The Role of Technology In Business | FSTEC 2023 | TechBite Podcast
So I always say technology has to make it in the hands of the front line workers. If it's not there, it doesn't matter. Like, what are we going to do with that information? How are we going to change the experience of the customer based on the data they are providing? Every guest is unique. How do you make sure that you basically cater to that unique request from that guest? Everybody wants to feel special. Nobody wants to be like, Oh, you're just the average, ordinary Joe.
Like, we don't care about you Today we're going to talk about the role of technology in business and kind of take it a little bit above just the systems, the benefits and the benefits that it offers to the to the restaurant industry specifically. So we're honored to have one of our board members here, Pankaj Patra. He's the current CIO of Brinker International. Has done amazing work at Brinker and has essentially built what we have built within Brinker for Brinker's use. So we're going to kind of go deep dive into the topic, dig in why the technology and what what business impact does it have on the overall strategy of any restaurant.
So, Pankaj, welcome in this is your first time. Thank you for having me. Absolutely. So let's jump into the topics. Give me your thoughts, ideas about technology in this space.
Yeah, it's an interesting topic. And as we look at like the role of technology, the wider view of it is much more than just building a system for a particular capability like so. For example, when you start looking at a system or a you have a business problem and you're looking at a system or you're trying to build a capability, the first thing you ask is what is the problem? Like, What are we trying to solve, right? What is a business benefit of this? Right? And and when you think about that, like technology, it doesn't have anything to do with that.
Like that's just like getting a business case, which is what are you trying to solve? What is the financial business case and all those things. So so that's as we look at like technology people, we think about like, let's put a solve on this or let's build a system to solve this. But like, that's probably a part of it.
It's not the whole thing. So you start with the basically the business case or trying to solve a problem. Then you go and start looking at like, okay, you have to experience the need for that capability. So for example, we are in a restaurant business.
Before I do anything, I go talk to the team members, right? Or I talk to the operators. If it isn't a problem which the operators are facing. And again, that does not have anything to do with technology and just understanding what their needs are. Then you go into like, okay, who are my stakeholders? So operations, maybe the one who is requesting this particular thing or capability, but it may impact legal, it may impact accounting, it may impact marketing, it may impact finance, it may impact everybody else within the organization. So how do you start like, okay, well, I'm trying to build this capability, but these are my ten stakeholders within the organization and how is it going to impact them And what do I need to think about? Because if I solve the problem for operations and I may break the the thing which is working for the other constituents, or stakeholders.
So then you start getting into that process and then you start looking at it like once you bring them in, give them a chance to give input to like what is needed. Then you have a holistic view of this, right? And once you have a holistic view of like what we are trying to do, all the stakeholders are involved, then you start looking at like, okay, what are the systems out there which can solve that problem? From our perspective, like we are not a build shop, right? We don't try to build technology or systems. What we try to do is essentially we go out in the marketplace and look for like, Hey, if I have this particular challenge, are there players, partners who have already solved it? And when I look at solve it, it's not just from like that particular problem, but how does it impact the whole ecosystem, right? How does it impact the whole stack, which I have? And if I find something great like we start looking at it, we basically test it out.
But if we don't, I to start now, go ahead. Yeah. And if we don't, then we start looking at like, do we need to build it? So it's like that's where I feel like, hey, when we when people look at technologies, it's more about like just the systems, but it's way beyond the systems, right? So it's way, way beyond like just thinking about like what is a sol? How do you bring this whole thing to life? Sure, Yeah. So that actually touches point on a great, great topic because technology is just an enabler. It's there to achieve a purpose.
Most people either don't pay attention to that or discount that or don't really fully, fully explore the the underlying problem. Right? So they're just adding these things in without any consideration. So I think maybe on your side, just because you have such a large organization, you have to obviously take into account all of that. But I agree also on the marketing and IT that they have to be now really connected. otherwise, it's going to be a big challenge for marketing teams.
And how about for that matter, like not just IT and marketing because there is, there is a lot of discussion around IT and marketing, but I feel like, like, like if you look at other departments, like they have a very similar role to play, like marketing with technology and every organization, when they look at big or small, they may have 50 restaurants, hundred restaurants, 200 to 250, 1200, but the groups are the same. Like every everyone would have a marketing department and operations department, and IT department. And the bigger challenge today is like technology, when we look at technology, we look at like, hey, it's an I.T. problem, right? I think it's way beyond an IT problem.
