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How Black Board Eats Helps You Control The Foodie Crowd

How Black Board Eats Helps You Control The Foodie CrowdAh, yes, the capricious foodie: that enigmatic character who can turn 100 people into loyal patrons with a glowing mention of your restaurant at every dinner party – or become the bane of your existence with nasty reviews on sites like Yelp or a sarcastic blog post.

Especially in competitive urban markets like L.A. or New York, courting the foodie crowd is an essential part of becoming a successful restaurant.  As any veteran restaurateur knows, that courtship can be difficult.

Pleasing the foodie once they’re in the door is one thing. That’s up to the countless hours you’ve already spent developing a menu and a kitchen that can produce your culinary vision.

Getting those foodies through your doors is an entirely different matter. I’m sure you’ve heard it all – create buzz about your restaurant online, through social media, with smart marketing, etc. etc.  For every 10 strategies out there designed to help restaurants get the opinion makers of the local foodie population in your door there are 25 restaurants that have gone under having failed to do so.

Black Board Eats, founded by the former food editor at Yahoo, is a concept so simple in design and application that it How Black Board Eats Helps You Control The Foodie Crowdmakes one wonder why it took so long for anyone to think of it.  It works like this: Black Board signs up as many foodies as it can to its email newsletter.  Then they go out and get good restaurants like yours to offer an exclusive promo deal.  Some common examples include 40% off lunch or a free flight of wine tasters.

Black Board sends these deals out to its network of foodies, who respond to the promos they like and get a coupon that’s good for 30 days.  Soon you’ve got a rush of young, connected customers buzzing about your establishment.

Restaurateurs who have used the service report a surge in customer traffic after sending out a promotional deal through Black Board.  And while repeat customer business after the promo fades (those Black Board foodies are chasing the next deal), the buzz and word-of-mouth referrals you gain during your time in the Black Board sun can be priceless.

A service like Black Board seems to work best for new restaurants and for established businesses looking to promote a new service or feature.  Being able to tap into an existing network like the one Black Board has put together is priceless; and while you might not do it to gain a slew of lifelong customers, you can definitely benefit from having the place bursting at the seams when its important – during opening week, after adding a new dining area, or after revamping your lunch menu.

Being successful can be a lot like a popularity contest, and Black Board gives you an easy way to win the competition, if only for a day.

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A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

The following is a great review of Klick Kitchen by an industry insider with a lot more personal experience in the food service industry than I have.

I came across Klick Kitchen last year and while the concept was intriguing, the price at the time was not. Since then they have apparently changed it to a free basic service to the consumer/back of the house end and also apparently a basic intro on the vendor end as well.A Review Of Klick Kitchen By Chef Forfeng

Greg from Tundra asked me what my take on KK was. As someone always on the lookout for things that can help my clients I wanted to find out a bit more about the system myself. I was going to write a comment on his recent blog post about it and it started to turn into a full fledged post. TMI.

I called Klick Kitchen and Laurie, one of their account managers, was extremely helpful and gave me a demo of both the chefs ordering end and the vendor end.

The system is interesting, from a vendors perspective it offers quite a bit that’s appealing about it, from a chef’s perspective, it has some things to consider.

For vendors, particularly small ones that don’t have a web presence and as well for some that do, but do not have online ordering as an option, this system is a great offering. It does not have any broadliners on it and most broadliners already have online ordering, so offering it would be duplicating already in existence systems.

From a Chef’s perspective, the system seems like it would be good if you were ordering from a broad variety of small vendors, i.e. more 4-5, any less then that then the convenience factor would become a bit less.

While you can request quotes for items and vendors can set up specific pricing for specific accounts, it does take out some of the “beat up the price” factor.  As a former chef I liked to hassle vendors when pricing was too high on orders and threaten to order elsewhere. Not everyone does this, but for chefs that like a haggle factor this takes out some of the fun (and potentially the bottom line on your food cost as well, if you are a good negotiator.)

It might take a bit of a steep learning curve to navigate around in the system at first. While I know many chefs are much more computer literate then they were 10 years ago, the time to do this and the availability of computers in the workplace may be an issue, as well as taking the time to learn how to get around in the program.. Many chefs (myself included) do some of their ordering from home, so if one has a home computer with fast net access this is great. Laurie says they are working on a video tutorial walk through, which I think would be extremely helpful.

