As participants in a rapidly changing industry, those of us in the restaurant business understand the importance of innovation. From the introduction of self-service digital experiences to the emergence of third-party delivery, technology innovation has continuously proven to be a powerful force in multi-unit restaurants’ ability to drive and respond to guest behavior. However, innovation done right isn’t easy; and it is even more difficult when that innovation needs to take place in a non-standard environment.
The truth of the matter is that many multi-unit restaurant brands, especially those that are franchised, are non-standard. While regional and market variations in menus, store layouts, and technology can provide a unique, tailored experience for guests residing in a specific area, these variations also present a challenge when it comes to implementing a brand-wide technology innovation strategy.
Here to discuss the best practices for overcoming the obstacles associated with non-standard technology environments is Michael Chachula, Head of IT for IHOP Restaurants.
Q: Where does innovation come from in IHOP?
Chachula: “Most of the innovation that happens here at IHOP comes from one of two places. The first is customer demand; We continuously engage with our guests to understand the points of friction in their experience or areas where we can surprise and delight. Many of our guests have begun expecting a similar technology experience with IHOP that they have had with not only other restaurant brands but with technology providers like Uber or Apple. We hold this feedback close when forming our technology strategies. The second is analysis around the in-restaurant journey. We recognize that our guests’ most valuable currency is their time, and as a result, we continuously aim to test new technologies that make their time with us more efficient, more enjoyable, and more memorable.”
Q: What is the key to being successful when you are evaluating a new technology solution for a non-standard operational environment?
Chachula: “The word to pay attention to here is standardization. Standardization is important to enabling scalability, but that standardization cannot stem creativity. For those that are currently battling this challenge, they should look to introduce a modular, flexible, and extensible technology platform that is easy to support, but configurable enough to allow creativity in their operations community. Configurability should always be one of the top five considerations when evaluating new technology solutions for a diverse multi-unit brand; that is where technology meets operations. On top of that, those decisions should be validated through partnerships with industry experts who can help confirm that the investment that you spend on a solution won’t be an investment wasted.”
Q: What is the right way to implement new technology in this type of environment?
Chachula: “What I have found is that most of our operators share about 80% of their needs and wants when it comes to technology. What that said, the first step in preparing for a successful implementation of new technology is identifying that 20% of functionality or uniqueness that may be required from one operator to another. As that is done, and you place those unique requirements and their operational requests into logical groupings, you can begin working on how to ensure that the new technology is configured and supported properly for each one of those different groups. In this model, you are essentially creating several different configuration ‘schemas’ aligned with each of these groups. This allows increased supportability and ease of implementation when it comes to putting this new technology into the field in a fast-paced environment like an IHOP.”