HT’s Top Women in Restaurant Technology awards, sponsored by Tillster, were presented to 10 impressive women making their mark in restaurant technology.
The Class of 2020 is a group of impressive women. Here are this year's honorees:
Felicia White, Senior Director of Training and Development at Church's Chicken
New LMS + LTO = Big Win
Felicia White, Senior Director of Training and Development at Church's Chicken, led the most successful limited-time offer (LTO) rollout in years, resulting in double-digit increases in sales and transactions. Additionally, she was instrumental in helping Church's Chicken achieve a 90% increase in training completions at the unit level, while closing a persistent knowledge gap between corporate stores and franchise locations.
White is among the industry's top IT minds that will share her expertise at Restaurant Next, an immersive two-day virtual experience scheduled for Oct. 12 and 13. Explore new operational concepts, tap into contactless technologies, source solutions for safer operations, and more at this event.
She also helped Church's Chicken achieve a 10% higher product mix, raise guest satisfaction scores by 3 points, improve communication with team members, and double engagement with their restaurant visit app.
Driving Employee Engagement
This road to success started in 2019, when Church’s Chicken launched its new learning management system (LMS), which coincided with the launch of two LTOs. To generate excitement about the LTOs and the new LMS, Church’s Chicken announced a competition called “Ready, Set, Execute” that achieved completion rates 15% higher than usual for LTO training.
Ready, Set, Execute was a competition broken up into four requirements with the first focusing on the LMS. Restaurant locations that met the four key requirements would be entered to win one of the 12 cash prizes of $1,000 each.
Expecting some hiccups with the new LMS, White and her team set a goal of a 50% completion rate since in the past, the training team had seen completion rates of around 60%. However, the training team recorded 85% completion rates by the deadline, their most successful LTO launch to date. Overall, guest satisfaction scores were all three points higher compared to the previous year.
In addition, more than 560 locations met the 100% completion requirement to be eligible to win. Ready, Set, Execute was so successful, Church’s Chicken is planning it again.
Mentoring the Leaders of Tomorrow
In addition to her bottom-line boosting efforts, White said she’s most proud of her role as mentor, helping to develop Church’s leaders. She leads a women’s initiative at Church’s to encourage women to take on leadership roles at the company. The Employee Resource Group provides women with opportunities to be mentored and develop skills to give them the confidence to apply for leadership roles and succeed.
“I am passionate about how technology allows you to think outside the box when it comes to facilitating training, and delivering content,” says White. “As a result of using technology, we can use tools such as augmented reality, voice recognition software, and more in the restaurant as a replacement for traditional videos, e-learning courses, and printed job aids or other reference materials.”
Powering Digital Transformation Strategies
Catherine Tabor is the Founder and CEO of Sparkfly, an offer management platform that helps restaurant marketers improve customer acquisition and loyalty programs by connecting real-time consumer behavior with online and in-store sales. She has worked with more than 65 retail and QSR brands, powering more than 10,000 locations with more than 100 million transactions.
“My interest in digital technology was more about problem solving rather than an interest focused solely on technology,” she says.
Powering Intelligent Digital Engagement
The business question Catherine believes Sparkfly has solved is, “How can merchants and restaurants transform their legacy retail POS systems and investments into an asset that powers digital and in-store marketing programs?” She says the industry’s point solution approach doesn’t work. What she has built required extensive POS expertise, agile technology, vast digital and marketing experience and an innovative market approach.
Tabor leads Sparkfly’s day-to-day operations and oversees client strategy. Her goal is to enable QSRs to achieve growth via digital enablement and intelligence. She was recently named one of the Top 10 Women in SaaS for her proven success in powering clients’ digital transformation strategies and programs.
Curt Garner, CTO, Chipotle, offers this endorsement: “Sparkfly allows us to dynamically interface with both in-store and above-store technology and provides all of the capabilities we need to meet our long-term goals.”
Tabor knows that the explosive growth in vendors and tools that seek to enable operators to interact with customers has actually vastly increased complexity and friction. Reducing this friction for operators has been at the center of Sparkfly’s solution architecture and product roadmap. Tabor flexed Sparkfly’s platform to serve as the connective tech to provide a single point of coordination and a dynamic intelligence layer.
Tabor says technologies that will drive throughput and profitability will continue to be in demand. “Convenience and speed continue to matter. Faster in-store and drive thru experiences, pre-ordering options and delivery are all important to customers who want things faster and easier than ever before,” she says.
Tabor takes time to slow down, giving back to her community and supporting other women in the industry. She contributes articles in Fast Company, and for Forbes, she shares insights on QSR and retail digital transformation.
Solving Problems Through Design and Technology
Krystle Mobayeni spent 12 years working as a digital designer at some of New York’s top agencies and working with brands like British Airways and Adobe. It was during this time, she developed her innate skill of being able to solve business problems through design and technology.
When working as a web designer, she noticed that existing technology fell short of restaurant needs. Oftentimes, technology drove a wedge between the restaurant and the guest − and nobody was looking out for the best interest of the restaurant. All of that changed when she launched BentoBox in 2013.
A Place for Consumer Engagement
With her rad skills in design and technology, she created a hub for restaurants to engage with the customers through a singular place: their website. Applying her expertise, BentoBox websites provide restaurants with an easy-to-use platform that was built for their workflow. The platform offers ecommerce, hosting, gift cards, tickets for events, email newsletters, events management, job listings, local listing management, catering and online ADA accessibility management.
BentoBox is used by more than 5,000 restaurants worldwide.
When asked about the future of restaurant technology, Mobayeni says, “Data is going to play a much bigger role than it does currently. This means not just giving operators access to data, but making it actionable and providing insights that allow restaurants to capitalize on untapped opportunities and become smarter marketers. We are getting there − building tools to help operators be more independent and in control. I look forward to a future where technology gives the power back to the restaurants themselves.”
Leslie Leaf, Chief Customer Officer, Revel Systems
Identifying the Right People, Processes and Technologies
As Chief Customer Officer at Revel Systems, Leslie Leaf drives client and partner success, ensuring the customer voice echoes throughout the organization. Leaf leads the largest division at Revel, comprising more than half of Revel’s global offices.
Her team is responsible for the 24/7 support of more than 20,000 client locations worldwide.
When she first started at Revel in 2016, the support team’s metrics were not being captured, and when they finally were, they were difficult to decipher. To make sense of that critical data, she created a standard template for weekly, monthly and quarterly reporting. As a result, 88% of calls are now answered in 60 seconds, when previously only 30% of calls were.
Leaf says she’s passionate about people, processes and technology. “This has been my mantra for years, and it has to go in that order,” she says. By identifying the right people, processes and technologies, Leaf has helped Revel see real benefits by reducing the company’s call volume. Prior to bringing Revel’s customer support in-house, KPIs related to support performance were not defined. Revel had more than 300 outsourced agents who received 8 calls per day, but only resolved 2-3 tickets. Fast-forward 24 months, Revel is at 77 agents who on average answer 20 calls and resolve 15 tickets per day. As a result, Revel has achieved 750% improvement on ticket KPIs and 150% improvement on call volume KPIs, all with 25% of the headcount.
When it comes to restaurant technology, Leaf is most pumped up about conversational ordering. “Everyone orders differently, and advancements in this area afford a better experience for the employee and customer,” says Leaf. “They’re able to capture the order based on the customer’s ordering preferences, resulting in more accurate orders, higher tips, and an overall positive experience for both parties.”
Defining Data Strategies
Lunchbox, an omnichannel platform simplifying digital ordering for restaurants, hired Sarah Kabakoff, as VP of Solutions in June.
As Director of Enterprise Solutions at Toast, Kabakoff established herself as an expert in digital strategies, customer data analytics, restaurant operations and point-of-sale. Her strengths also include project management, SaaS and CRM.
For her last three years at Toast, she was designing tech-driven solutions to support the restaurant enterprise and assisting customers.
Kabakoff played a significant role in closing thousands of deals. She has also helped to drive overall growth for the enterprise business. To meet the needs of order fulfillment processes, she designed new features that are empowered by driving operational efficiency. She helped operators solve challenges with their digital experience, and she helped engineer restaurants menus to provide speed, and she helped to enable a cashless model, to name a few of her accomplishments.
Solving the Puzzles
Passionate about understanding consumer behavior, Kabakoff says she enjoys researching and solving the puzzles of systems and data engineering. There is something intriguing about a pile of raw data and a problem to understand,” she says. “I lay awake at night thinking about how we can combine data points from menu, operations, kitchen, employee and location data to understand how we solve for profit and efficiency in-store.
“…I seem to have a talent for understanding the ripple effect that a single change has on the entire digital pool. Some people are good at sports, I’m good at hospitality technology interconnectivity and data.”