Laurie had mentioned she thought the system would be convenient for many chefs, who while they may not have access to computers at work, they do have web friendly mobile devices. At the time of this post I had inquired after the fact by email, if there was a mobile friendly version of the site, and had not yet heard back. The current web version is navigable by iPhones and Blackberries but could be more user friendly, as there is a lot of touch drag on the page. If there is a mobile friendly version of the site, I will add an addendum to this.

I do think the system has a lot of potential, especially with many of the things it sounds like they are still working on and being implemented, the one major thing that I would be concerned about starting out using the system is out of stocks.

Currently its up to participating vendors to update their out of stocks. There is no date available as to when the last time a price/inventory list has been updated online as of yet (Laurie assured me that is something they will be implementing soon) As someone who orders and likes to know instantly whether something is out of stock, by phone or by live up to date access, until I knew which particular vendors I dealt with kept up to date on their online inventories, I would be reluctant to rely on the system especially for important items. Once you do know your vendor habits, I tend to think you would rely on the ones you knew kept the system up to date. Mis-picks and returns still need to be handled the old fashioned way by phone and fax.

When I was cooking the only thing I might order late night, when the odds of getting a live person on the phone were slim, was some dairy and the occasional odd case of produce. The majority of my ordering was done during regular business hours. I know some chefs do all, or most of their ordering last minute and late night and leave voicemails for vendors. My personal feeling about this is if you don’t know what your pars are supposed to be and can’t somewhat predict your restaurant’s traffic for the coming time period, then you have bigger things to worry about then having a case of pecans out of stock. For chefs that do have a good idea of their inventories and a good handle on internal trend tracking, the system would be a good time saver to use.

I think overall Klick Kitchen has a lot of potential, Laurie and I briefly touched on, but did not go into the preferred system for chefs and vendors (for which they do charge for) that has additional options available and apparently custom reports can be run. This is something I would suggest individuals investigating the system look into, for smaller restaurants that do not have POS systems, I suspect that many of the run reports would be advantageous for them to have access to.

I will be recommending it to clients in the NY metro area as something for their chefs to investigate. I look forward to seeing what future developments bring to the system.

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Instructables: The World’s First Open Source Restaurant

Instructables.com is an “open source” website that allows people to post and view instructional videos on just about any topic you can think of.  The website is completely free and part of a larger phenomenon on the internet based around Creative Commons licensing – the liberalization of copyrights in order to enable the free flow of information on the web.

Now an enterprising restaurateur in Amsterdam, Holland, has taken the spirit of Instructables.com and embodied it in a restaurant.  Everything in the place is built from instructional videos on the site, from the chairs to the decorations and tables.

Most interestingly, all of the recipes served in the Instructables Restaurant are also available on Instructables.com, meaning you can get the recipe for your favorite dish right in the restaurant or download it later at home.  And now there is a set of instructions on Instructables.com for building your own Instructables restaurant – complInstructables: The Worlds First Open Source Restauranteting the circle of truly free flowing information.

Not only can you leave the Instructables restaurant armed with recipes for every dish served and instructions for building every piece of furniture, you can also post your own recipes and instructions to the website and then see your instructions in action at the restaurant.

The restaurant claims to allow patrons to “digest the web,” and as a celebration of free internet culture, it is definitely a pioneer.  What remains to be seen is how effective this experiment will be when it comes to being profitable.

Profits may not be the point, however.  The most interesting thing about this project is how the internet has changed the way knowledge is disseminated throughout the world.  The Instructables Restaurant is a reflection of that cultural shift, and a rare time when the abstract nature of the internet is recreated in a physical location.

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Text Message Ordering: Why Your Customers Already Love It

Text Message Ordering: Why Your Customers Already Love ItOne of the biggest shifts in customer behavior over the past few years has been the preference for take-out food.  All the major national chains (Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc. etc.) have added drive-up service for their customers.  And I’ve written on this blog about taking your restaurant’s food out, whether it be catering, drive-up service, or delivery as a way to diversify your revenue streams.

Consumers love using technology to make their lives faster and more convenient.  The explosion of “smart” phones and text messaging in the past five years is a perfect example of how the masses have adopted a new technology because it streamlined how they communicate.  The challenge for those of us in the food service industry has always been finding ways to leverage these technology trends to the benefit of business.