Right? And you must have heard me say this in other discussions, like I'm like a firm believer that we should not be building technology for the sake of technology. Right. Like somebody else can do that. Do a better job. Our roles as CIO, CTOs, or being in technology is to understand what problem we are trying to solve for our customers, right, Which is the business part. And then you start looking at like, okay, how do we solve it? And this collaboration is really important to you. We have to foster the collaboration to be able to be successful, because if you don't, then you are probably going to miss the mark in terms of what we are trying to build.
Got you. Yeah, absolutely. And I think so. Even further down, I haven't seen anybody who takes that technology and says, look like, yes, this has to solve a restaurant problem, but before it solves that problem, it has to solve my problem. Because if you don't solve with the customer, none of it matters.
Because if you know how many customers, why build it? Why have it? Why open a restaurant Like it all starts with the customer and it has to revolve around the customer and in other topics we'll talk about how it should make the life of the staff easier as well. But if it doesn't start with the customer, then it's already the wrong approach, right? Oh yeah, absolutely. Again, like you have to like every business, which is they're like they have to understand why they are existing. Yeah, absolutely. What's your purpose? What are your purpose? Yeah.
Why are you here if you. Don't know what your purpose is like? I think it's is going to be a hard sell. So once you understand your purpose and how do you basically be hyper focused, disciplined on achieving that purpose. Right. And that's where like you're right, like in the restaurant business, like our main job is to be able to bring customers, our guests in and then provide them an experience which they will remember.
Right? Because everybody who walks into our restaurant, we don't know. They may have had a bad day outside or they are celebrating something or they just want to have some quiet time. There can be multiple reasons why they're visiting the restaurant.
Our job is not to like like we know that they are there to be able to spend that 45 minutes with us and just forget about everything which is happening. Right? It's like going into a chamber where they like they don't hear any outside noise, right? They don't hear about like think about any of the outside problems they are running into. They come in. They want to have an amazing experience with amazing food, drinks and maybe watch a game, whatever they want to do. But like, that's what our purpose is.
Now, how do you enable it? Then the question comes back, right? So if somebody is rushing to a lunch shift and basically wanted to just grab a quick bite, have a couple of things, and then basically on their way. Our job is to then think about like, how do I make that experience come to life, right? Like they want to come in, they want to check in on their own to say like, Hey, I want to sit at the bar. I want to sit in like in a booth or whatever it is. Like I want to order on my own and then I want to pay and go, right? They are not looking for like that. They may not be looking for that heavy interaction with the team member at that time because they have like a limited time before they go back to work or go on their way, but which is, which is a completely different experience, experience, expectation. when somebody comes for dinner.
Yeah, right. Like they want to spend some time, for example, with a friend, family, they want to spend time, they want to talk to the team member and all those things. So at that time you cannot make them feel rushed, right? What do you have? What do you understand is like, Hey, they are there for a particular occasion and I have to basically then it's basically just turning them dials or turning the knobs or whatever it is.
And it's like adjusting the music or the lights. You just adjust set for dinner, for lunch, etc. and the mood changes for that, for the experience. It has to match that experience. And if you think about the whole experience, the experience, like technology is a part of it, but technology is not the whole excuse.
And the enabler. Yeah, it enables you to. It's a means to an end. I always tell everybody, even our customers, I'm like, Look, even our company to you is a means to an end. We're here to to do X, right? We're an enablement to you as an extension of your team member, as an extension of your restaurants to allow you to do X, Y, and Z for your customer, because ultimately that's all that matters. Without that, we shouldn't even exist. Yeah, and for, for me, if I like as a end user of some of the products which you guys have or like a lot of players in the marketplace have, we have to understand that like the the experience which we are trying to give is not a technology problem.
Right? Again, as you said, it's technology is going to enable a part of the experience or the several parts of the experience, but then you have to have the operational aspect to it, right? You have to have the marketing aspect of it. So there are a lot of different things which come together. It's I look at it like it's you have a set of Legos, pieces, different colors, right? The blues are IT, the yellows are operation, the greens are marketing, how do you put it together? And if you are able to put it together in a way where it basically makes sense and appeals to the customer, you are one. The customer will win and they are going to basically like next time they think about like, Hey, I remember having your awesome experience at Chili's when I go for a for lunch, as I said.
