Skip to main content

Building a Tech-Focused Service Culture

The restaurant industry has historically been slow to adapt to new technology for a variety of reasons, including: high initial investment cost, reliability concerns, training challenges, and fear that the use of technology is at the expense of hospitality. While these are all valid, not only can appropriate technology make restaurants more efficient, but it can enhance the experience for guests as well.
STACKED: Food Well Built ( puts this theory to the test with its concept that is fundamentally about choice and customization. The objective was to offer a menu focusing on popular, familiar menu items (burgers, pizza, salads and mac ‘n’ cheese) and allow diners to personalize selections within those categories. The challenge was how to execute that both internally and from the guest’s perspective. With hundreds of ingredients, traditional approaches to service would prove to be trying for guests. In a fast casual setting, we imagined a menu board the size of a house and the frustration of guests waiting in line while the person in front of them tried to decide between 15 possible sauces. Even a traditional full-service scenario seemed cumbersome and intimidating for guests.

In order to execute on our vision we had to come up with a different approach – one that would enable guests to create meals in a comfortable, uninhibited way. The conclusion was that STACKED should be a full-service restaurant, but that touch-screen devices on every table would allow guests to visually build meals on the screen and send orders to the kitchen.
To develop a guest-facing user interface that was simple, intuitive, fun and appetizing we turned to Custom Business Solutions ( The iPad system lets guests “stack” meals from scratch or select and modify an existing menu item. It’s a simple and visually appealing process as they drag ingredient images from one side of the screen over to the item they are creating on the other.

Encouraging guest buy-in to tech
In order for guests to embrace the technology, it would have to be easy to use and they would have to see a significant and immediate benefit. It is important that the technology enhance, but not take over, the guest experience. A large majority of guests understood the purpose of the iPad ordering system and appreciated the ability to completely customize meals. Young people, particularly, took to the system quickly, requiring little to no guidance. Older people fit into two categories: either reluctant to use the technology or fascinated by it. As expected, acceptance was dependent upon guests’ belief that it benefits them.

While the initial goal was to facilitate customization, we quickly saw the added benefit that guests appreciated being able to control when they ordered and paid. Comment cards to-date reveal that almost 75% of guests felt the iPad ordering system made their experience more enjoyable, while less than 3% indicated that it made their experience less enjoyable.
We also experienced all of the challenges previously mentioned. The investment in the technology was more than expected and continues to grow as we enhance the system on a regular basis. When it breaks down, it causes more chaos in the restaurant. Our hiring and training process is more challenging because the system creates a unique service cycle to which our staff needs to adapt. We are constantly fighting the perception that the technology is replacing humanity. All of these challenges have made us work harder and smarter. It would not have been worth it, and probably would not have succeeded if not for the very compelling benefit to our guests.

What was your first job?

Usher at a movie theater
during high school.  

Who inspires you?
My daughter, who is living an incredibly meaningful and fulfilling life despite the challenges of having cystic fibrosis.

What are your hobbies?
Eating has always been my favorite hobby. But, my newest hobby is hiking. As I get older I appreciate the ability to take on this challenge in a non-competitive way, at my own pace.

What technologies excite you?
Apps that make life more efficient.

Sage Advice: When making a decision, consider the impact on the guest first. If it doesn’t benefit the guest in some way, it may be the wrong decision.

What is one other job that you would like to try?
Being involved in the design of our user-interface was the most challenging and fun project – I would love to do that again.

What is one goal that you would like to achieve in your life?
To see my kids succeed in the world and live long, happy lives.

What three people would you invite to lunch?
Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Richard Melman 

More Blog Posts in This Series

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds