Leaders from bartaco, Checkers & Rally’s and Taco Bell took to the stage at MURTEC Executive Summit on Friday, November 4, to talk about their technology transformations and lessons learned.
Vadim Parizher, Vice President, Engineering and Analytics for Taco Bell, teamed up with franchisee Border Foods on the futuristic Taco Defy concept that features a connected kitchen on top of four drive-thru lanes. Parizher’s team had been working on the connected architecture that powers the Taco Bell Defy concept.
“We had an idea from the beginning that the omnichannel experience needs to be all connected,” Parizher explained.
From kiosks in the dining room to delivery aggregators to the potential of social ordering, “There are a lot of different channels that are moving orders into the restaurant,” Parizher said. “To synchronize all that, you really need to create an architecture that allows you to move orders kind of like a manufacturing plant.” And so that's something that we already had, and then it becomes almost your building blocks and you assemble a specific solution, almost like you assemble Legos.”
Checkers and Rally's also rolled out a big transformation in their brands' drive-thrus and in its back of house. “We were always looking to figure out how we can optimize and the drive-thru experience more efficient,” said Jonathan Jonathan Tryzbiak, VP, IT, CheckersVP, IT, Checker's.
One of the aims was to improve the cashier’s experience, one of the most difficult jobs in QSRs, he said. Using voice AI tech in the drive-thru, “We've automated that repetitive piece where orders can just kind of come in, be processed, come into the point of sale, no different than another channel. And it works extremely well,” he said, adding that, “I was somewhat skeptical when we first started going, but it's been fantastic.”
The project also included a new back-of-house design and new equipment.The operations team, in a search for efficiency, studied how people work, the routes and the time spent at each station.
“They did an in-depth analysis and came up with an entirely new design that really optimized far beyond what anyone could have expected. One mile of collective steps were reduced per hour with this new kitchen design,” called Fit Kitchen, Tryzbiak explained.
“The idea of making the employee experience better, reducing wasted time, making things more efficient and ultimately I think that translates well to our customers,” he added.
A Clunky Start
bartaco CEO Scott Lawton admitted the brand's pivot to On-Demand Hospitality, a model that does not have waiters, got off to a "clunky" start.
“We had our kitchen staff, we had our management. And we came up with the idea of this QR code ordering. Other restaurants were doing QR menus. It was a PDF and kind of annoying to look through. Our customers had already been trained to order on a paper card, like a sushi card. We thought it was going to be naturally easy for them to go digital. And even though it was clunky in the beginning, we found it really resonated with the customers. They loved the fact that they could tap the phone and margaritas would show up and tap the phone and guacamole would show up,” he explained.
“We leveraged that digital ordering and we've seen so many benefits from it since then. Our check average has gone up, our table turn time has gone down,” Lawton explained.
“What we've created is a leaner model, but also a model where our team makes very good money and they're also really engaged on the same two things we are, which is making the tip pool as big as it can be and making the labor number as low as it can be, because that's the divider,” said bartaco’s Lawton.
“They’re actually holding each other accountable, working hard, because they want to make it lean. It's a true alignment between us and our staff. We all have the same mission, which is great. This has been incredible.”
Key Lessons Learned
These winning technology advances were not without challenges. Parizher, Lawton and Tryzbiak shared a few of the lessons learned.
“Once we took waiters out of the equation and left people literally to their own devices, it took a while for us to figure out how to make sure that they were getting engaged. The act of having a waiter come up and take an order is the natural way that most people end up engaging. Now that we’ve taken those ( waiters) away and getting our salaried team really motivated to do this and really celebrating their successes has become really important.
“In the beginning we were getting a lot of complaints that ‘people are just leaving me here with my phone.’ We had to really build some infrastructure on how to monitor that, and how to reward good work, and also how to correct negative behavior. And we had to figure out a way to use the data to do it. We started a reporting system that basically everybody who eats at bartaco now will get a little survey at the end and that ties out directly to that table and to that service leader.
“Now we're able to stack rank them, and we're able to see real-time every single day, how they perform with our customer, which is incredible. Guest sentiment has gone up 30%- 40% since we did that. And we're also able to reward our team for excellent work, which is also great,” Lawton explained.
Training the Customer
Parizher credited Border Foods, the franchisee that owns the Defy restaurant, with “ a really fantastic breakthrough.”
“One of our biggest fears was that the customer was not going to adopt this approach that was really optimized for mobile ordering. They (Border Foods) deployed people outside the restaurant to talk to the customers and ask them to download the app and explain to them that this is really going to change their experience.
“Working with your customers, understand what they want and why they would go with this particular model, “advises Parizher.” This is something that was just a massive breakthrough for us.
Meanwhile at Checkers and Rally’s, “We learned a lot of lessons. Anytime you have a significant change in your operations, introducing new technology, it's probably better to go slow and learn.” advised Tryzbiak. In the case of Checkers and Rally’s, we had to “think about what we did, where, where orders are coming into the point of sale through a machine versus humans … A machine takes time to get there. Orders would come in a little bit different. You start to see sales kind of shift a little bit. One of the most important things we learned is to analyze the data.
Work Across the Enterprise
Also, “partner with folks throughout the business and make sure that everyone understands what's happening, the potential impact to their team and set a part time to help the project be successful," said Tryzbiak.
“Any large technology initiative is not just an IT thing, it spreads across the business very quickly. So I think we learned that early on and had a great response from the team.”