A new company has developed an easy way for restaurants to make their food more accessible: text message ordering. Zingle will give you a terminal that receives text message orders and prints them out for you as part of their service.  They’ll also provide you with some customized marketing materials to promote your new service.  The company charges a flat monthly rate for their service.

Text messaging is an unbelievably easy way for your customers to place orders, and from the looks of it, the service Zingle provides makes it easy for you to take orders via text.  Quite a few franchises have already started taking advantage of the service, including Subway and regional coffee chains.

The benefits to quick service restaurants from a text ordering service are pretty obvious, but what about all the independent operators out there?  For any independent that caters to younger customers, text ordering has got to be about as close to a no-brainer as you can get.  Even if you don’t do carry-out, let customers place their orders before they arrive so you can turn tables faster during the rush and cater to your regulars in a more timely way.

As technology changes the way we communicate, the traditional model for restaurants has begun to change.  Incorporating that technology into your operation not only makes things easier for your customer, it implants your brand in the evolving channels of communication where your customers are moving.

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If It Makes Sense For McDonald’s, It Probably Makes Sense For You

If It Makes Sense For McDonalds, It Probably Makes Sense For YouMcDonald’s has been an increasingly lone bright spot in the dark world of food service during a recession.  Sales are up, new restaurant layouts appeal to a wide range of customers, and Starbucks has a serious competitor on their hands.  McDonald’s success can be attributed to a lot of things, including their bargain basement pricing, but one factor stands out above all others: McDonald’s ability to rebrand themselves as an upscale, hip gathering place rather than a junk food distributor.

Giving customers a sense of place is a great way to add value to your restaurant’s brand.  Making your restaurant a place where people enjoy gathering is the strategy McDonald’s has pursued, and it seems to be paying big dividends.   McDonald’s corporate offices announced recently they will be offering free Wi-Fi internet access in 11,500 U.S. locations.  Clearly this move is another part of their strategy to create “stickiness,” or ways to get customers to come in and stay for awhile, which drives more sales and reinforces that sense of place in customers’ minds.

More than likely your restaurant has different priorities and customers than McDonald’s.  That doesn’t change the fact that their restaurant marketing model is working, and there’s a lesson in their success for everyone.

With that in mind, I’d like to point out an article I wrote last year for The Back Burner called Become A Hotspot! which gives you the how and the why on setting up a Wi-Fi network in your restaurant.

Hey, if it’s working for McDonald’s it will probably work for you.

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Restaurant Marketing Goes Hyperlocal

Restaurant Marketing Goes HyperlocalThere’s a new movement afoot in the urban centers of this country.  It started sometime last year and is still in its infancy, but given enough time, it could become the next MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter of the social media revolution.

It’s called “hyperlocal” social media.  One of the pioneers of the movement, Everyblock, provides all kinds of information about every single block in a city, from restaurant reviews to police reports to foreclosure information.  A more recent, and for restaurateurs a much more intriguing, option came online earlier this year.  Foursquare describes itself as 50% friend finder, 30% city guide, and 20% nightlife game.

It works like this: as you patronize your favorite local haunts, you “check-in” with Foursquare, which allows you to see if friends are nearby and post tips/information about the venue you’re currently in.  The more you check-in, the more “badges,” or awards, you get.  For instance, you can become the mayor of certain bar or club if you check-in the most times from that location in 60 days.

Tech-savvy restaurants and bars caught wind of the mayor and other Foursquare badges and started advertising to this ready-made customer base, offering free drinks and other comps to the Foursquare mayors of their establishment.  Most people had no idea what the heck a mayor was, but those that did quickly spread the word to their friends, and it turned out to be a hot way for restaurants and bars to market themselves effectively to their hippest customers.

In general the hyperlocal movement is beneficial to the food service industry because it provides a real time medium through which restaurants can advertise to their customers.  For now, Foursquare and the inevitable copycats that are forthcoming will be largely limited to big urban centers like New York, Chicago, and L.A., but it’s not that farfetched to imagine a hyperlocal medium of one kind or another servicing communities of all sizes.