Right? And they are like, okay, let's go head to Chili's for lunch. Sure. So and I think it's going to start I think technology is going to start creating these massive diff differences and it's going to create it's going to create such a differentiating factor among restaurants. So I was talking to somebody yesterday, I was having breakfast with him and he came up with this weird like I thought it was brilliant. And he's like, look, I'm in New York City.
So people, the executives that come in for lunch, obviously, they're high level executives. They're busy, they don't have time. They've got 45 minutes an hour. They're going to dine in and out, etc.. They're spending maybe 75 bucks, a hundred bucks each.
So why not give them the ability to do the leg work before they come in like they could literally on their smartphone as they're taking the Uber down or whatever. Just say, hey, I'm here, I'm coming in, I'm coming in for a meeting. I'll be there at 12:30. Here's the food that I'm ordering and then it sends a link to the other participant or guests and they do the same thing. They just show up and the moment they walk in, orders like fired, etc.. So talk about elevating the experience.
Right. And I think that's what technology can do and that's what it should do in order to get that customer to come back in more often. And as we always talk about, is frequency is is a major problem in the restaurant industry. Like 70% of customers go to that restaurant just one time and they don't go back.
Yeah, no, and you're right. Like even in that example, I'll take it a step further. That right. So so if you have a restaurant in New York, which is like which caters to that demographic and they are busy like, you know, their time is premium, they are coming like they need to be able to set everything up before they come to the restaurant.
The food is ready as they come in or walk in, so we can like so and this is what I call like how do you bring the digital experience and the physical experience together? So how do you take a what they did in a digital world which you can control because you don't have anybody else? Yo, It's either a smartphone or tablet or a web app which is basically catering to that, right? You don't have team members, you don't have a whole story look and all those things. So that's the digital part of it. What that digital experience, you control it because you know, you, you manage it through technology. You manage it through this. But when you come into the restaurant, you have to take that digital experience and continue that experience into the physical world with you through the four walls of the restaurant. Yeah. So when you look at that example, also like whatever you gave them to be able to say that, hey, just tell us what you need, like where you want to stay, like what kind of music you like and all those things to be able to cater it.
Now you have to take that information and provide it to somebody in the restaurant, unless you are basically automating that whole thing, which I believe that part of it is going to be automated. The whole thing cannot be automated. Sure. And we can talk for hours on that, right? Yeah.
So when you think about that, like, how do you take that digital experience and bring it to the physical world and let the team members of the operators know so then they don't feel like, Hey, you told me that you can deliver on all these things. But when I walked into a restaurant, like, none of those things worked. So now is it a technology problem? Is it a operational problem? Is it a marketing problem? It's it's a problem of like just basically thinking about the whole experience, right? So technology can again enable a lot of things, but technology is probably a part of the whole thing, right? And if people look at us, like as technologist and they're like, Hey, go solve this, like, Yeah, I can solve it, but I need to be able to partner with all the right stakeholders to be able to bring this. Because if you are trying to think that, okay, there is a magic wand somewhere or there is a light switch somewhere which I can go and flip, that's not going to happen, right? So that's where like we start thinking about some of these things. That's like, how do you bring this whole thing beyond systems? Sure, Yeah.
And that brings up a good point because you've got so I always say technology has to make it in the hands of the front line workers. If it's not there, it doesn't matter. So if you have a customer data platform but your hostess doesn't know the customer, what are you doing? It's completely useless.
Like if you don't if you don't have first of all, any data about the customer has to be actionable and then it has to be in the hands of the right individual operators, managers, even the hostess upfront and the servers to know. So a perfect example, I always bring up you one of my favorite restaurants. I spend twice as much as their average, but they still make me wait in line for 45 minutes.
I was there like two or three times every single time. It's like 45 minutes in line. Even though they added my phone number to their waitlist app.
The waitlist app is not it doesn't have any functionality to tell the host and say, Hey, this person is spending twice as much as our normal customer. And and actually so the the negative impact on that restaurant is I'm not going back because I'm treated like everybody else and I have to wait 45 minutes in line. When I can go three doors down to another restaurant that uses technology, is in the hands of the front line worker. Hostess adds me to the waitlist and is like, oh, Hamed You know, it's we have a one hour wait, but considering you're a VIP, you spend twice as much as an average customer. Da, da, da.
