From the Boardroom to the Kitchen: How Tech is Shaping the Future of Restaurants

During MURTEC 2024, Dog Haus CEO Michael Montagano and Wahoo’s Fish Taco CEO Wing Lam spoke on how they’re leveraging technology to overcome challenges and drive success in the evolving restaurant industry.
Dog Haus CEO Michael Montagano and Wahoo’s Fish Taco CEO Wing Lam
Wahoo’s Fish Taco CEO Wing Lam, pictured left, and Dog Haus CEO Michael Montagano shared how their brands are leveraging technology.
Dog Haus CEO Michael Montagano and Wahoo’s Fish Taco CEO Wing Lam
Wahoo’s Fish Taco CEO Wing Lam, pictured left, and Dog Haus CEO Michael Montagano shared how their brands are leveraging technology.

The corner office is more relevant than ever to restaurant technology because it’s no longer a line item and cost center. It touches every aspect of restaurant operations and is integral to running a successful business. In this session, Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Editor-in-Chief, Hospitality Technology magazine, spoke with Wing Lam, CEO, Wahoo’s Fish Taco and Michael Montagano, CEO, Dog Haus to learn what are some of the most pressing challenges and largest opportunities facing restaurant brand leaders as well as their philosophy around being an employer in this industry at this time. Here is what they had to say.

What keeps you up at night?

Montagano: Dog Haus is based in California with a large footprint. Every day there are new challenges that we face, whether that be regulations or laws that go into effect. For example, there is a new law going into effect in California on April 1st for fast food restaurants with more than 60 units that requires a $20/hr minimum wage. We knew this was coming and saw it as an opportunity to embrace technology that will not only enhance the guest experience but also could lessen the burden of this new law. So, for example, we now offer customers five ways to order food from our business when it used to be only two ways. This has increased our order volume and decreased labor costs, and guests are happier because we’re meeting them where they’re at! 

Lam: Right now, it’s impossible to predict what days office workers will be in the office. Our restaurants live and die by the lunch rush. If I don’t know when office staff will be eating out, I don’t know how to staff my restaurants or how much inventory to have on hand. Prior to COVID, 70 percent of our daily income came before 2 p.m. whereas today it’s around 40 percent and that’s only a couple days a week. So now the question becomes: How do we reach the customers that aren’t going into the office? 

Let’s talk technology vs. hospitality’s human touch.

Montagano: We’re all watching and waiting and learning to see how we’ll be able to use artificial intelligence within our stores. From baseline things like generating menu descriptions to AB testing in marketing to improving back-of-house efficiencies to training employees, we see it as another tool that will be able to assist our franchisees. 

Lam: We love the ability to use technology to improve operations, but you need to be careful to retain the human touch. For example, instead of just installing a kiosk – we had the idea to brand it as “the local’s kiosk.” When a regular checks in, my face pops up and welcomes them back to the store. Next the manager’s face might pop up and ask them if they want to try something that aligns with their guest profile (based on past orders). Why would we brand this kiosk for locals? Because anyone who has ever been a regular in a restaurant and gets stuck behind someone who is new and doesn't know what to order or who gets the new trainee on the register, knows the frustration that comes with that. With “the locals kiosk,” we prevent those inconveniences from happening, we humanize the technology, and we improve the customer experience all at the same time.

What upcoming initiatives are you most excited about?

Montagano: Off-prem makes up about 50 percent of our volume, which is very meaningful. Historically, we’ve partnered with third-party delivery services. But as we all know, that comes with some pretty significant costs. So, this year, we thought we would roll out our own first-party delivery platform and try to find a way to bring third-party customers over to our platform and turn them into loyalty members that engage with us directly. We’ve seen better than expected results over the first 60 days. 

As the CEO, how much control do you have over tech initiatives?

Lam: Wahoo’s Fish Taco is split between me and my two brothers. My kid brother is the finance guy and half of his job is to find and implement technology. Half of my job is to give input on the technology. I tell him what features I’d like to see in the restaurant, and he tries to make it happen within our budget. 

Montagano: Tech is the most important thing we’re facing when it comes to the evolution of restaurants. It touches every part of the business to enable a better guest experience. For example, half of our restaurant business orders don’t come from the register, but then that makes the business that does happen on-property with your onsite POS also incredibly important. Additionally, technology touches on things such as ERPs and accounting, labor decisions, inventory, and more. We know we can make better decisions in real time based on real time data and that data comes from technology.


More Great Content from MURTEC 2024

This is just one of the dozens of though-provoking sessions at MURTEC 2024.

You don't want to miss the MURTEC 2024 keynote featuring Eleven Madison Park's Will Guidara, author of Unreasonable Hospitality.  

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds