We are making the mistake of letting the 'perfect be the enemy of the good.'

You might wonder why a company that has been focusing on QR ordering since 2017 suggests such a thing? We know that QR codes and phones are robotic, and they don’t make you smile. And a smile is what we all need these days, more than ever. Just like us at GoTab, service-oriented hospitality operators are aware of that—we’ve all read “Setting the Table.” From the Four Seasons to Union Square Café, we are all trying to provide great service. But I believe we are making the mistake of letting the “perfect be the enemy of the good.” 

Experiential and Transactional Interactions

I believe hospitality entails two types of guest interactions: Experiential and Transactional. Experiential interactions are your food, drink, ambiance, and the fun parts of service such as smiles, presentations, recommendations. The not-so-fun parts of your service are the Transactional experiences. Historically, we have tried to make the Transactional interactions seem Experiential and therefore fun, but they just aren’t. 

The best example of a Transactional Interaction is paying the bill. We can put it in a nice leather folio and put a handwritten note on it. But in the end, as a diner, I’d rather just not think about it. It’s not fun. It’s like paying my electric bill—can’t you just automatically withdraw it? Oh wait, we do that now for our electric bills, our taxes, and most every other sort of mundane transactional interaction we have every day. So why is the restaurant industry still so reluctant to embrace technology and let systems handle transactional operations?

If you go back in history to pre-OpenTable days, restaurants thought that guests wouldn’t like to book their reservations through a computer because the personal touch of making a reservation by phone was better—safe to say that was completely wrong. Guests like convenience, and busy signals aren’t convenient. Nor is talking to somebody over the phone really all that pleasurable for that matter.

Great Servers are Essential … When You Can Find Them

Which brings us to the experiences that are both experiential and transactional. Let me first say that Barcelona Wine Bar CEO Adam Halsberg is right—servers are an essential, non-negotiable part of the hospitality experience. But as I often say, servers are essential when you can find them. That applies both for operators hiring servers (more on that later) and guests ordering or paying via a server. My company believes that a great first impression by a restaurant staffer will always create the best experience. But if it doesn’t happen, don’t destroy the good by pursuing the great. For instance, it’s great when a server knows the menu and has the time and dedication to bring it to life with a wonderful in-person presentation. But when that is not the case, it can quickly hinder the guest experience, sometimes (most times) to a point of no-return.

Servers Can’t Be Everywhere, Especially These Days

My wife owns Caboose Tavern in Virginia, and while she’d love to have the human touch always available, she’s found that servers can’t be everywhere at once, especially now. If guests are greeted properly and warmly when they arrive, there’s a high chance they will enjoy the rest of their on-site experience. Sometimes, guests just want another beer without having to interrupt their conversation or having to flag the waitstaff. Or better yet, they’re happy to pay via their mobile device and walk out and not have to wait for the check. Or best of all, not even bother with checks.

The restaurant industry has been reluctant to embrace technology under the assumption that technology takes away from the guest experience. And until recently, that has been a reasonably accurate assessment. Since our inception, we’ve worked on a solution to enhance restaurant operations with technology, and effectively prove that hospitality and technology can work hand-in-hand to deliver a superlative guest experience.

As demand for dine-in experiences continues to ramp up, we created a cloud-based solution that’s the only system on the market that allows guests to seamlessly move back and forth between servers and self-ordering. No other system allows you to just walk out without paying because it knows you. When the wait staff is bogged down by transactional tasks, or just spending longer than expected chatting with a regular, then some other guest is suffering. Further, manual transactional tasks increase the room for error and, therefore, customer frustration. By automating the easy, transactional tasks with technology, servers can focus on the most important aspect: making sure customers leave restaurants happy and wanting to return. When technology is seamlessly integrated into the service experience, the premise that technology takes away from the guest experience is no longer valid.

Let’s also address the fact that the current labor management model in the service industry isn’t sustainable. We need to look to outside industries for inspiration—consider manufacturing as an example. The U.S. manufacturing industry increases its output year over year but without the corresponding increase in headcount. You might wonder how that’s possible—well, they’ve adopted technology.

Today, the vast majority of manufacturing jobs are highly skilled positions—they’re the people who fix the machines that make the products. Restaurants have to adopt elements of this mentality to stay ahead. This doesn’t mean that jobs should be eliminated, it just means that restaurant jobs will get better with technology. We’ve seen this happen at many of the restaurants that operate with our platform—for instance, at Maketto in D.C., FOH staff transformed into a team of multi-faceted, customer service experts, and have been given the opportunity to learn more and grow in their position. The team was fully (re-)trained on all components of the Maketto experience, from barista duties to bartender skills to customer service. This means that anyone on the floor can fulfill coffee orders, serve dishes to guests, make cocktails at the bar and check in on guests throughout their time at the restaurant.

When we launched in 2016, we were focused on solving the same problems we’re focused on today. We want to help hospitality businesses grow more efficiently, which ultimately allows operators to scale. We’re not here to sell our QR code ordering solution—we truly aim to shift the paradigm in hospitality from a business model that is traditionally low-margin, low-profits, to one that is both profitable and attractive to innovators who spur on that change. The recent global pandemic accelerated the need for restaurants to think of technology as a strategic advantage and a way to remain successful, even during the most challenging times we’ve all experienced.

Operators can eliminate the most common guest pain points deploying the platform. They can operate with limited staff who are fully dedicated to delivering a superlative guest experience. They can scale their business, pay higher wages to their staff, and provide a more financially stable work environment to their team. They can mix old and new service models to meet guests where they want to be—offering QR code ordering to tech-savvy guests and a more traditional ordering experience via a server for those who opt for a device-free experience.

And anybody in hospitality knows that providing great service is a fulfilling experience for the provider, especially when it is appreciated by the guest. Unfortunately, these days, we tend to focus on the occasions when things fall apart, rather than when they succeed. My company fully believes that operators succeed when they let their staff do what they do best: offer an unmatched service experience. Then, let systems handle the rest.

Since 2016, Tim McLaughlin has served as co-founder and CEO of GoTab, Inc., a leading contactless ordering and payment platform serving more than 500 large & mid-sized full-service food & beverage establishments in almost 30 states and growing. An experienced executive and board member, McLaughlin led Siteworx, Inc., a mid-sized digital experience agency with clients including PayPal, Goldman Sachs, VeriSign, Bain & Co., and Thermo Fisher Scientific, to a successful PE exit in 2013. Subsequent to Siteworx, Tim co-founded and operated Caboose Brewing Co., an upscale brewery and farm-to-table concept based in Fairfax, Virginia. Many of GoTab’s most important features were incubated at Caboose.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology