Top 3 takeaways from the 2021 Restaurant Leadership Conference (RLC)

Revel Blog | Wajih Rahman | December 21, 2021 |

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Contributing Writer: Wajih Rahman, director of enterprise products, Revel Systems 

After almost two years of uncertainty and change, the restaurant industry continues to combat unprecedented challenges. Not only were we faced with a global pandemic that changed the way customers engage with restaurants — we also experienced the biggest labor shortage in history.

This year, the Restaurant Leadership Conference (RLC) 2021 focused on looking back at the past 18 months and how successful restaurants are leading with values during a time of uncertainty.

As the Director of Enterprise Products, my role is to develop solutions at scale and launch new products designed to meet the needs of our enterprise customers. I have worked alongside operators such as FAT Brands, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Dave’s Hot Chicken, and more to design solutions that solve challenges or improve operational hurdles. 

The past 18 months have pushed us all to work in ways which we haven’t in the past. For me, this meant being the voice of our customers and frequently iterating our products and product development priorities to meet the needs of our clients’ changing and urgent priorities. 

The pandemic has accelerated demand for integrations and digital channels that may have been slowly integrated over the next decade, into a short 18 month timeframe. I have worked closely with clients to offer new services and provide unprecedented convenience to restaurant patrons — and that demand is here to stay. 

RLC 2021

With that context in mind, here are my top three (3) takeaways from Restaurant Leadership Conference (RLC) 2021:

1. Combating the biggest labor gap in history — will we ever see labor at pre-pandemic levels? 

The restaurant industry has faced a lot of volatility over the last 18 months. And although there are current tailwinds in the sector, a shortage of skilled workers continues to challenge the industry. 

As a result, restaurants have seen wages for line workers increase more than 14% from September 2020 to September 2021*. This theme underlined many of the sessions at RLC, where panelists spoke very passionately about how this challenge is so multifaceted, encompassing wages, flexible schedules, on-boarding, employee retention and more. 

  • Domino’s CEO, Richard Allison, stated that 90% of their franchisees came from previously being store associates and drivers. Their continued investment in their workforce has led to greater retention and has directly impacted their bottom line. In the last 10 years, they’ve closed fewer than 80 stores, and maintained an average cash flow of about $1 million per franchisee. 
  • Employee retention can be improved through the use of technology. On-demand pay apps provide a non-traditional way of paying employees after completing their shifts to increase employee retention, preventing them from falling prey to payday loans. Our partner, 7shifts, shared recent data with us showing that restaurants who use technology to manage their workforce can reduce staff turnover by 13%.
  • Justin Holmes, chief refevene officer for Revel Integrated Partner 7shifts speaks to the importance of open integration between your labor management platform and POS platform. He elaborates on how to use data to ensure employees are scheduled during the businesset time and when they will earn the most. 
  • On-boarding new team members can be costly and time consuming for restaurants. Time is of the essence and speed/ease of use is more critical now than ever. At Revel, our familiar and easy to use Apple interface is uniquely positioned to address this head-on. 

2. Confronting a global pandemic. A restaurant's virtual future. 

Over the past 18 months, we saw the biggest shift in revenue move from in-store transactions to online orders and third-party marketplaces. As a result, many of Revel’s clients quickly immersed themselves in a crash course in digital and third-party marketplaces. 

Third party marketplaces and delivery systems create a more seamless experience for the customer, but a more complex environment for restaurant operators. Integrations with providers such as Olo or Chowly are critical to ensure the kitchen is connected to your POS and third-party ordering systems. 

Restaurants pressured to make a “quick fix” decision when it comes to their POS integration can ultimately face long-term data silos that are difficult to manage and slow to update. A small investment in a cloud-native platform and open API ecosystem enables flexibility, scalability, and pivots alongside your business. Revel POS at RLC

3. Customer Data Platform (CDP) vs Customer Relationship Management (CRM) 

Customer data continues to be a strategic differentiator in how brands engage with guests. Conversations have quickly shifted from customer relationship management (CRM) to customer data platforms (CDP), and brands are becoming more aware of the importance of knowing the complete lifecycle of the customer journey. 

It’s no longer sufficient to know who customers are and what they bought. It’s equally important to know the activities at the very top of the funnel in determining how to optimize your brand awareness.

  • The CDP industry is expected to grow to $1.5 billion by the end of 2021 as restaurant brands incorporate them into their digital strategy as a vital tool to unifying data from multiple sources.
  • Loss of access to customer data at the hands of third party delivery providers adds another area of opportunity when it comes to using a CDP. By quantifying the value of each digital intermediary–DoorDash, UberEats, Grubhub, etc.--CDPs can help brands make decisions to better serve the business and their guests.
  • Marketing dollars are extremely precious and CDPs help formulate a strategy that removes intuition and focuses on data to optimize ad spend.
  • At Revel, we continue to stress the importance of an open, extensible and data-centric platform with our customers and partners. The cloud-native nature of our platform puts data at the center of every conversation, reinforcing the value of a digital strategy. One of my favorite quotes was from the CMO of Jack-in-the-Box, Ryan Ostrom, who stated that “Digital is no longer just an IT focus — everyone in the c-suite needs to know digital.” 

What’s next? 

You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it. Any time you are under pressure to make a “quick fix” decision when it comes to adding new order channels, new technology and POS integration, the quick fix can lead to long-term data silos that are difficult to manage and slow to update. 

Follow Revel Systems on LinkedIn to tune-in to new podcast episodes, upcoming product launches, technology insights and more! 

I look forward to seeing you at the Restaurant Leadership Conference in April 2022!

About Revel Enterprise 

Learn more about Revel Enterprise® cloud-native platform enables flexibility, scalability, and pivots alongside your business. 
*Sept 2021 v Sept 2020 for non-supervisory and line workers. Source: Technomic analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.