The restaurant industry is leveraging the proliferation of cell phones and mobile devices to its advantage through a communications model dubbed BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device. Because most restaurant employees aren’t sitting behind a desk and don’t have a company email address, restaurants have begun communicating key operational info, like the night’s menu specials or shift schedules, via the employee’s personal handhelds. This keeps communications to all employees consistent, convenient, and timely.

“We recognize the importance of providing consistent messaging to all of our staff, whether salary or hourly, and the need for our managers to be able to communicate in an effective and efficient manner,” says Dave Dodson, communications director of Texas Roadhouse, adding that its staff has smartphones, but very few have corporate email addresses.

“We needed to leverage a service to gain immediate access to all our employees,” Dodson says. The BYOD model was exactly what Texas Roadhouse needed to connect field teams around the country with the company’s processes, and they chose Red e App, a newly devised smartphone application that facilitates employee communications within the restaurant industry.

Most restaurants don’t provide office space, desktop computer access, or company email addresses due to costs and turnover, which can affect how involved and engaged employees feel at a restaurant, says Jonathan Erwin, CEO of Red e App. “The lack of access leaves employees feeling disconnected,” he says. “By providing everyone access to information, employees are more engaged and able to provide better customer service.”

For Texas Roadhouse employees, using smartphones to communicate just makes sense: “A majority of our hourly employees are Millennials,” notes Dodson, “and their smartphone is never more than three feet from them.”

“Restaurant businesses have many cross-functional systems to keep the organization humming,” Dodson continues. “While many [communication] systems cater only to employees who have corporate email addresses, BYOD allows us to extend the reach and create efficiencies throughout our whole system—from HR, to store support, to marketing, training, crisis management, and so on.”

David Burke Restaurants in New York also uses BYOD as a way to communicate with its staff.

“I decided to implement BYOD because I have seven restaurants and I want all employees to be aware of what is going on in each restaurant,” chef/owner David Burke says. “It helps all the restaurants stay connected with each other. Every night we send out nightly specials to each location. We then like to post our specials and food photos to social media sites. This helps us reach out to a larger audience.”

Similarly, Elizabeth Wisebrauner, general manager at Capische restaurant in Maui, Hawaii, says she also uses her smartphone to engage the restaurant on social media and to communicate with staff regarding operations. Because of the smaller staff at Capische, they simply rely on traditional texting.

“[The] nice thing about being a small house, I try to be as family-esque as possible,” says Wisebrauner. “Text messages allow for it to be an open forum. I feel that [employees] get more excited and empowered about the night if they are involved in the grand plan. I still always have the final decision, yet they feel very much in control.”

Wisebrauner sends reminders about meetings, wine training, and events via mass text. She also texts pictures of the set schedule to ensure the staff stays up to date on vacations and plans. Even though texts are often sent before the workday begins, Wisebrauner feels it is an unobtrusive means of communicating that builds camaraderie.

“Restaurants are a collaborative, team-effort business, and I feel like contacting employees yet not truly bothering them benefits in the long run,” she explains. For instance, she thinks texting employees makes them more apt to take initiative and ownership over the decision-making process.

But there have been some challenges with texting. Some employees cannot receive group texts or unlimited texts, and these people require special attention. Wisebrauner also notes that, because of the casual nature of texts, the BYOD model can be taken advantage of in the form of employees who text in sick at the last minute.

Inevitably texts foster more casual communications and “can cause unnecessary interaction that [requires] an investment of time, patience, and awareness as to when someone is crossing the line,” she adds.

For Texas Roadhouse, Dodson says the costs are minimal compared to the value BYOD brings, although there have been challenges associated with implementation. Texas Roadhouse is working on automating its ability to leverage BYOD, so it doesn’t “tax resources while trying to create efficiencies,” he adds. “We are bullish on BYOD in general—it will be a game changer for organizations like ours that have large, geographically disparate teams with thousands of employees.”

Feature, Labor & Employees, Technology