I'm going to have you seated in 5 minutes. Right? And it's a classic it's a classic problem. Right. And I was on a panel probably two years back, maybe two, two and a half years back. And we were talking about data. Right. Like the question I ask is like, so consumers like we ask the question is like, are you willing to give the data? The question I would be asking is like, what am I going to do with the data? Absolutely right.
Like, again, like consumers, you have to give them a reason. You have to give them a reason. And in a way, we're like, Hey, I'm taking this information because I'm going to provide you an experience which like, you don't have to do X, Y, Z next time when you come into the restaurant. So it's not about like whether they want to share information or not. I think you have to give them a reason why they have to share it.
Absolutely. Yeah. And once you do that, like I think we take a lot of information to be able to say like, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that personalization, like no matter how, like easy it may sound right? Like I can talk about personalization. Am I able to do personalization to the the way I want it to happen? Probably not.
And again, I think if we look at personalization as a marketing or an IT problem, I think we are basically like pigeonholing ourselves into a very myopic vision of this whole thing. So because you have the members, you need to have that information right? Because you have systems which need to start talking. Because if I gave you information on one system and you're not able to translate that or share that information with a different system, then you're basically disconnected, right? Like my table management system, which of course it uses, makes all my information about my POS or my tablet, doesn't know about it, or handheld, whatever you want to call it, doesn't know about it. Like the host is not the one who's taking the order, right? Yes.
Yeah. Or the food runner who is bringing on the food doesn't have that. So there's a lot of this discussion around like how do like, are consumers comfortable to share their information and all those things and I go back to the aggressor question again is like, why do like what are we going to do with that information? How are we going to change the experience of the customer based on the data they are providing? And if we are able to show them that part of like, Hey, you gave me this, this is what I'm going to do and this is how I'm going to change your experience and deliver on it. Like not just talk about it. Right?
We can talk about it all day, but unless, like. It has to the actionable. Correct. And if I am able to show that, then then that changes it. So going back to your example, you are spending like twice the amount that a normal average customer spends in that restaurant. But nobody knows that, correct? Yeah, the host doesn't know that. The server doesn't know. Well, the server sort of knew because he sees me all the time, but that's not scalable. Correct.
The right the right information and the right folks have is going to change it. So even if like the finance guys know, like you have a customer whose name is Hamed is spending, like on an average two times of like more than what a normal customer spends. But that information like what is the finance person, going to do with that information? Is he going to put it in a spreadsheet and say like, Hey, we need to bring Hamed back. So let me send an email. Or discount to devalue the brand or yeah, I. agree.
Thinking beyond that to say like, Hey, if, if I have to make sure that every time Hamed comes into our restaurant, we have to make sure that he feels special. Yeah, right. It's that feeling.
I agree. It's the emotion that you want. Everybody wants to feel special.
Nobody wants to be like, Oh, you're just the average, ordinary Joe. Like, we don't care about you. And then you basically take that information, which the finance spokesman has or the marketing person has, and give it to operations.
So the next time Hamed walks in and he gives his phone number or an a different way to check in, they basically immediately know that Hamed's lifetime value is or Hamed is this. I'm going to basically take care of that and like just create that right? So again, goes back is like you would be more willing to share your data if you know that that experience is being changed based on that. Right. Take the example of like airline industry and I take the example, simple example of like, hey, I have a priority land because I fly on American Airlines so much. Yeah, right. It's a great thing.
Like, I want to like I always like travel for work and I probably have like, I need to find space and I need to be able to do certain things. Sure. Right. I know the information I'm sharing with them is being used to change my experience, so I'm willing to give them the data. I come into a restaurant if the restaurant doesn't know me, like I've been there five times, I ordered from them. They don't value my data, so I'm not going to give it to them. Yeah.
I agree 100%. Like, by the way, this is not new. This is not brand new concepts. We weren't the ones who invented this whole thing. Right. But you take hotels on airlines, hotels, clearly in hospitality, still they crush it. The moment you check in with the hostess, quote unquote, the fun does.
Like literally once your like a gold platinum member, the whole thing changes. Right. But in the restaurant, you walk in, you give your phone number to the hostess, nothing changes.
It's like, oh, even though you're may be spending a ton of money, you may be a really highly valuable customer. You are still treated just like everyone else. And I think that's that's where the difference is.
