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Innovator Climbs the Ladder From Restaurant Ops to CTO

Carissa De Santis continues upward climb in restaurant technology.
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Carissa De Santis TWIRT

Carissa De Santis, Chief Technology Officer at Brix Holdings in Dallas, received the 2023 Top Women in Restaurant Technology Innovator Award at MURTEC 2023.

De Santis was among 15 women recognized for their accomplishments. Hospitality Technology's Top Women in Restaurant Technology Awards, sponsored by Paerpay, are now in their seventh year.  

This is the second time De Santis has been recognized for her efforts in restaurant technology.   In 2019 De Santis received  HT’s Top Women in Restaurant Technology Rising Star award. 

Operations to IT

After spending a significant part of her career in restaurant operations, De Santis jumped at the chance to move over to IT at TGI Fridays corporate office in Carrollton, Texas. “I felt that I had a unique skillset to offer having had operational experience, and it allowed me to contribute at a global level to make an impact with the technologies in our restaurants to improve efficiency and profitability,” she said

After spending a few years working in restaurant operations at TGI Fridays, De Santis jumped at the chance to move over to IT.

  “ I jumped at the opportunity and dove into the restaurant tech space, and you could say the rest is history.”

 AI to Improve the Guest Experience

De Santis, a judge at the 2023 RTN Start-Up Alley at MURTEC, remains passionate about “the ways that technology can improve the restaurant space; in efficiencies, cost savings and increased revenue.  These are the things that made me successful when I was an operator and to be able to move brands forward with technology at the global level is very rewarding."

As CTO at Brix Holdings, “right now, I am slightly obsessed with how AI and Machine Learning are turning the data we collect into real strategies and ways to customize the guest experience,” she added

Paying it Forward

Being mentored played a “huge factor in why I am where I am today,” she said. She sought out a mentor as she was expanding her career in the corporate restaurant space.  "I very much admired him and how impactful he was in his role, following a non-traditional path into IT and understanding the business at so many different levels. I was able to learn so much, and he has continued to be a champion of me throughout my career,” she said. 

De Santis is paying it forward. “In turn, I have made sure to take any opportunity, whether it is formal or informal, to be a mentor to others as they grow their careers in the industry.”

Looking back over her career, De Santis said she’s proud of her work during the pandemic and the year that followed.

In her previous role at Dickey's Barbecue Pit, De Santis led her IT team through a complete redesign of Dickey’s e-commerce site to optimize functionality for mobile users -- resulting in an improved online ordering experience for guests and increased revenue for franchisees. (At Hospitality Technology’s Restaurant Next, Dickey's shared their success story in this 15-minute firechat.) 

 “Six months ahead of the pandemic I had determined our online ordering website needed an upgrade, plus we needed a way to easily manage the half-dozen third party delivery services that the restaurants were using daily,” De Santis recalled. “Our approach to building the website ourselves and partnering with a third-party aggregator that would do a custom integration to our online ordering system allowed us to move quickly with the redesign as well as remove multiple third-party tablets from the stores. We literally launched all of this two weeks after the entire world shut down.  Since we controlled development on the site, we were able to be nimble and make changes when the restaurant industry lost all in store sales; shifting to contactless delivery, selling necessities that folks couldn’t find in grocery stores and making the ordering process fast and easy. Our store base was a 99% franchise model with the average owner only having one location; due to my strategy and the work the team did, our brand was able to keep stores open and people employed when so many others in the industry were faced with layoffs and closing stores.”

Currently she’s jazzed about some of the technologies surrounding automation and robotics.  “Due to costs, these are relatively new/unadopted in the restaurant space, but if you can find the right partners and business case it can create an entirely new reach for brands into various markets and revenue streams,” she explained.  

Looking to the future, “I think restaurant tech will continue to grow and be a significantly dominating force in years to come. Prior to the pandemic, technology was something most restaurants used to capture in store sales and little else, but it was not something that drove revenues and grew businesses. The pandemic forced that seismic shift across all restaurants large and small and really opened our eyes to what our guests expect and how it needed to evolve very quickly to meet the needs at the time as we continue move forward.”

Receiving the Top Women in Restaurant Technology Innovator Award “… recognizes the hard work and results of what a small technology team can achieve and is a testament to all the fantastic opportunities for women in technology and the restaurant space. I hope that women in the industry look to me as an example of what can be accomplished and that a career in technology can happen by way of many different areas of focus and not just someone with ‘tech experience,’” De Santis said.

 

About the Awards

After a call for nominations, Top Women in Restaurant Technology Award winners were chosen by Hospitality Technology magazine and members of its Research Advisory Board. The winners were announced and honored during an awards program on March 8 at the 28th annual MURTEC (Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference), in Las Vegas.

 

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