Three Tech Companies That Are Making the Restaurant Industry Change Its Game
Three Tech Companies That Are Making the Restaurant Industry Change Its Game

Innovators Upserve, Shiftgig and Olo are among the dominant players harnessing data to drive restaurant business forward.

It’s hardly news that, in 2019, tech companies are leading the charge when it comes to changing the way the restaurant industry does business. According to a recent Forbes interview with Skift Table’s senior editor, Kristen Hawley, the main issue before restaurateurs in 2019 is how to best partner with tech companies on data solutions that drive their business forward.

Said Hawley: “From a trends standpoint, this could mean new and creative business models [like counter service or personalized ordering screens]; it could mean more delivery-forward concepts, with restaurants serving needs that are potentially based on data.” According to the article, Hawley calls restaurant service based on a data-backed need “the Uber Eats example of creating a second concept out of a restaurant kitchen to be delivery-only based on data it has surrounding demand.”

There’s the word we’ve all come to know well over the last few years: Data. So just who are the leaders in data-driven restaurant solutions, and how are they solving for the restaurant operations problems of today? Three of the dominant players are Upserve, Shiftgig and Olo.

Andrea Kayal is the Chief Marketing Officer for Upserve, a full-service restaurant management platform offering innovative tech solutions, from a cloud-based POS system to scheduling software and more. Kayal said that robust data is critical in 2019 because it arms restaurant operators with the insights they need to most tactically drive their business.

“[At Upserve], we marry business information, customer information and operational data together to show how human behavior impacts a given business,” said Kayal. “We’re a one-stop shop so that operators have better access to their data. That’s the most critical thing; restaurant owners today need to be able to access their inventory, workforce and customer data quickly. The faster you can make money-saving decisions, the faster you become profitable.”

Kayal also clarified the distinction between the automatic analytics reports that point-of-sales (POS) systems typically run as compared to those of Upserve’s platforms.

“It’s pretty easy for POS systems to run reports, but to report insights? It’s not just a question of how much money you made on a given night; it’s about insight,” Kayal said. “For example, we have one functionality that categorizes menu items into ‘hidden gems,’ or items that weren’t promoted but that people recurrently and consistently order. That’s an insight you can’t get from traditional analytics.”

In today’s restaurant climate, that insight matters: as markets get more competitive in labor and food costs, restaurant owners will have to optimize their processes—meaning everything from scheduling the right staff at the right time to lessening food waste and managing inventory margins.

“Knowing what you pay your suppliers for your food is important, but having a great track record regarding what you pay to your suppliers against the market rate for your goods is important for you as a business owner,” said Kayal. “You need a single place to know how food is moving in your system, how you can provide a great customer experience, and so on. All of that is data that Upserve harvests and surfaces to our partners.”

Another major player when it comes to restaurant technology—and one of the earliest players in the world of restaurant data—is Olo, founded by entrepreneur Noah Glass in 2005. While working in South Africa, Glass observed the way mobile payments operated and envisioned a plan to change the restaurant industry back home in the U.S. Since its early days as a text-based ordering platform—the brand booked a segment on Good Morning America in 2006 which ended up being largely focused on teaching Diane Sawyer how to send a text—Olo has now become a sought-after B2B- and B2C-mobile ordering platform.

According to Jackie Berg, Vice President of Marketing for Olo, the brand has innovated as the restaurant technology market has changed.

“We started as a consumer-focused mobile ordering service, but we’ve now grown to service brands and help brands build their own programs as well,” said Berg. “We’re a prevalent mobile ordering player given our history, but as the market has changed, we really see ourself as the interface between the restaurant world and the on-demand world. We help brands streamline to meet demands across channels by building platforms for orders wherever they originate—from a third-party app, or Alexa, or a brand’s website; anywhere.”

According to its site, in 2018, Olo added a million new guests every two weeks, serving over 100 million customers for takeout and delivery on branded restaurant apps and sites.

Keeping their offering accessible from nearly any digital starting point has translated to some heavy lifting on the integration side of things, Berg explained.

“We’re invested in rendering properly across POS systems, loyalty and preferred sales systems, and so on,” Berg said. “We’re also interfacing with providers like DoorDash to capture demand in the digital space.”

In addition to laying the groundwork for the modern-day mobile ordering economy, Olo is also changing the way the restaurant industry does business by functioning as a thought leader when it comes to integration software.

“A lot of brands approach us when they’re in the midst of tech changes,” said Berg. “We take a brand and look at their infrastructure; we look holistically to see what their needs are. Many times, those needs evolve, so we work on a project-basis to make sure everything—from CRM, to loyalty systems, to POS spaces—are all speaking the same language.”

Why do integrated technology solutions matter so much to the restaurant industry in 2019?

“The rise of on-demand tech has enabled new customer expectations; what we call ‘The Amazon Effect’,” said Berg. “It’s that accelerated need and expectation for brands in the space. When you look at the data on our platform, we have brands capturing market share at the expense of brands that aren’t doing digital or delivery. If we look at the in-store sales for brands that use us, we see about a 45% increase in sales across 55,000 locations.”

Interestingly, it’s not only goods being ordered up in today’s in-demand world; it’s labor, too.

Shiftgig started as a full-service marketplace platform in 2015 as the modern-day gig economy was crystallizing and has subsequently grown to include proprietary self-service workforce software for in-house labor scheduling. That means that users can log into a marketplace for at-need labor across industries, and restaurant operators can staff for volume without necessarily having to keep a full house of employees on the payroll.

Rick Bowman, CEO of Shiftgig, said that disrupting the status quo has been at the center of Shiftgig’s vision from the beginning.

“A recent Crain’s New York study found that work flexibility is the most important aspect of work for 78% of respondents. Workers pursuing that [flexibility] create a new talent pool with the expectation of true, on-demand access to work,” said Bowman. “That’s exciting for how we think about our platform, which is really trying to turn the traditional concept of scheduling on its head. Instead of just managers staffing through a schedule they dictate, workers can choose multiple roles inside our platform, consistent with their schedule.”

That work-life balance makes a difference, too: “Scheduling flexibility translates to worker longevity,” Bowman said. “Workers with three times the opportunity stay with an employer for three times as long.”

And while Shiftgig’s platform certainly benefits those professionals navigating the gig economy, the company’s model is especially relevant to restaurant operators seeing the rise of ‘ghost’ or ‘dark kitchens.’

‘Dark kitchens’ are those that only exist within a mobile delivery app. According to an article on The Spoon, the idea behind dark kitchens is “that companies who want to grow their user base or meet the demand for delivery don’t have to open more restaurants to do so; they just need to find more kitchen space.”

And restaurant operators are wise to innovate along dark kitchen lines: Third-party delivery apps like UberEats have spearheaded an entire wave of demand for virtual-only ordering. The use of dark kitchens therefore lessens the need for a full-time staff and opens the door for as-needed staffing via platforms like Shiftgig.

To state the obvious: The restaurant industry is changing rapidly, and it’s up to tech to empower restaurateurs to keep up.

Upserve, Olo and Shiftgig are all major players involved in both constructing and subverting what Berg calls “a new ecosystem” comprised of the restaurant and technology industries. As Kayal sums it up: “The sophistication of your customer determines how you deliver.”

And with consumer habits growing ever savvier, disruptive tech companies won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.