And again, technology, technology going beyond just technology, it has to translate into these elevations of customer experiences, which then has you flying American or staying at Marriott every time you go or dining at your favorite restaurant, one extra visit a year is going to make a huge impact to the top line. And if you don't do that, it's catastrophic on the opposite end, because this customer that this restaurant I'm going to, I feel like I'm not valued, that the emotional connection is not there. What are they doing? They're sending all the customers who spend twice as much to their competitors.
So now that competitor is crushing and making they're more profitable. And then you're here, you're like, Why is my sales down? Why is my profitability down? It's like, well, because you sent all of your VIP customers to your competitors. Because you treated them exactly the same, but your competitor, took advantage of technology and elevated that experience.
So I think it's not new. I'm just I'm very surprised that restaurant industry hasn't really gotten that figure it out and hasn't enabled their staff to take these extra measures, just like hotels, just like airlines. And it is difficult, right, Like I would not.
Like I don't think it's as difficult, actually. Maybe on your scale. It may be. But like, you know, for us, like, that's common sense. Like when we started building, we built we said, you know what, forgive the restaurant owner, because if we can focus on the customer, elevate the customer experience the restaurant owner is happy anyway.
So I think that technology pieces are there. I just don't know if they're fully utilized or maybe the technology companies haven't really like their focus on like tech so much. Going back to our original conversation that they're forgetting the the beyond technology. Correct.
And you're right like and again I'm I'm a big proponent of that is that like this is something which we have to collectively think about solving, right? Technology alone cannot solve all of this problem. But I think the other thing which you have to look at, like when you look at the airline industry or the hotel industry and look at the average tenure of the employees who are working, whether at the front desk or whether at the gate and all those things, it's different than what you have a day. I agree. That's another can of worms that we have to open because. But the point the reason I bring that up is that you have to make it easy to make it easy.
And like, how do you get this information? Because today, if you look at like when we look at like restaurants and like our job is right now, like how do we make sure that, hey, we have customers come in and they basically dine with us and leave right? We have to go beyond like that, right? It's not transactional. It has to be beyond just transactional. It has to be beyond a transaction. Right. And to be able to think beyond a transaction, you have to think about like, okay, how do I change that? And again, airlines, hotels, like even some retailers more on the not on like brick and mortar because again, there are options and all those things.
But like this whole idea of like how do you hyper personalize the whole experience for a particular guest. Right. Sure. Every guest is unique. How do you make sure that you basically cater to that unique request from that guest? Right. And do it in such a way where like all parts of your restaurant, whether it is digital, physical, the people working in the restaurant are working outside.
Everybody knows like what their role is. So yeah, so it's it's when I say it's difficult, it's like one. We don't think that way, right? I think I Think that's the problem, honestly. And the challenges are different for us, right? Like, so like if you prioritize some of these things like reading, like, would we want you to go read like the question which we were asking is like, how do we stay viable? Sure. At that time, if you ask me about like, hey, personalize my experience, I was like, Forget it. I got to get customers. I agree.
Like, you cannot you cannot be you have to be proactive, not passive. You can't be a firefighter constantly doing that. And at those times, it's not the right time to do that. But when times are good, then you need to actually focus. That's the time. You need to double down.
Yeah. Somebody this is so interesting. Somebody mentioned this about how do you fireproof rather than firefight. Yeah, 100%. So with this whole mentality of fireproof is not easy right. Yeah. And again, I. Think it's a collaboration of technology companies and correct industry leaders, thought leaders, visionaries in the restaurant space that really believe in that hospitality and are willing to do whatever it takes to deliver it.
But I think customers move everything. So. So just to add to that, like every department, every group which has a stake in that. Has to be involved. I agree. Yeah, it's operation, marketing, IT.
I mean, even the store staff. Yeah, everybody has to be involved. And I think at that stage customers will provide that data, right? Because if I can give you my data and you have access to my data, use that to elevate my experience so I don't have to wait 45 minutes in line to get a table or I can priority pass and go right into the airline group number one. Then everybody will want to do that. Everyone wants to feel special.
You just have to enable that. We have to enable that. And I think again, like I think we have to think about as we put systems together, like how do we do that? I think technology plays a critical role in that. But again, it goes beyond. Technology. Sure. Absolutely. Well, that's amazing. I'm very passionate on this topic, so thanks for bringing this up.
I enjoyed the conversation. Stay tuned for our future episodes and thanks for tune in. And guys. Thank you for having me. Absolutely. Thanks.