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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Company Spotlight: Restaurant Revolution Technologies – Reinventing Restaurant Take-out, Curbside & Delivery (published in August of 2010 in the SB News Press)

We are all familiar with the perils of ordering take-out—lost orders, wrong orders, someone else’s order, missing items, cold food, long hold times,  dropped calls—you name it.  Brett Harman of Restaurant Revolution Technologies saw an opportunity where the rest of us simply feel frustration, and decided to do something about it.

When I look at the fretboard on my guitars, I often wonder how artists still find new songs to write.  In business, it also seems that sometimes all of the good ideas have already been developed.  In this week’s column, I will spotlight a local company that has found a niche market and created a win-win for restaurants, patrons, and themselves. 

Restaurant Revolution Technologies is the brainchild of Brett Harman, who was a pioneer in the restaurant delivery business; providing all of the Pre-Made food delivery services to the motion picture industry in the 1980’s.  He learned the hard way how inefficient restaurants are at providing take-out, curb side, and delivery service, or what is commonly referred to by restaurant operators as off-premise business.  Harman is an unlikely business owner and entrepreneur, having started his career in the entertainment industry as an actor and screenwriter.  As is often the case, opportunities presented themselves, and Harman’s natural ability to convert good ideas to good businesses took hold.

Restaurant Revolution Technologies, LLC (RRT) was founded in 2008, and is based here in Santa Barbara.  They are now the world leader in off-premise brand and operations management solutions for the Full Service Restaurant (FSR) and Limited Service Restaurant (LSR) industries. The company was started with the assumption that phone or online consumers deserve the same positive brand experience as walk-in customers.  With this in mind, they created a software package that allows the restaurant to offer the same level of service provided to dine-in patrons to their phone, mobile, and online order customers.

In the past, restaurants have largely ignored or discounted the importance of off-premise customers, seeing this segment of their business as trivial at best.  However today, the take-out, curb side, and delivery customer segment is growing at 10% per year; about twice the rate of the restaurant industry as a whole, during the period of 2005 through 2008.  Operational failures in every step of the service cycle—from the first phone contact to the pick-up, curbside pick-up, or home delivery of the order—cost the industry an average of 30% of off-premise sales annually.  These lost revenues amount to something like $30 billion annually.

Things in the industry have obviously slowed considerably in the past two years, which is why, for restaurant owners, it is that much more important that they maximize their revenues from all aspects of their business, including off-premise orders.  (In next week’s column, I will expand on this a bit, looking at the changing trends within the restaurant industry and how these trends are affecting local restaurants.  Another local company-Serena Bay Consulting has partnered with UNLV to deliver the most compelling study on off-premise ordering to-date.  The results of the study will shock the industry when they are released later this year.)

One of the services provided by RRT that makes their business model so efficient is their service call center.  The RRT call center, which is transparent to the customer, and which has dedicated representatives for each restaurant chain, each of whom knows the ins and outs of the restaurant’s menu, food preparation, options, etc. and can take the customer through the ordering process in a much more relaxed, quiet, polite, and comprehensive manner.  According to Harman; “Each CSR is thoroughly and continuously trained to maximize customer loyalty and provided with real-time prompts and updates designed to increase per-ticket sales.”  RRT also enables the restaurant chain to create an invaluable and until now a sorely need customer data base.  This database contains customer contact information, product preferences, and order history.

The RRT software and related services package is scalable for restaurant chains with 5 to 2,000 locations.  Their software integrates with just about any POS (point-of-sale) system, including Aloha, Maitre'D, Micros, PosiTouch, and Squirrel.  This is a critical and extremely valuable aspect of RRT’s service, because without POS integration, the system simply will not work efficiently.  The RRT system provides restaurant operators with unparalleled visibility into every phone and online transaction, and features robust reporting with customizable system permissions across all operations.  For example, there may be employees that the operator does not want to have access to the ordering system for a variety of reasons, and the RRT package allows the operator to customize who can and cannot access the system.

The reporting features of the package allow the restaurant operator to analyze and evaluate many aspects of their operations.  This can come in handy when they are using a promotion.  For example, the restaurant may want to track the success of a particular buy one, get one free promotion for off-premise customers.  The RRT system allows the operator to track every patron who responded to the promotion, and to analyze specific information about the patron, so that future promotions can be customized and refined to be more effective and therefore more profitable for the business.  This feature of the RRT application is particularly useful and important for larger operators with many locations, allowing the operator to coordinate and merge information from one, some, or all locations.  The restaurant might want to offer a promotion that is regional, or city-specific, or they may want to undertake a national promotion.  Under any scenario, the RRT package allows the operator to quickly gather all necessary information and organize it, so that actionable information can be organized and a decision can be made.

Harman notes that quality throughout restaurant operations, to include quality of service, is the key to maintaining market-share and to building and maintaining brand awareness and brand loyalty.  According to Harman, those restaurants that have moved to a low price; low quality approach have lost market-share and profitability in the process.  With this in mind, and in the current economic environment, it is critically important that all aspects of restaurant operations, including off-premise order service, are of the highest quality.

As stated above, restaurant operators are quickly getting up to speed on the importance of off-premise sales, and are looking for effective solutions to improve their level of service in this area.  For single-location restaurants, the RRT solution is not yet available.  However, restaurant operators of a single location or a few locations can still benefit from the insights gained from RRT’s approach.  It is clear from their success, and from the increased efficiency, customer satisfaction, and profitability for restaurants using their system, that off-premise service is a significant driver for any restaurant’s bottom line.  With this in mind, all restaurants should take a hard look at their off-premise ordering and delivery procedures. 

By identifying weaknesses in off-premise order taking, food preparation, delivery, and customer interactions and experiences at each step of the process, operators can look for ways to improve their service and their profitability from this segment of their business.  If the current trend in the industry continues—if the off-premise segment of total restaurant business continues to grow at twice the industry average, it will become increasingly important to the operating model for every restaurant—large and small.  In other words, those restaurants that want to be successful long-term—that want to maintain or grow market-share ad profitability—will have to make off-premise service a top priority.

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