move to another provider while we start addressing how big of a project is it to really take a platform and make it our own and do it exactly how we want, which we're vetting that out.

So I know I'm talking a lot about the process, but for us that's where we've arrived at ChowNow. It's truly a stop-gap in a lot of ways. It functions, it's fine, but it's not, from the brand standpoint, what we want to present as an online ordering platform. It's a stop-gap.

Brad: Fair enough. Travis, how about you? You're using RTO.

Travis:  Yeah. I think online ordering is one of those things that I'm always keeping my eyes open with. It's probably one of the most important pieces of technology in a pizza store today. The ticket averages are historically much higher, it's converting to being... A larger part of our overall sales are coming from online.

So when I talk about this, I... There's so many pieces to this puzzle and I'm unwilling to give up any pieces I already have. So when you go to vet a new online ordering system, you're talking about the order flow, you're talking about... A big piece for me, which might be a contrast to Niko, is we do menu management for all of our franchisees. So when it comes to the online ordering piece, I have an internal team that is managing most of the item coupon creation themselves and doing that by store groupings.

I think online ordering is one of those things that I'm always keeping my eyes open with. It's probably one of the most important pieces of technology in a pizza store today. The ticket averages are historically much higher, it's converting to being... A larger part of our overall sales are coming from online. - Travis Miller, Cottage Inn Pizza


The way we want to create coupons is a complex thing to discuss when you're dealing with an online ordering provider because we want to be able to do the same things we can do in SpeedLine, or maybe we want to be able to do different things on the online ordering side for online only offers, the way coupons can be redeemed, driving people to specials pages, dropping coupon codes in their cart from a marketing perspective, user experience. There's just so many different things that need to all come together for that solution to fit. And that's why it's not something that is really taken lightly in my mind is we have to have a lot of checkboxes checked, maybe some of them are negotiable, but most of them that exist today], they are not, but there are definitely things that we are looking for.

Being able to modify quoted times within SpeedLine and having that pushed to the online ordering side. Integrated payments, integrated gift, all of that stuff. Being able to add something at the counter and upsell at the counter to an online ordering customer who's coming in for pickup, is a huge thing. So all of those-

Brad: Without having to ask for payment yet again?

Travis: Right. Rather than having to ask for payment yet again.

Brad: Yeah.

Travis: It makes that upsell a little bit harder. From the accounting perspective as well, batching out those online orders that are not integrated and reconciling that to what was received in the point of sale is kind of  an accounts receivable, that's an admin process that takes a lot to manage as well.

So with all of those things, it's something that I've constantly keeping an eye on and looking out to see what's evolving, what's changing. But all those things together across departments need to agree that that's the best solution. And I think when you go down that route you have to kind of pilot it at a location. Definitely for us we'd need to pilot it at one to see how it goes, and then probably two or three to be able to really explore the store grouping management functions of being able to say, "This coupon code is available here and here," or one of my favorites, "This pop flavor isn't available here, here and here." And they all maybe sell one outside of the base, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi or whatever, and maybe they sell... Yeah, you understand.

Brad: Yeah. The special flavor of Mountain Dew is the one that I run into.

Travis: There you go.

Brad: Code Red.

Niko: I'm right with all those comments, Travis. And that's why we haven't... To the point of ChowNow, we've been so deliberate about what we really need out of the platform that we have literally been months and months kind of talking to all the options, talking to one options that are not really obvious options and seeing if they can do what we want them to do. It's a humongous piece, and such a critical one. 

Brad: I'm going to say something. I'll say something, it'll sound self-serving when I say this, but I don't mean it to. I think that there's really three key things, key offerings, that a point of sale provider should offer. They should offer their own integrated online ordering for someone that wants to do a one-stop shop and have that single point of contact. They should also offer, like both of you are using, third-party integrations that provide choice and options for them because knowing that nobody does everything perfectly. Right? And there might be something that's specific. But the last choice is they should also provide an open API that allows you to integrate your own system.

