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HT Talks Tech: Toastique IT Manager Blair Lalor

Fast casual concept embraces QR codes to power skip-the-line ordering.
Toastique DC location
This fast-casual concept uses Paytronix for online ordering.
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Hospitality Technology’s Senior Editor Restaurants Anna Wolfe recently caught up with Toastique  IT Manager Blair Lalor to talk about Toastique, a boutique gourmet toast and juice bar. Toastique offers fresh, seasonal, and responsibly sourced products and a feel-good atmosphere all day long. Since opening its first location, Toastique has expanded to include 15 units open across D.C., New Jersey, Colorado, Utah and Florida.

HT:  Tell us about the concept?

Toastique IT Manager Blair Lalor: The concept behind Toastique was to find a way to be able to provide an option that was incredibly healthy, while still being fast and convenient, so people with busy schedules wouldn’t have to sacrifice eating healthy for their schedules.

HT:  How did it come about? How many locations? Approximate size?

Lalor: Our Founder and CEO Brianna Keefe was D1 cheerleader at James Madison University. She was always on the go, so she began coming up with her own healthy recipes that she could take with her while rushing to practice or class. After graduation, she was working in hospitality in D.C. when she decided to leave her corporate job and combine her experience with her love for healthy food to open the first Toastique location. And that flagship location generated over $1 million in sales during its first year without any marketing spend. Six months after the first, Brianna opened a second location and a third later that year. Today we have 15 open locations.

HT:  How many locations will open this year?
Lalor: Around a dozen will open this year. We’ve already opened two so far.

HT:  Tell us about the technology that powers Toastique? Guest-facing and back-of- house?Lalor: All of our technology focuses on being guest-facing. We try to keep our back-of-house register system as simple as possible so that it's something really easy for franchisees to set up and organize themselves. So we just keep it very basic using one register and four printers — that's it. That's all you're going to need. Customer-facing, we have an app, a loyalty program and a website that we're all just constantly trying to keep up to date, and make them work as best as possible for customers.

HT:  What is your approach to online ordering? Looks like you work with Google, third-party delivery?

Lalor: Our approach to online ordering is that we do work with third parties, but we prefer people to order through us. We offer both delivery and pickup just through our app, so you don't have to go through the third parties. It's cheaper for customers that way and it's cheaper for us that way. But we are happy to work with third parties because we realize that, for a lot of people, that's the easiest option. So we make sure to use UberEats, GrubHub and DoorDash in all of our locations and have franchise agreements with two of those companies.

HT:  How has online ordering evolved? What’s next?
Lalor: At first, we actually didn’t use it at all. When we first opened our first location, we waited a whole year-and-a-half before we started doing online ordering, and that was because the pandemic made it the only option. Today, we do online orders, as well as Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub. We also started using Paytronix, which is our third party, online ordering system that runs our app and all of our website ordering. Through that, we've been able to really change how we've done it and start a loyalty program, start our app and we’re even looking into subscription programs now. So it's really developed so much from when we first opened.

HT:  Do you use kiosks or QR codes or other contactless forms of tech to enable ordering, payment, scheduling etc? Do you plan to add any of these this year?

Lalor: We have QR codes on all of our doors at each restaurant that are specific to that location that will bring guests to the online ordering website. This allows them to order ahead and skip the line right there.

We have not done kiosks yet, but we do have a few potential franchises that are looking into doing them. They are a great easy, seamless option for customers to come in and quickly be able to type in what they want and skip the line. It would also be beneficial for customers with disabilities who can't necessarily speak their order.

HT:  How are you gleaning actionable insights from your data?
Lalor: Our data that we really are looking into right now is focusing on how often our loyalty program customers are coming in, and how many customers are repeat versus new. We really want to make sure that every customer who comes in comes back. So our data very much focuses on that and what deals inspire people to come in the most, or if giving them coupons here and there inspires them to come again. 

Using this data, we're actually looking into redoing our loyalty program and really getting it to be something customers want to be a part of. We're also looking at what's most frequently ordered,  what people want to order when they get a coupon, do they want a free item or a percent off a dollar amount, for example. We’re using all of this data to revamp the whole system right now.

HT:  When it comes to workforce, how are you using technology to reduce friction in their environment and experience?
Lalor: We make sure that each of our locations is completely ready to handle any issue they need. Every location has my phone number, should they ever have any problems with their tech. They also all have an iPad specific to their store with everything they could ever need — a connection to a speaker system, any grocery ordering tools they may need, etc. 

We also use 7shifts for scheduling, which makes it super simple for employees to be able to provide their availability and ask for time off. Overall, we aim to make the whole process as seamless as possible for everyone working for us.

HT: How are you managing and monitoring and responding to guest feedback?
Lalor: Anyone who places an online order through us has the option to leave feedback immediately after receiving the order. We also have a customer feedback page on our website and we like to make sure that we are responding to those customers and their feedback within 24 to 48 hours, at most. And we try to do everything possible to right any situation, whether it's helping get refunds or gifting a reward to apologize for an experience they had. We even like to respond to our positive feedback. We share all of our feedback we get with all of our corporate stores, whether it's good or bad and we make sure the store managers share it with the people in the store below them.

HT:  How are you marketing the brand? What’s next on this front? Social media? NFTS?Radio networks? 

Lalor: Right now, a lot of our marketing is done through sending out push notifications, coupon codes — things like that. It's very much ad-focused at the moment to put the focus on our loyalty members, just because that program is still pretty new. So we're just trying to find a way to optimize it and figure out what's best for those customers who are a part of it.

We’ve slowly been tapping into using radio networks as a way to advertise, which is something we’ve never done before. We recently had an opening where it was a massive success, so we’re looking into using that more for future openings. There’s a lot that we aren’t taking advantage of, so this year we’re going to be doing a lot more.

 HT:  What’s next that you can tell me about?
Lalor: There’s a lot coming up. Like I mentioned, we're redoing our loyalty program from scratch, we are going to start having some locations opening with kiosk ordering and we're also looking to start subscription programs. It’s all super exciting. Stay tuned!

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