As CEO of over a dozen restaurants across New York City, the pandemic was a learning moment on many levels. While we’ve been a successful group for more than 15 years, COVID-19 gave us the push we needed to bring new technology into our operations and streamline the overall guest experience. Taking care of our guests has always been a priority for Stout group, but as New Yorkers emerged from the lockdown, we quickly realized there was room to innovate even more when it comes to the on-premise experience. Also, the pandemic made us realize that it was critical to up our game when it comes to connecting with guests outside of our restaurants through email and review sites.
But the big question: Without an in-house tech team, how do you go about accomplishing all this change without a major disruption from a service and staffing perspective?
We wanted to be very thoughtful about implementing new tech to make sure our guests and staff understood the benefits. Wait times for food and drinks have always been a pain point in our industry and we wanted a solution that could not only cut down wait times but also streamline the ordering and payment process for our staff.
With this in mind, we turned to our existing POS and technology provider, Union, to leverage its guest-led ordering and payments solution. They got us up and running quickly, and now guests who come into our restaurants use Union to start their service experience and pay, and their orders are delivered in a fraction of the time. Guests are also still able to talk to their servers, ask questions about menu items and get that same personal experience that our restaurants have become known for. It’s truly the best of both worlds. No waiting to order, no waiting to pay, same personal attention.
With this new ordering platform, we are able to better utilize our team with more data about what our guests are ordering and the average check size. It’s also allowed our servers to completely focus on the guest experience, since they don’t have to worry about going back and forth to the POS system. As a result, our guests stay longer, order more, tip higher and come back more frequently.
Additionally, with the data we receive from Union’s ordering platform, we have built robust email lists and have been able to create customized campaigns to connect with our guests outside of our venue walls. These emails have played a big role in promoting new restaurant openings, private event offerings, charity events and more.
To ensure guests understand how to use the new app, we have hospitality ambassadors on staff to help them navigate the ordering process. Our ambassadors are there to help educate guests on the benefits of technology when it comes to ordering, so they become more comfortable with the process. Additionally, it’s great to have someone onsite to train other staff how to work the app properly.
Reviews In the Spotlight
As change is introduced into our venues, reviews are even more critical to monitor; they’re where many guests will relay feedback about the operation and their experience with it. According to a recent Agency Forward survey conducted by Nationwide, 1 in 4 restaurant decision makers report negative reviews among their biggest risk factors. Reviews should not be ignored and can really help inform the innovation process -- everything from adopting new technology to feedback on menu changes.
Marqii technology has proven to be a very beneficial tool for our group, as it gives us a holistic understanding of the reviews each of our restaurants receives, allowing us to respond to every review in one platform and set default responses. It's a phenomenal resource because it shows us how to better understand how our guests are adapting to our new technology and if we need to make changes to improve the guest experience. It’s been great to see the positive response to our new guest led ordering system.
As we all brace for whatever the future holds, it’s more important than ever to streamline operations, continue to improve upon the guest experience and, most of all, listen. With the right mix of new tech and personal touches we’ve been able make some big strides. Change is always hard, but it’s been great to see the fruits of our labor pay off--guests are happier and more engaged, which inevitably leads to better tips. A win-win all around.
About the Author
Brendan Donohoe is the CEO of Stout NYC group; a bars/restaurant group with a dozen locations throughout New York City. Brendan joined Stout NYC group four years ago after over a decade in the accounting industry. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Brendan got hooked by the excitement and energy of the New York City hospitality industry and sought to make it his career. His focus for the future of Stout group is to continuously provide a unique but familiar experience for all guests that invites each one to come as they are and enjoy.