Hospitality Technology (HT) caught up with Alison Kwan, Director and Co-Founder at Viridian, a craft cocktail and Asian-inspired bar opened in Oakland, Calif., in 2020 to talk about the tech solutions they continue to use three years later.
HT: Tell us a bit about Viridian.
Alison Kwan, Director and Co-Founder at Viridian: My co-founders William Tsui, Raymond Gee, and Jeremy Chiu, and I were inspired to create Viridian by our passion for hospitality and connection to our Asian-American roots. We specialize in serving innovative craft cocktails, contemporary, local farm-driven food, and elevated desserts inspired by Asian-American nostalgia.
HT: What is your best seller?
Kwan: Our best seller on the drink menu is our Tomato Beef Cocktail, which is infused with El Tesoro Blanco Tequila, Basil Eau de Vie, tomato water and pink peppercorn.
HT: Tell us about the technology that powers Viridian? When did you add it? What were you using before? What were the issues that you were trying to solve?
Kwan: We opened right as the pandemic started, so we knew we needed to be strategic with our operations and keep things like social distancing, sanitation and staffing shortages top of mind. We quickly saw the value in avoiding paper altogether and adopting QR codes and contactless payment options to address some of these issues, as well as helping shrink our environmental impact, which we appreciated.
After learning more about Union, we quickly realized it was the best platform to help with what we were looking for, as we needed more than just a POS system. We needed a partner who specifically understood our unique high-volume needs and could offer us an all-in-one solution that worked seamlessly for our business model. Union was not only able to provide us the insights into how to better serve our guests, such as what nights we needed more waitstaff, average guest check time, the most popular drinks and food items being ordered, but they also were able to help us enable a guest-led service model via their mobile ordering app. Union's guest-led ordering experience provides a top-notch digital experience for our guest. We are able to add photos of drinks and food items to our digital menu, so guests have a clear sense of what they are ordering.
HT: In Oakland are you able to sell to-go alcohol, cocktails etc. during the height pandemic? Now? Do you do carryout/ off-premises orders? How do guests currently order and pay at Viridian? How has online ordering evolved?
Kwan: During the height of the pandemic, we sold to-go-alcohol, cocktails and food. However, now that we are back to normal service, we have stopped and focused on in-venue service only. We truly believe that guests will enjoy the Viridian experience that much more when they are in our four walls, and we can ensure they leave with smiles on their faces.
Our guests currently order and pay for their food and drinks through Union by scanning a QR code. We have followed this process from day one, and it’s worked out really well, and our guests have really taken to the technology.
Union’s all-in-one system has been very easy to use and has allowed us to really focus on the guest experience and not worry about the technology. We don’t have ordering kiosks, but we do have an extra iPad in case guests don’t have their phones handy. And they can always order through our waitstaff, but once they get the hang of the Union platform and ordering and payment process, it’s pretty straightforward.
HT: What's next?Do you offer a mobile app integrated with loyalty? Is that in the plans?Kwan: As far as next steps for our technology operations, we would love to explore online web-ordering once Union has the capabilities, as we'd prefer not to integrate with a third party. We are also interested in exploring loyalty programs and are exploring how Union's recommendation and venue loyalty program could help us at Viridian.
HT: How are you gleaning actionable insights from your data? according to HT's 2023 POS Software Trends Report, 71% of restaurants are leveraging data gathered via the POS for digital engagement,
Kwan: The data we receive from Union provides us with a unique lens into what is working and what isn’t within our day-to-day operations. For instance, with Union’s on-premise data, we can see what menu items are selling best and make adjustments when it comes to the items that aren’t selling. Union’s unique data also gives our team insight into real-time consumption data, which helps with staffing as well as food and beverage ordering cadence.
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HT: When it comes to workforce, how are you using technology to reduce friction in their environment and experience?
Kwan: Technology has played a tremendous role in reducing friction in our restaurant and the overall guest experience. Union’s platform is easy to use, and it has really been a game-changer for our staff. Having guests order and pay through their mobile devices has allowed our staff to triple their capacity and truly focus on customer service, which results in happier employees and higher tips. By increasing servers’ capacities, we are also able to serve more guests without compromising our high service standards.
HT: How have hourly worker job expectations changed in recent years?
Kwan: One of the biggest changes we’ve seen is hourly workers are seeking more work-life balance. The pandemic really made people re-evaluate their priorities and place more value on their time outside of work. Many employees are seeking more time off, flexible schedules and competitive hourly wages.
HT: What can hotels/restaurants do to retain hourly workers?
Kwan: As I mentioned above, I think providing hourly workers with a better work-life balance is a big key to higher retention. I also believe that implementing new tech tools within the restaurant to streamline the guest ordering and payment process takes some of the pressure off of wait staff, which makes them happier overall and more apt to stay on staff. We’ve also seen this increased speed in service result in higher tips, which of course makes our employees happy and more willing to stay on staff.
HT: How are you managing and monitoring and responding to guest feedback?
Kwan: Managing and responding to guest feedback is crucial for those in the hospitality industry, especially when technology plays such a massive role in our operations. We actively monitor and respond to guest reviews on our public platforms and use Slack to communicate all major points of feedback to our staff.
We receive valuable insights into our guests’ needs, preferences, and satisfaction levels through reviews, so we prioritize delivering prompt responses and work to quickly improve wherever we can.
HT: What's next that you can tell us about?
Kwan: We're excited to continue exploring new technology to streamline our operations, workflows and guest experiences.