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Top Women Recap Tech Wins, Using AI, Overcoming Integration Challenges

Mary Jane Riva, CEO of Pizza Factory; Jodi Boyce, CMO of Teriyaki Madness and Stephanie Nardini, SVP of IT for Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, talk about integration, how they're using AI and what's next on their tech to-do list.
Jodi Boyce Mary Jane Riva and Stephanie Nardini
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Restaurant executives shared tips for smooth integrations, how they’re using AI and more during the session, Lessons & Insights From MURTEC Award Winners.

At MURTEC 2024, Jodi Boyce, CMO of Teriyaki Madness and Mary Jane Riva, CEO of Pizza Factory both received with the Top Women in Restaurant Technology Lifetime Achievement Award.  Stephanie Nardini, SVP of Information TechnologyJersey Mike’s Franchise Systems, was presented with the Top Women in Restaurant Technology – Innovator Award.  In 2017, Nardini received the Top Women in Restaurant Technology – Rising Star Award.

The themes of building a company culture, the importance of teamwork and leaning into change – were evident during MURTEC 2024: Total Intelligence. Echoing what Debi Gilboa, MD, stressed in her workshop, Building Resilient Teams, about the importance of company culture, Riva shared why culture is so important to the Pizza Factory and how it is using technology to enhance it.  

The 114 Pizza Factory locations are destinations for guests to gather and share a meal.  “The culture is apparent when you walk in the door – or should be,” explained Riva.  “It’s not only at our corporate level, it’s down to the franchisees, down to their teams and to the guest. Culture for us is important that it transpires into their experience.  Because sitting in a dining room, getting that business built back up like we're trying to do, that experience has to be one that reflects really what your company is about.” 

Technology helps complement Pizza Factory’s corporate culture. “There's a fine line between technology and where you start to lose your culture … That is one of the areas that we work really hard on is making sure that we are still representing what we were 40 years ago.  I still believe people want community. They want to be engaged with other humans. I don’t think it is always going to be offsite, off-premise, at home online ordering …  I choose to believe that because I believe we can make that happen. When everybody is out there saying, ‘you need to do this,’ doesn’t mean you have to do it. Our team works really hard at making sure our culture shines through.” 

Pizza Factory has added a technology that supports its company culture of giving back and supporting the local community: GiftAMeal. (GiftAMeal was named one of HT’s Industry Heroes in 2023 for its solution.Here’s how it works: Pizza Factory has table tents with QR codes explaining the program. Guests take pictures of their food and post it on social media.  Pizza Factory corporate donates one meal to the local food bank in that community.   “It is a win-win.  It’s a great reflection of what our culture is – which is about community, giving back and also allows our guest to feel good about coming in and also being able to participate in a program that is doing something for their community. It has been a really big win for us … And that is  the fine line with culture.  How do you maintain that culture in a world where technology is driving us to be less engaged.”

Navigating Integrations

Boyce has helped lead multiple technology projects during her seven years at Teriyaki Madness. When she was hired at the fast casual brand, there was no mobile app, no online ordering, and a minimal social media presence. “We don’t even have an IT department,” she says.  “It falls a lot to marketing these days because it’s integrated. And not only with all the programs we’re using but also with our customers.”

A recent tech win was integrating Flybuy by Radius Networks (with Olo Expo) to help streamline its curbside order pickups.  “We won’t use any technology if they’re not already or willing to integrate with the systems we have … One of our reasons for choosing Olo seven years ago was because of their integrations with delivery partners.  In the last 18 months, our shop owners have saved $1.7 million in commissions… It’s a lot of money, and that’s just by getting people to order directly through us, which has a whole other line of benefits as well,” Boyce explained. 

Keep it Simple

Operators need to keep their systems simple for front line workers to use.  “If it's not simple to use, people won't use it. Especially hospitality workers,” Boyce said. “At Teriyaki Madness, we are 100% franchise, so we are training constantly. All of our shop owners have to train all of their employees. So the fewer systems we can have, the fewer touch points that they have to go to work our systems.” 

“Some integrations are huge, and so all of our systems  … have to be integrated as much as possible together to make it easy,” Boyce said.

“I feel your pain on that already,” added Riva.  “For us and for you as well, it always goes back to the franchisees.    What are they having to deal with, and if they have too many pieces, too many different people to call, and there's a problem.”

Jersey Mike’s Franchise Systems uses a lot of proprietary software to help power its 2,700+ locations.  “We have our own POS and we do our own mobile app, website, online ordering, loyalty – which gives us an advantage, so we can be very flexible and adjust as needed,” explained Nardini.  “We have a team of developers and there are times when keeping it all working together is really challenging. When it comes to integrations, our challenges are really more from third-party. You can use an aggregator or you can build it yourself, which in the long run is more cost effective, but there’s also a lot of maintenance in direct integrations, and they’re all different.” 

Pizza Factory was able to get franchisees to unite behind a single point-of-sale system.

“One of our biggest accomplishments that we got everybody on in the same POS, which was a huge challenge,” Riva explained.  All the franchises are on and have online ordering as well.  “All the things are integrated into the POS, and it makes it a little bit difference. But technology is technology and never works 100% of the time. It never goes without bumps. And I wish that would be the one thing that we could figure out, but it is important to have integrations.”  

When trying to get buy-in from franchises, Riva said it is important to explain the ‘why’ behind the technology.  “They just want to run their store, They just want to work.  They want these tools that you’ll give them.  They don’t want to know how they work.  They don’t want to know,” she stressed. “It’s understanding the why you’re doing it and what are the wins, and making sure you test it enough before you put it out.”

Communication Matters

“I think the communication piece with your franchisees is so important. Don’t put something out there and say’ this is what we're doing and we're doing it.’ That's a huge one, communication,” said Riva.


AI in the Here and Now

Jersey Mike’s is doing a pilot with SoundHound to answer the phone to answer basic questions like store hours and to take orders.  Jersey Mike’s is considering using AI to help with order throttling, Nardini said.

Pizza Factory is also using an AI solution (Reachify) to help with in-bound calls. The solution has eliminated the large number of robocalls, which has been a huge timesaver.  “Our next step is getting that AI to speak more like we would speak,” Riva said.  “For me it is about how well we keep that culture.”

At Teriyaki Madness, franchisees use Soci, which uses ChatGPT, to reply to Google reviews.  “We’ve been able to train it, which did take some time, to talk in our brand voice – a little edgy and a little irreverent. (Think Ryan Reynolds or Bill Murray.) “We’ve been able to train it so it is writing those responses and shop owners could tweak them,”  Boyce said. 

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About the Author


Anna Wolfe

Anna Wolfe is Hospitality Technology’s senior editor.  She has more than 15 years of experience as a B2B journalist writing about restaurants, retail and specialty food.

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