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HT Talks Tech: bartaco Co-Founder and CEO Scott Lawton

One year after bartaco won the 2022 MURTEC Breakthrough Enterprise Innovator award, HT checks in to explore how they use guest feedback and data to enhance back-of-house operations.

Hospitality Technology magazine caught up with bartaco Co-Founder and CEO Scott Lawton one year after winning the 2022 MURTEC Breakthrough - Enterprise Innovator Award.

Bartaco received the award for standing up its ‘on-demand hospitality model’ that is powered by contactless ordering technology that increases the overall customer experience and allows employees to focus on the guest experience and creating memorable brand affinity.  

Lawton said, “We have been able to leverage technology to create an even more human experience.”  

HT: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with HT.  It has been a year since bartaco received the 2022 MURTEC Breakthrough Award, and we wanted to check in and see how things are going.   

Last year at MURTEC Executive Summit, we talked about how you were leveraging guest feedback and then also looking at leveraging technology so you get more data that data in the back-of -house to improve operations in your kitchens.

Scott Lawton, Co-Founder and CEO, bartaco:  I've got a lot to share on all of that. We've had a really great year of using data and learning how to be more scientific about our decision making and really listening to our customers better and also really being able to sort of hunt with a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun. …

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There's all these news articles coming out with less data-driven, opinion-driven things about this, that and the other thing. You can get really scared when you hear certain things – about fees or whatever it may be –  but for us, being able to hear directly from our customers is -- to me -- such a more valuable tool. Even though I like to hear the macro opinions and data,  I really want to hear from our customers. And with ordering from your phone, we've been able to institute a survey and a feedback loop. We use that like the Bible every day, not only just from the comments that we read, but also the ratings. We're able to stack rank our restaurants, stack rank our teams, and really drill down on where there's opportunity for better performance. 


Technology has really shifted us in a way that we're able to focus on quality and efficiency.
Scott Lawton , Co-Founder and CEO, bartaco

Over the last year, we've seen our guests [attendance] at events go up about 25%, and it was already at a pretty good level. We feel like we've got a really hyper-engaged audience now that we can communicate with. So that's been really successful.  We've hired Anna Faktorovich as our chief brand officer. She came over to us (in January 2023) from Kava, and she is really great at leveraging this information and helping us think about what the future holds and how we should be thinking about using the data with our customers.

I don't like the term ‘marketing’ because I feel like it's more like ‘direct communication,’ and we're not necessarily giving discounts and things like that. We're just really trying to understand what  thrills our customers and understand why they love us and lean on that. She's been really great at helping us with that through all this data. ...

So the conversations are a lot more data-driven, and we're seeing great success with it. We are still very much, in my opinion, in the beginning of leveraging this data. We are a year in. It took that long to get a data warehouse, a BI tool and everything that we needed to really understand it. 

HT: Can you explain what you're doing to reduce food waste?

Lawton: One of the things we were working towards when I talked to you [before] was this idea of predictive prep.  So, predictive prep is where we're taking our sales mix and sort of overlaying it on our projected sales and coming up with what we think we're going to sell each day and figuring out how much to make. That allows us to actually utilize our labor in a much more effective way, lower our food cost by not creating waste and also improve the quality of the product because it's fresher. 

We launched predictive prep about six months ago, and since then we've seen 150 basis points in savings in food costs. Not only that, we've seen less 86’es by about 75%  (86’es is when you take things off the menu.) Our food quality is better …and our food costs are the lowest they’ve been even though prices are at an all-time high.

We're looking at how we can even start to possibly bring in some AI technology to sharpen that predictive prep work… We've taken the ‘soft work’ out of the kitchens. (Managers guessing inventory demands.)  … And now their thought work is really around execution because we know what we need to make. So, let's make sure that this prep cook is doing the best job possible, making it right in the most efficient way possible. We've been able to shift the conversation around just getting the food in and making it, to making it right and making it at the right time and making the people making it the right way so so. Technology has really shifted us in a way that we're able to focus on quality and efficiency.

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