So when you think about it, what you're doing there, Niko, if you're able to then use an API in order to create exactly the experience you're trying to create for your customers. Those three things, those three pieces are critical. So of course, naturally we offer those, but that wasn't the point of that conversation. The point was just to show that there are so many different ways. And with 70% of transactions, an estimated 70% of transactions being sourced digitally now, it is critical that you get that digital experience right because in many cases, between that and the delivery driver, that's what they know about you.

Niko: Yep.

Brad: All right, let's jump into talking about delivery itself because that's such an important piece. You talked originally, or earlier on, Travis, about LiveMaps and what that does for you. Niko, maybe over to you. What solutions do you have in order to support your delivery program? I'm thinking in terms of do you have driver tracking? Do you use LiveMaps in your stores and so forth? So maybe talk a little bit about that.

Niko: We do use LiveMaps. It's fairly new for us using it. I mean, our business is a little bit unique in the sense that we get a lot of pre orders. We have a large catering component to our business. So we get a lot of orders that... We might have a bunch of stuff that pops up on our screen at 7 AM and it might be $2,000 of business, but it all gets loaded in from 11:00 until 12:30. So all these orders get jammed in there before you even open your doors.

So we have found... Again, there's no real great solution for that in terms of just ticket management. We do a very manual... We have a process and it works well for us, but as far as a technological piece, and we've found challenges in terms of even using LiveMaps because a lot of these orders they hit the POS and they can seem like they've been there for an hour when they really are just waiting because the delivery time is in the distance. So there's been a lot of that.

We found workarounds that work well for us. So we're able to execute, we're able to get speed of service. So really we're just using our own stuff that has worked for us on that delivery front. We do have the ability to... If someone doesn't know where it is, we can pop up the address and they can see the route and all that stuff in our POS. But we don't do any real driver tracking and we know roughly based on those sort of things how long the transaction should take. But nothing where... We have seen other platforms that actually track the driver from the point of out, to the cell phone, can see where they are, how many stops they've made. There's some of those technologies, but again, they're outside of our ecosystem, so it becomes another layer and we didn't really want to bother at this point in our brand's lifecycle to try to get that deep right now.

Brad: Right. Travis, for you, you and I had a conversation previously. You talked about using toppers on the vehicles for tracking their GPS location.

Travis: Yeah.

Brad: What came from that?

Travis: That was effective for a while. Basically, it was a system where the... There was a GPS tracker in the car topper and drivers could check into it with a key fob in and out. And that was a live display in addition to LiveMaps on a television screen in the restaurant.

It helped in some aspects. It was kind of a pilot program. We did it at two locations. You could get more of a real-time understanding as a manager when somebody was coming back or if they were kind of goofing off and not really making a direct trip there and back. But overall, there was a cost to it and then the amount of data that came back from it, was kind of over the top. I mean, we're not tracking... I mean, maybe on a global scale corporately would've been advantageous if we had it rolled out all the way, but you have to have somebody looking at that stuff. You know?

Brad: Right.

Travis: What are you going to do? It tells you everything you could possibly want to know about that vehicle. Right? Hard braking, speeding, everything. But what are you going to do with that information and who's going to use it and review it, and compress it, and all of those things? So that kind of ended up going to the wayside and we ended up focusing more back on just the LiveMaps data.

Something that Niko brought up was the struggle of the deferred ticket activations and how they appear as a late delivery on the LiveMaps display. That's a fine balance and I totally relate to that problem. Especially a bunch of lunch-heavy stores have a lot of business that typically is deferred around at lunchtime or dinnertime, and you really want to be able to see and give yourself a head start early in the day as to what's coming down the pipe.

But the other side of that is being able to really utilize, from above store and in-store, the reporting data available from the LiveMaps system. So checking in how many runs each driver's taking at a time, setting limits on that, watching average out-the-door times, average delivery times, if you don't cater to the system as it's designed to some degree, you're not going to get the good data coming out of it to be able to make those management decisions on, okay, are we spending too much time in the kitchen getting the food out? Is it an oven timing issue? Is it an over complication of something? Or is it road times? Is the delivery zone too big, or maybe just overwhelmed at these times? You could help me with scheduling. You could help me with so many different things if you have that information.

