“It was hard to find that line between encouraging the innovation and maintaining sanity,” Costa Vida’s Dave Conger recently said of his company’s journey into restaurant-delivery technology. As is the case for most restaurants now, the fast-casual chain saw the need to implement delivery and its accompanying pieces of technology into daily operations to keep pace with the $9 billion food-delivery market.
From a quick glance through Costa Vida’s app or website, you would never know the chain had any issues whatsoever accommodating mobile ordering and delivery into its business. Both channels emphasize delivery through a clean, easy-to-read interface with bright photos that suggest a world of fresh burritos and nary a technological hurdle in sight.
But the back end of the operation was considerably murkier for a long time. As Director of IT for Costa Vida, Conger would know, and over the phone recently, he went into detail about the problems his company faced trying to keep pace with the march of technology.
Chief among those challenges were the tablets. And if food delivery is the projected star of 2019, its arch rival in the story is a condition commonly known as “tablet hell” — that is, the pileup of tablets that happens when restaurants integrate third-party delivery services.
Orders from third-party services (Uber Eats, DoorDash, etc.) typically arrive at the restaurant via a tablet stationed near the POS system. But usually restaurants have to use a different tablet for each service, which quickly leads to somewhere between two and 20 tablets, depending on the size of the restaurant. A food industry contact of mine said he recently saw that number go as high as 46.
Costa Vida wasn’t dealing in two-digit numbers, but even three tablets require extra counter space, not to mention a human being to look at each order and key it into the main POS system. “We encourage[d] our general managers and stores to explore news sales channels [and] were quickly overwhelmed with all those tablets and having to key in all that data,” Conger said.
Human error is one byproduct of all that manual input; the more orders a restaurant has to manually enter into the POS system, the higher the likelihood of someone making a mistake. Because human beings aren’t robots. There’s also the issue of where to physically put all those tablets.
Conger and I talked about one other issue Costa Vida faced: he may be the official IT expert, but GMs across the chain were having to act as de facto technicians in addition to their other duties. “They either needed to understand the third-party app or, if the hardware [wasn’t] working, they had to fiddle with that. And really for us, that’s spending time doing something that doesn’t correctly help our guests,” he said.
Fortunately for Costa Vida, there are companies out there now who are trying to solve all of those issues in a single platform. Chowly is one such business, and Costa Vida hooked up with them through Toast’s partner network, which pairs different technologies with restaurants based on their different needs. Chowly’s software grabs the many different orders coming from third parties and funnels them into the restaurant’s main POS system. There’s no hardware and no manual entry required. “Customer service shined and speed to implementation was much better,” says Conger of the results.
Chowly fit the bill for Costa Vida, but it’s not the only solution out there that offers a hardware-free way to integrate disparate orders. Checkmate also works with Toast and requires no manual entry to get third-party orders into the main system. OrderOut’s cloud-based software is similar. And Ordermark’s consolidation software gathers and funnels third-party orders into a single dashboard.
More important than any one particular solution, though, is the fact that more and more software is coming to market that lets restaurants capitalize on delivery without dropping a huge technical burden on the shoulders of their employees. Conger says he expects to see the number of third-party delivery services increase over time, and with that, the number of orders restaurants have to juggle. It would seem, then, that finding a platform that streamlines those orders will eventually become as much a business necessity for restaurants as delivery itself.
One thing Conger would like to see more of is involvement from third-party delivery services like Grubhub and Uber Eats in helping alleviate tablet hell (and the issues that go with it). But, he says, there isn’t much incentive for those companies to do so at the moment. “I think [third parties] have seen they can make some quick short-term wins by following the route they’re following now by just unleashing [their service] into the market.” None of those companies have said much in terms of addressing tablet hell.
No telling if that will change anytime soon, but it’s something Conger openly supports. “I would love to see some of these services take a more active approach with partnering and seeing what they can do to ease this process. In the long term that’s a huge opportunity.”