Sharon Evans, Executive Program Manager, Dine Brands Global
Managing Disruptive Tech with Finesse
As Executive Program Manager at Dine Brands Global, Sharon Evans is ultimately responsible for the success of Dine Brands' top-priority technology programs. In her role, she manages the execution of Dine Brands' most innovative and disruptive programs related to cloud integrations, microservices and restaurant technology transformation.
She pulls from her decades of technology executive experience across the entertainment, financial services, and energy industries. Her colleagues say her strongest skills are executive communication, crisis management, and "No-BS" project management.
Evans is particularly strong in enterprise integration platforms and “build vs. buy" decision making. She is driving Dine Brands to think "smarter" about program implementation decisions related to cloud and integration solutions. She’s a key part of ushering in Dine Brand’s next generational technology programs covering point of sale, cloud integrations, and guest data activation. As a result, her programs have stayed under-budget and on-schedule.
Her ability to create consensus between technical and non-technical executives has been pivotal to the continued success of her programs. She masterfully communicates underlying issues in a manner that is understandable, digestible and actionable.
Evans uses her communication skills to help others. “I'm very, very loud on the importance of diversity and inclusion,” she says. “Recognizing women with awards like this is just a fantastic way to help others, especially young women, see opportunity on the path of technology.”
Rising Star Award
Richelle Anderson, OneDine
Creating Wins for Operators
Richelle Anderson has quickly moved up the ranks at OneDine to Chief Operating Officer. As the client-liaison lead for the tableside ordering and payment solution, she ensured customers were able to leverage their data to improve their marketing and business strategies, building loyal and new users. Anderson worked with customers to find ways to generate revenue while ensuring the guest’s dining experience exceeds expectations. She has created faster customer onboarding. Instead of 6 to 8 weeks, the integration, training and activation clocks in at 2 to 3 weeks. This has improved customer satisfaction company growth because customers start experiencing wins sooner with OneDine technology.
Using Actionable Data
Anderson says she is most jazzed about how operators are using data to evaluate and respond to customer habits for the purposes of improving the guest experience. “The combination of gathering and acting on data to better serve customers while giving them more control in ordering and payment processing is the technology I am most excited about because it creates a win for operators, servers and guests,” she says.
Anderson is also committed to mentoring the leaders of tomorrow. She empowers her staff to share their ideas on new solutions and innovative practices. She created a new onboarding process and hosts lunch and learn sessions for staff and interns on a variety of topics: time management, team leadership best practices, and professional communication techniques.
Rom Krupp, founder and CEO of OneDine, says Anderson “takes initiative [and is] friendly and enthusiastic, she works well independently and collaboratively and through her leadership builds morale across all teams through training, follow-up and helping bring visionary ideas to life. She is not afraid to ask questions or take risks to learn or try something different. The relationships she builds with our customers builds their trust and confidence in our services. Richelle Anderson is a Rising Star at our company and in this industry.”
Rising Star Award
Malia Alley, Senior Manager - Digital, Taco Bell
Delivering on Complex Initiatives
In 2017-2019, Malia Alley, Senior Manager - Digital, successfully led the national rollout of upgraded network infrastructure to more than 6,500 U.S. Taco Bell locations. Network upgrades have stabilized restaurant systems, provided faster bandwidth for in-restaurant applications, accelerated use of customer Wi-Fi and helped grow digital sales of off-premise mobile and delivery orders, as well as growing in-store digital sales from kiosks.
Rafik Hanna, Senior Director of IT, says Alley excels at delivering complex, multi-vendor, multi-year national initiatives with tenacious program management oversight.
Alley is phenomenal at cross-functional leadership and drives solutions to meet the needs of all partners, including: technology, restaurant operations, marketing as well as the franchise community.
She now leads the technology teams that will support the brand’s one-on-one customer marketing platforms and is leading the launch of loyalty for Taco Bell.
“I am most passionate about how technology can create new ways for us to engage and interact with each other. I love how new video chatting devices like Portal or Google Nest Hub are finding ways to help families that live thousands of miles apart feel a little closer,” she says. “I am passionate about these types of technologies that drive the human connection and brainstorming how we can apply these ideas to help innovate new ways to connect with our team members and customers.”
Lifetime Achievement Award
Nicole West, VP of Digital Strategy and Product of Chipotle Mexican Grill
Building Bridges Digitally
As Vice President, Digital Strategy and Product at Chipotle Mexican Grill, Nicole West oversees the development and creation of the digital strategy and roadmap.