So again, it's a fine line battle of being able to see everything up front, but really having to kind of stick to that system and setting security to make sure that people are instructed too and understand that we're watching, make sure you're dispatching your run when you leave and then returning yourself when you come back. So we get solid metrics to manage from.

Niko: Yeah.

Brad: Yeah, if the solution is more of a problem than the original problem, and I'm not suggesting that was necessarily the case, but it sounds like there was a lot of administration that went along with it in order to solve something that could be solved a different way.

I think what both of those stories illustrate to me is what sounds good in terms of an idea in a boardroom, or on paper, or in a sales pitch, you put it into a store and you'll know how it really works. And I always feel like we should be about two weeks away from finding out whether or not any of these things will actually work.

Let's go to our last question, and you talked about this at the very beginning, Niko. You talked about how you have plans for growth. You're at five locations right now, but you have this disciplined approach that seems like you're like a coiled spring ready to explode in the market. Tell us a little bit about what you're looking for when you go to look at a new location and how heavily you rely on some of the data points that you've collected along the way?

Niko: As far as our franchise development cycle goes, and then even the corporate piece to that, meaning like site selection, if you're speaking towards site selection and then technologies around it, we really do a couple things. I mean, we have good relationships with some of our broker real estate folks that we have, again, given our brand standards, what to look for on a site. So they have a very clear picture that someone's going to come to them and say, "I need to look for a site. What do I look for?" They'll be able to guide because we've created a process for them of things that are important for the brand.

So that's not really a technology, but that's just really our process if you will. But part of that process is going to be, we use a company called IntelliView, and they really give us a very high-level look at a marketplace and they do it based on the priorities that we have. So as a brand, unlike a lot of other pizza-focused brands, we really look for central business districts as a top priority, our next thing is hospitals, schools, universities. Then our third band of a priority is blue-collar factories, anywhere there would be 50, or 100, or 80 people.

Then lastly, it's the residential density. So we have a platform that really kind of says, "Okay, based on those priorities in the market, we know what the metrics need to be to give it a good average and say thumbs up, this is a good spot." So we'll run things through those sort of filters if you will. So that's one piece of a software piece, if you will, that we look at. We don't have that internal. It's an external thing that we source, but nonetheless, goes through that software process if you will, to kind of give us the data.

As a brand, unlike a lot of other pizza-focused brands, we really look for central business districts as a top priority, our next thing is hospitals, schools, universities. Then our third band of a priority is blue-collar factories, anywhere there would be 50, or 100, or 80 people. - Niko Frangos, Rascal House


And that's really, to actually finding a site, that's really our approach to looking at a site and then vetting it, along with some boots on the ground stuff that really isn't technology-heavy. But that'd be really our go-to piece to give us that preliminary, high-level data so that we can start activating our next steps from that.

And I'm not sure if this was part of the question in terms of our text stack and activating that, but as it kind of gets into build out a new store opening, a lot of that stuff really for us, we really... Our mandate to our team is really the owner, operator, franchisee really should not be... We don't want them to think about anything other than running their store at a very high level. So there's not real like, "Which piece do you want? Do you want to try this?" It's very much, "Here's our package. You're investing in our brand to have this result. Let us manage this part of this process. You focus in on your operational skillset and your team's depth of knowledge about operating at a high level. Don't worry about which wallpaper color." We take all that out of the equation for them really just to, again, give them some structured approach to focusing in on really what the high-level priorities are. 

Brad: That's a great answer. I mean, the level of discipline that you bring to the site selection process. And I always think how a person does one thing, is probably how they do all things. But that level of discipline you bring to the site selection, then instills trust in your franchisees that you have their best interest at heart. Then, when it comes time to say, "We're going to put in this pizza," they probably feel that you've put as much research and care into the new product that you're launching as you did into the original site selection. So you end up with this sort of beautiful level of trust that's created.

Niko: Yeah, I feel that is true and I appreciate it. Thanks for the sentiment. But I think we're very focused on really laying a solid foundation. That's the key for everything that we do right now. It's not for where we are, it's for where we want to be in... I mean, our goals over the next handful of years are to onboard another 20 units and then become a national brand.

