Webinar Highlights: Leveraging Technology for Your Growth Strategy

Revel Blog | Sydney Kida | May 3, 2021 |

restaurant technologies

Technology is constantly evolving, and early adoption of the latest trends is costly, with no guaranteed return on investment. With strategy and testing, however, technology can be a crucial component to career growth and competitive advantage in the marketplace. 


In a webinar featuring Revel Advisory Board member and Zaxby’s Interim Chief Digital and Technology Officer Mike Nettles, viewers had the chance to absorb insights accumulated from Mike’s nearly 40 years of transformational technology leadership at brands including Papa John’s and Panera Bread Company. Read on for some of the webinar highlights. 

Questions and Answers on Leveraging Technology for Your Growth Strategy

Q: What are three critical factors to take into account when you’re exploring new tech solutions for your business?

A: Consider the following three factors: 

The Current State of Your Technical Debt

What cans have been kicked down the road and are slowing you down? A technical debt of about 20% is acceptable—a natural part of the job. Any more than that and you will experience increasing diminishing returns with every new effort or innovation you attempt to tackle.  

In my time in the restaurant industry, I have worked in environments where, for literally every dollar I spent on innovation, I was spending more than half of that working “around” technical debt, all the while being challenged to “go faster.” Put tech debt cleanup into your work plan. Be honest with your stakeholders about including the cost of cleanup into your build and innovation plans. 

The Transformation from Mapquest to Google Maps 

Align your digital efforts with your overall brand growth strategy. If your growth strategy is top line sales, make sure the bulk of your tech strategy is built to enable those initiatives. If your brand strategy is more oriented towards unit growth, pay close attention to “as-is” time and effort to select and open a new store, and figure out ways to technically accelerate that. Remember, technology extends far beyond accounting, finance, payroll and your point of sale (POS) platform.

Don’t ignore the home office part of digital transformation. I would never recommend your first big project be a replacement for an aging enterprise resource plan (ERP). However, you should look closely at unlocking your company’s disparate data silos and moving to an enterprise analytics platform with both democratized access to analytics and insights as well as a master data management strategy to architecturally create a strong shared data governance model.

Sometimes you may find that there isn’t a strong business growth strategy. Help illuminate that, find a partner in the business to help them achieve their strategy. Then do it again and again. This is why the CIO/CTO/CDO roles should be at the executive leadership table. Otherwise, you’ll be forever mired in projects without true, cohesive purpose and product roadmaps that unlock and create value.

Think Like a Commercial Entity

Tech is a huge business enabler, but many of the solutions we deploy come from pure-play technology companies. Get some of your sales vendors to introduce you to their own leadership teams. Understand the business of software and technology. Not only will it make you a better negotiator externally, it will help you find innovative ways to pay for the tech enablement projects you need.

Get really good at understanding the balance sheet in your business. Take an online course on it if that helps. Understand how the business makes money, and that in general, you are going to be spending profit dollars. Then look for ways to sequence your work efforts so each incremental release pays for the one immediately prior. That not only helps build and keep momentum, it builds credibility with the business when you demonstrate good stewardship principles.

Test and learn—not test and test again. Break every single thing you do down into small enough releases that you have something demonstrable to learn or teach from the outcome. Take the approach of minimum viable product thinking, collect lots of data, and build your success criteria (the “win”) into the release plan. And be transparent about your wins and losses. Even a loss is a learning opportunity.

Q: How can restaurants reimagine their businesses for the digital-first customer?

A: First off, grab your operational service standards. Now grab your customer overall satisfaction (OSAT) responses. Are those two aligned? You’d be surprised to learn how many times we as restaurant businesses grade our output based on what we think the service standards are, rather than on what the guest thinks they should be.  

Speed of service is a great example of this. I’ve seen chains that approach speed of service in terms of counter time or window time. Guests don’t care about those as much as total experience time. If my window or counter time is 30 seconds, but it took me 20 minutes to get to the window from the moment I pulled into the parking lot, my wait was 20 minutes, not 30 seconds. It’s a harsh reality because we convince ourselves we can’t address total experience time. But in fact… we can. Here are a few options that can improve total experience time: tablet order takers in the drive thru, order-ahead digital solutions, fast curbside pickup in the parking lot, etc. We have far more control over total experience time than we like to admit, and it takes pivoting the entire mindset around that guest experience to change long-ingrained behaviors internally.  

The lesson here is that we should quit focusing so much on what works for us as a business, and learn to ask, “What matters to the guest?” And most importantly… quit thinking of the guest in terms of a single entity. Segments exist for good reason, and we have to get really good at the concept of mass personalization when it comes to digital solutions. Leveraging the same platform architecturally, but adding lots of personalization to address different needs, states and preferences helps address this challenge.

Marketers have had this concept of marketing to segments based on “personas” for a long time. Digital tech can learn much from this, and even improve it in some ways, by leveraging these segments to really ask the questions, “What job do I do, for whom and how can I do that job better for them?” For some customers, restaurants are a replacement to home cooking for the whole family. That’s the job you do for them as a restaurant operator. To others, you are a reward for good grades. That’s the job you do for them. For others, you are a gift purchased by one party and offered to another… yet another job. Start to think of your products and services as jobs you do for your guests, and then segment them from there. Once you start looking at your business through these kinds of lenses, it fundamentally unlocks a world of what-ifs, which is the heart of innovation for your brand.

Q: Do you have recommendations for ways restaurants can retain a personal and human touch while simultaneously exploring innovative tech solutions?

Make my career wish come true. Start with the guest name. At the order points, at the payment screens, when customers walk in your store, when they pull into your lot, when they pick up their food, when they open the takeout bag and see it written on their packaging—whenever and wherever you can, include the guest’s name  A person’s name is the most sacred and intimate thing they will ever own. Restaurant operators are in the hospitality business. That’s the core job we do. We cook for guests. We nourish guests. We give them a reason and place to meet. We are here to serve the guests, and when we do that, it should be a personal experience. Digital can be hospitable. It may architecturally be a “self service” engine, but don’t make it look like one.  

Think of your digital platform as a service hub for your brand, the reason someone downloads your app in the first place. In all things you do digitally, ask yourself (and measure yourself via constant guest feedback tools) whether or not you made the overall experience better for the guest than the other alternatives they have available to them. Build your key performance indicators (KPIs) around reduction of guest friction points. Go further than just sessions vs. orders = conversions. Start looking hard at bounce rates in your app. Get obsessive about it. Guests are the fuel for growth, not conference room strategies or ideas. Those just enable guests to drive our growth. From remembering their past orders and using that for quick two-press orders to unique personalized rewards that already accurately project what they want (or were about to do next). Yes, you have to make a profit doing these. But start thinking about the “Guest Experience Balance Sheet” in that profit model. It needs to be win-win for both of you. And it's going to be different depending on the guest segment and the job you do for them.  The best way to keep the human touch is to not treat guests like a transaction.  

Looking for digital solutions to help improve and personalize your restaurant operations? Check out what Revel’s cloud-based POS platform offers to help you!