For those of you who are located in ultra-competitive large urban centers, you can’t afford to ignore this new phenomenon.  If you haven’t already, start advertising to your Foursquare customers.  Offer some sort of discount to regular customers.  Some have gotten creative with the scheme, like putting the word out through the web application that anyone who barks like a dog on Thursdays gets a free drink.  Others ask to view their customer’s iPhone to verify they have actually checked-in at their restaurant.

No matter what your scheme, Foursquare can become an important vehicle for driving buzz and traffic to your front door.  For the rest of us, located outside the super hip downtown scene of the big city, we can only shake our heads at the pace of technology and wonder when these trends are coming to our neck of the woods.

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The Inamo Restaurant: Fun High Tech

The Inamo restaurant in London’s Soho district has taken high-tech ordering to a whole new level.  Gone are the days when picking up a phone at your table was the techiest gig in town.  Sure, some restaurants call themselves high-tech because their servers have wireless pads for taking orders.  Inamo takes it even further: touchscreens built into the tables and illuminated with images of menu items from an overhead projector.

The Inamo Restaurant: Fun High Tech

The ordering system took some pretty heavy duty programming to create.  That’s because all computers are built to only have one mouse pointer.  Unfortunately, solo diners are a relatively rare thing, and since people want to select and order at the same time, one mouse pointer wasn’t going to do it.  So Inamo developed a system that has multiple pointers.

The Inamo Restaurant: Fun High Tech

Guests come in and have their table “activated” as soon as they sit down by their server.  Using their fingers, they flip through menu items on the touchscreen and place their order.  Drinks and food are brought out by a real person, but everything else, including payment, is handled by the touchscreen.  Add the trippy interior design and cool images coming out of the projectors, and this little restaurant makes the act of ordering food a fun, futuristic experience.

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7 Technology Trends In Food Service

7 Technology Trends In Food ServiceAs we approach the end of the first decade of the new millenium, technology has become a stronger and stronger force in our lives.  Every industry has been affected, and food service is no exception.  Yet it seems that many restaurants lag behind when it comes to harnessing the power of technology to their advantage.

The following Back Burner posts peg the cutting edge of technology and how it is being applied in the food service industry.  And while you may not Twitter or have wireless access in your dining area just yet, knowing what’s coming in the near future will help you stay ahead of the curve and on top of the competition.

1.  Can Google Improve Food Safety? – Tracking a food-borne illness outbreak takes time, which is precisely the last thing we have when attempting to control one.  Google has developed a way to track outbreaks accurately, and above all, quickly, beating the CDC by over a week in identifying a sickness trend.

2.  Should You Use Digital Media In Your Restaurant? – As we make the transition to a digital society, customers are becoming more and more familiar with digital media.  Sooner or later, it will become the primary way to communicate with your guests.  Learn what some restaurants are doing to engage customers with digital media.

3.  Become a Hotspot! – Speaking of digital technology, wireless internet access has long been the domain of coffee shops, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to improve lunch and afternoon traffic in your restaurant.

4.  10 iPhone Apps Your Customers Are Using- Several iPhone Apps are helping customers find your restaurant.  Learn more about it in this post.

5.  Online Ordering: A Blessing Or A Curse? – Can your restaurant handle orders coming in from the web?  More business is always good, but what are you going to do to handle it?  And what happens when customers start expecting to be able to order online?

6.  Make Tableside Ordering Easy With New Technology – Hand-held wireless devices like BlackBerries and iPhones are now common.  What if your server had a similar device for taking orders?

7.  Should Your Restaurant Have A Website?- A website is the most basic building block of the technology revolution.  The short answer to this question is yes, definitely.  Get some tips on how to do it right in this post.

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10 iPhone Apps Your Customers Are Using

10 iPhone Apps Your Customers Are UsingiPhone apps are all the rage right now, and already there is an app for just about anything you can think of under the sun.  This includes the restaurant industry, and these 10 apps are affecting how consumers make their decisions on where and when to go out to eat, which directly affects your business.

Here’s the top 10 ways people are getting info about your restaurant on their iPhone:

1. OpenTable – You’ve probably already heard of OpenTable.com, an online reservation service.  Well, now potential customers can use their iPhone to search for restaurants near a given location based on price, number in the party, and type of cuisine.  If your restaurant is registered with OpenTable they can even make a reservation right then and there.  Wow.