So we have to... That's so front and center in everything that we talk about, why we act, is really does this compliment that answer? I mean, we have to solve for today, but we also have to think about technologies, processes, procedures that can be sustainable. Right? Can you scale with it at least from where we are to the next step? It might not be 100 stores, but can this thing scale for the next handful of years?

Brad: That's terrific.

Niko: So that's a big piece of what we do.

Brad: Travis, in terms of your new locations, tell us a little bit of what your brand looks for and how you're involved in that.

Travis: Yeah, for the site selection process, I come in after that portion. But once that's established, the decisions that I'm thinking about are how to layout a local plan for the restaurant based on its footprint or concept model. Is there a buffet? Is there a dining area? We have a café concept that requires just a little couple different tweaks to the plan.

But with that comes really trying to standardize that process. A lot like Niko was saying, we don't want you having to worry about picking the wallpaper. And that comes from a technical aspect too. I offer, "Go ahead, take that floor plan and just totally convert it. Here's all the components from the IT system that you need to work with PodGen and have it be a seamless thing right out of the door."

When we open up, you're going to have the stations where they belong, printers where they belong, everything's going to be labeled, going to be a nice secure cabinet, the phone, audio, all of it is pre-planned for you. And that's really what I've spent a lot of time trying to design that system and make sure I'm working with general contractors and electricians, and any subcontractors who would be working on any of this and constantly reviewing their work.

And then the other part of that is, especially at locations that are further away or outside of the immediate region, of the technology package that we're pushing to the store, making sure that all of training staff, consulting staff and even when I'm onsite to go visit, that everyone clearly understands how to utilize the technology that is deployed. I mean, you can have a new, fresh franchisee come into the system and tell them, "All right, well, here's all these great things that I'm doing for you," but if you open up and they have no idea how to utilize any of it, it really takes away from the value of it.

So making sure that every single piece of that puzzle is documented out there, there's access to relearn those things because as you approach a store opening, there's so much going on. And sometimes when you got through training session after training session, you might forget what we talked about.

Brad: Right.

Travis: And how do I guide you to the right resources to make sure that of all aspects with SpeedLine, a great insight website that has videos and educational stuff. We have an internet website that has our standard operating procedures and a whole bunch of other helpful resources that really helps drive people on those concepts.

Brad: No, it's very good. I want to open this up to questions. So we have some questions that have already started to come in. Let's start off with this one. I'm curious, what are you guys thinking about AI-based, artificial intelligence-based ordering experiences? Travis, have you looked at this at all?

Travis: I have a little bit. And some of them are getting pretty good. When they first were coming around, they have... I didn't see that there was a lot of accuracy in it and it could be kind of complex to use at times. There's the whole integration portion of it too where it might be great at understanding what you're saying or asking for, but when it comes down to integrating at the point of sale and having that mapping on that product's backend working correctly, that's a whole nother element to this.

So understanding what the consumer wants is part of it but interacting with the API on setting that information down correctly because they use their SKUs, or whatever you want to call them, that's definitely a battle to overcome in that section of the ordering industry I think. But the AI is definitely coming along.

Brad: Niko, you used a phrase earlier, you said you liked to be open to the noise. Have you listened to the noise of AI at all?

Niko: I have. I don't think it's ready for primetime, but I think as a brand we want to be aware of it and sort of where it's at in its development cycle and how we might... I mean, for us, we're not big enough I think to even think about worrying about it because even if we wanted to adopt it, I'm sure there is so much time, resources, finances that would need to go in there to make it work for a brand of our size, which would not be economical really.

Brad: Sure.

Niko: But I think it's just definitely kind of keeping it there. It's definitely a conversation that I've heard many, many times over, especially as we're starting to think about all this... like the Alexas of the world, and the Siris, and kind of how when you ask questions, you kind of move around the search engines even, right? You're just asking order... Where's the best pizza place? There's a lot of stuff to start thinking about how you build a brand so that your brand name becomes I want a Rascal House pizza, as opposed to just a pizza.