West discovered her passion for digital through marketing, where she discovered she could connect the consumer experience online and offline driving sales and convenience. Her passion for problem solving, her digital savvy, quest for creating a seamless customer experience and unique ability to communicate in simple terms has helped build bridges − making complex tech solutions understandable and relatable for all.
Designing a Frictionless CX
West is focused on initiatives that drive exceptional user experience. She executes against concepts that put the customer first to drive a frictionless experience. She strives for simplistic solutions.
Her tenure at Chipotle and leadership has driven some of the company’s most innovative and exciting initiatives including: launching Chipotle’s award-winning app and website, and the addition of digital make lines at most all restaurants. By providing a dedicated make line for digital orders, Chipotle has increased order accuracy, efficiency and speed. Digital make lines have also increased the employee experience by making it easier and more enjoyable to fulfill digital orders.
“I am most proud of bringing our Digital Kitchens to life, from early days of concepting through to full system installation,” states West. “It has been incredibly rewarding to hear feedback from Chipotle team members about how the addition has transformed their work experience, making it easier and more enjoyable to service Chipotle’s growing digital demand.“
Her dedication to creating a seamless customer experience has helped Chipotle win in the digital space. Under West’s leadership Chipotle has become known for its digital innovations and dedication to the digital customer.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Susan Carroll-Boser, VP of Technology, White Castle
Developing Technology & People
Susan Carroll-Boser started her career with White Castle in 1994 as a systems administrator. She has consistently advanced and worked her way up to her current position as the vice president of technology – where she's responsible for the company’s technology strategy, leading the tech shared services, IT and information services departments.
Her teams are responsible for software development, software implementation, the server/data center, network services and cybersecurity. Carroll-Boser also serves on White Castle’s restaurant leadership team and technology strategy team.
Driving AI Innovation
Over the years, Carroll-Boser has made many contributions to White Castle’s technology and systems integration.
With a constant drive to find solutions, she has led the development of internal and external apps, and introduced AI into White Castle’s technology infrastructure. Developing the technologies and the people to support them are at the heart of her role at White Castle.
She has many memorable moments in her 26 years with White Castle. Two of her favorite projects were ones that reduced internal loss through trend and predictive analysis.
Carroll-Boser sees an increasing role for AI. “Security, fraud detection, analytics, NLP … everything is improving with machine learning. The challenge we all face will be continuing to grow our heart for hospitality as we adopt new technologies and tools to better serve all our communities, especially our team members and customers.”
Carroll-Boser says she’s “very excited about our voice AI projects in our restaurants. We have tested a customer-facing kiosk for 15 years, but the UI challenges for the customers cause friction. Allowing voice in ordering channels and mobile inside our stores are all ways we are removing this friction. The future is now, as we start moving around these problems and move forward.
“As a 99-year old family-owned business, the one constant in all our progress remains taking something complex and getting it to elegant – easy to use, easy to understand and representative of our vision, to feed the souls of craver generations everywhere.”
Carroll-Boser is active with the National Restaurant Association (NRA), serving as chairman of both its Cybersecurity Committee and its Information Technology Executive Study Group. She is also a member of Women in Technology, a tech organization that offers programs and resources to advance women in technology. At MURTEC, she shared her insights on the IT Leadership Panel: Tech Leaders Tell All. She was also a rockstar presenter at the 2019 MURTEC Executive Summit in Scottsdale, where she shared how White Castle is rethinking the customer journey − AI, voice technology, automation, geolocation and more. Carroll will show how to approach the IT roadmap with the customer journey as a foundation.
About the Awards
The Class of 2020 is a group of impressive women. Now in its fourth year, this awards program recognizes women in technology roles at both restaurants and technology suppliers who are making their mark in a male-dominated industry. Currently only about a quarter of professional computing jobs are held by women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.
Forty-eight percent of women surveyed say the primary reason why women are underrepresented in technology is the lack of mentors, while 42% cite a lack of female role models in the field, according to Adeva IT's State of Women in Technology report.
Recognizing the accomplishments of women in restaurant technology will not only benefit the perception of women in tech, it will also shine a light on the opportunities available and inspire future generations.
HT’s Top Women in Restaurant Technology awards recognize women in three categories: Rising Star, Innovators and Lifetime Achievement. HT is currently accepting nominations for the 2021 Top Women in Restaurant Technology.