2. Yelp – I’ve already covered all the hot water Yelp has been in lately on this blog.  Now customers can write those sometimes scathing, sometimes retarded, sometimes good reviews of their restaurant right from their iPhone.  They can also find you and read other reviews about you before they walk in the door.

3. UrbanSpoon – this app brings a fun element to the locating a restaurant genre with a slot machine interface that randomly selects three factors – neighborhood, food type, and price.  You can lock any of the three and spin for the others to focus on a specific category.  For a restaurant owner, it can be a little frustrating leaving the fate of your potential customer’s decision to a random spin, but that’s how it goes.  This app also has reviews and maps for restaurants.

4. VegOut – This app searches vegetarian restaurants only.  All the same features are available: search by location, reviews, and maps.  If you run a vegetarian restaurant, this app is your very best new friend.

5. LocalEats – This app focuses on producing the 100 best independent restaurants in the 50 largest cities in the U.S.  If you run a chain or don’t get picked by the editors of LocalEats, you’re kinda out of luck.  But if your restaurant is on the list, potential customers can find you easily by searching by location.

6. Pocket Cocktails Drinks & Wine – Customers can use this app to search for hundreds of cocktails, get drink recipes in case they stump your bartender, and even get wine recommendations based on what they have ordered.

7. Tipulator – This app allows your patrons to calculate any tip from 0 to 50% among as many people as are in the party.  It could be a double edged sword for your servers, but this cool little app will probably help customers calculate a good tip rather than a bad one.

8. Calorie Tracker – an app developed by Livestrong.com, it calculates the calories of over 525,000 different ingredients so your customers can select the most healthful items on your menu.

9. Fast Food Calorie Counter – this app does exactly what it says it does – calculates the calories and fat of 6,000 menu items from 55 fast food chains.

10. 160,000 Recipes from BigOven if you’re ever hurting for a new recipe, you might want to check this app out.  Get ingredients and preparation instructions, plus save your favorites and randomly select new recipes.

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Restaurant Technology and Marketing: Become a Hotspot!

Restaurant Technology and Marketing: Become a Hotspot!

More and more restaurants, especially fast casual, coffee shop, and quick service chains, are becoming WiFi internet hotspots, allowing customers to plug in to an internet network directly from their laptop computer at their table.

Turning your restaurant into a hotspot is relatively easy and has proven to help boost lunch sales by as much as 8%.  It also encourages customers to come in during that extremely slow period between lunch and dinner, and helps facilitate business meetings, which can translate into some good sales for your establishment.

If you are considering setting up a WiFi hotspot in your restaurant, keep a few key things in mind:

Give away internet service for free.  First of all, that’s what most other hotspots do, and so your customer already expects to get service for free.  Secondly, you’ll be increasing sales and customer loyalty by giving away free internet.

Password protect the network.  Have servers give out the password to patrons when they are seated.  This helps prevent people from neighboring buildings from pirating your connection and slowing it down.

Make electrical outlets scarce.  When WiFi hotspots were first brought in to restaurants, many owners worried that patrons would turn into serial “table campers,” hanging out for hours on end without ordering anything more than a cup of coffee and surfing the net.  The reality has been that the vast majority of customers do not overstay the standard table turnover time, however, the best way to ensure this is to make sure they can’t plug in their laptops.  That thing is going to run out of juice eventually, and this helps your restaurant avoid abuse of your WiFi connection.

Create separate networks for customers and internal use.  Just because you already have an internet network set up for your business’ computers doesn’t mean you should make that same network available to customers.  The last thing you want is some creative patron getting in to your POS system or other important information through your network.  Spend the four or five hundred dollars to get a dedicated business class router for your customer network.  That way everything stays separated and secure.

WiFi isn’t for every restaurant concept.  Carefully consider who you want to target with your WiFi service and what kind of customer is likely to use it.  Obviously, a fine dining atmosphere targeted towards couples out on dates doesn’t jibe well with a WiFi service.  On the other hand, if that’s your dinner crowd but you want to jump into the business lunch market, advertising a WiFi network could make a lot of sense.  Understanding your customer is key to any marketing strategy, and implementing a WiFi network is no exception.

There’s a lot of talk about customers looking for value these days when they go out to eat, and providing a WiFi network in your restaurant, provided it makes sense, is just one more way you can do that.

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