Brad: Sure.

Niko: So all that stuff, and we think about that stuff and how it relates and how does it impact our business long-term? Some of the big boys that are technology companies first like the Domino's of the world, I think they're heavily engaged. So you just kind of follow their lead, see what they're doing, let them sort of spend their resources to show us the way if you will, kind of how that technology's going. But yeah. So it's interesting stuff.

Brad: Mark Cuban made an interesting comment talking about artificial intelligence. And his comment was, "The first trillionaire will be created as a result of AI, someone who develops, is the world of developing AI solutions." And that we as business leaders owe it to ourselves to be on top of what's going on in AI. And if we're not, and it's great to hear both you guys are listening to that because if you're not, his comment was that you're like a person who in 1995 or 2000 said, "I'm not sure if this internet thing is going to stick." Right? And we want to be paying attention to what's going on with that.

Have either of you used text or phone-based AI? Like a text-based ordering where a person tries to... Have you done that as a consumer first and foremost, Travis?

Travis: Yeah, when this question popped up, that was one of the first things I thought of. It's getting better. It's not placing the order. There's hybrid models that are emerging too where you can say, "Hey, I want this," and it adds it to cart, sends you a link and drives you back to the online ordering page, which I do kind of enjoy for now because it's using the same backend technology to get it down to the store level, versus a whole nother system of... Basically, relying on an outside party to get it there.

I just fear that what happens when the college student at 2:30 AM is trying to text their order into us and might not get it right. Right? Or people who maybe English is a second language, or I guess you could solve that problem. But there's a lot of situations where people don't text very clearly.

Brad: Sure.

Travis: And I really want the guests to have a great experience. So I worry that it's going to transpose into something that it's not and end up creating more problems than benefits.

Brad: That's fair. That's fair.

Niko, do you use consultants to make any of your decisions or to help guide you through that process?

Niko: We do. We do use consultants definitely on the franchising side as we are building infrastructure for franchise development and our sales team and our lead generation pipeline, things like that. So try to find experts in the disciplines that are needed for that. And that does spill over into again, our food vendor distribution. I'll talk to those guys too as it relates to different platforms for looking at stuff like software. So I tend to be pretty open to asking people, "Hey, what do you use? Have you used it?" Especially if they're interacting in their food space.

So yeah, we do have some consultant stuff that we do. But again, that's mostly facing the franchise development side and franchise expansion side, not so much heavy on the operational side. Although, some of those guys come from brands that were in ops, so they do spill over a little bit with some questions and best practices. But fundamentally, I wouldn't say we use too much on the consultant side for a restaurant operations. Mostly on the franchise side of our company.

Brad: Great. I've got time for one last question here. This was addressed to Travis. You mentioned the idea of the toppers on the car, and the question was, was that viewed as a mistake, or was that viewed as an experiment internally?

Travis: I think... That's a tough question. 

Brad: It depends who you ask.

Travis: Yeah. I think it's both really. I think it was an experiment that maybe turned to a mistake. It was an experiment that was positive and exciting in the beginning. It had some value, so it wasn't just something to completely write off for futures. 

But it also... Where it became a mistake is where is kind of lingered away. It was like, "Oh, here's this thing that we're doing," but it was hard to keep people on top of doing it and using it, and then reviewing that information. So that's where it kind of became a mistake. We maybe held on a little bit longer than we should've. But it's still a really cool idea. It still had a lot of value if somebody wanted to really dive in and really focus on it. But are there other things in the industry that has more value than that right now in my book? Yes. So I think the mistake is the time to realize, "Oh, we're at a barrier."

Brad: Great. Excellent. Niko Frangos from Rascal House, Travis Miller from Cottage Inn. I appreciate your time today. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It's exciting to hear what you guys are doing. And I think that our audience will appreciate it as well. So thank you very much. And thank you to Pizza Marketplace for putting together this webinar. It's always appreciated. And to everybody out there, stay safe.



Posted on Thu, Nov 12, 2020 @ 12:11 PM.
Updated on November 26, 2020 @ 8:55 PM PST.

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