RENO, Nev. — Some 20 years ago, chefs ended their nights pouring over stacks of chicken-scratched ticket orders — crinkled and grease-stained — to find out which menu items were hot in more way than one.
“It used to be called hand-written ‘dupes,’” recalls Dave Holman, executive chef of Campo Reno and Campo Sparks. “At the end of the night, we would have to go through and see how many steaks we sold.”
Time consuming and tedious, tallying the “dupes” (i.e. duplicates) was the only way to get an eatery’s product mix.
“Now,” Holman said, “I just go to the computer and in 10 seconds, it’s done. It’s no longer going by feel; it’s going by how many you really sell. It helps us know, hey, we sold 19 of these steaks, let’s see if we can get 10 more.
“That’s all due to technology.”
Indeed, times — and with it: tech — in the restaurant industry have changed.
Gone are orders taken by pen-and-pad, in are servers using iPads; gone are clanging cash registers, in are swiveling payment tablets; gone are loose figures and guesswork, in are menus built using hard data and analytics.
Tech is increasingly taking portions of the workload off of restaurants’ plates. According to Toast, a cloud-based restaurant software company, 95 percent of restaurateurs feel technology improve restaurant’s efficiency.
The evolution of point of sales (POS) systems, smart technology, cloud-based platforms and more has been a boon for the restaurant industry across the globe.
Northern Nevada, home to a robust startup ecosystem marinating in tech, is no exception.
“With technology, if you use it properly and you have certain systems, you’re able to really run a better business,” Holman said.
At Campo, chefs and managers use the iPad-based Revel POS system that tracks their inventory and shows real-time sales reports. Servers also plug in orders with iPads, expediting their communication with the cooks in the kitchen.
Walden’s Coffeehouse in Reno uses Square POS. Chef Michael Barone said the ability to track inventory is a huge asset to his family-owned business. Barone noted he’s always on the lookout for technology to help streamline the restaurant’s day-to-day operations.
Recently, Barone said he bought Bluetooth headphones so baristas can be hands-free and not miss a beat while taking orders over the phone.
“The more that’s offered, the more I’m looking for something to make things more efficient and smoother running, so we can handle high volume and be efficient,” Barone said.
Chef and owner of three Northern Nevada restaurants and managing partner of a fourth in Mammoth, Mark Estee relishes in being able to monitor his restaurants’ activities with swipes of his smartphone.
“It’s all at your fingertips,” Estee said. “Restaurants, it’s such slim margins, you want to get a jump on a dime. So every moment, every chance you get to see and look what’s going good and what’s going bad. And the faster you react to it, the more chance you have at being successful.
“I think the biggest thing you need to do in your business is to understand, who, what, where, when, why? What are the things we can do to make it better?”
Other restaurants, like Lamppost Pizza in South Reno, are embracing the tech boom in an even more advanced way.
Since 2014, Lamppost Pizza has been accepting cryptocurrency from its customers. The pizza joint was the first restaurant in Reno to accept bitcoin, said owner Jay Watson.
“I think cryptocurrencies are going to be the currency of the future,” Watson said. “I see fiat (the U.S. dollar) being phased out and it will be all electronic money within … I don’t know, 10-15 years?”
Watson said the price of a pizza doesn’t change when a guests uses bitcoin. After payment, Watson converts the cryptocurrency to the U.S. dollar “almost immediately.”
This begs the question: is their risk involved in accepting bitcoin due to its extremely volatile market? Case in point: in 2011, one bitcoin was worth $1. Six years later, in December 2017, it was worth almost $20,000.
Recently, the currency has bounced from highs of $8,500 to lows of $5,800 over the last three months.
“It’s volatile, but by converting it to fiat as soon as I can I kind of mitigate the volatility,” he said.
While tech is enhancing efficiency in myriad ways, some feel there’s a line when it comes to using tech in a restaurant.
An emerging tech trend is tabletop kiosks, used in an effort to make payment quick and convenient for diners. The kiosks are commonly popping up at chain eateries like Red Robin and Olive Garden.
Watson said there’s “mixed reviews” on whether customers and employees like the tabletop kiosks, noting the importance of the interaction between staff and guests.
Holman agrees. He feels there’s a line when it comes to using tech, at least at Campo. Simply put, Holman doesn’t want technology to create too much of a detachment and barrier between the restaurant and its guests.
“We’re a full-service restaurant, still engaging with our guests to make sure that they have the best experience,” he said.