You don’t need to be in the restaurant to run it successfully. By Jenneth Orantia
Jason Tait, owner and manager of the Sydney restaurant Sailors Thai, recently had to make some changes to the winter menu. It didn’t take long—roughly 15 minutes to update the dishes, make a few price changes, and re-do the tasting menu—but he did it all from 12,000 kilometres away while he was on holiday in the United States with his family.
“The chef hadn’t quite finalised all the details before I left Sydney, so I told him I’d do all of the back-end work while I was away. Once I made the changes on my MacBook in Revel, our point-of-sale system, everything was updated automatically, including the iPads that our wait staff use to take orders,” he says.
Sailors Thai is one of more than 40 per cent of Australian organisations with staff that work from home at least one day a week. In the third edition of Digital Nation, leading consumer and enterprise ICT research firm Telsyte found that the combination of smart devices, cloud services and faster networks has led to a rise in remote working in Australia.
Teleworking offers many advantages for small- and medium-sized businesses. According to the latest research by Australia’s largest accounting software provider MYOB, which used survey results from more than 1000 SMEs, the top-five benefits of remote working were found to be happier employees, reduced travel costs, increased productivity, the ability to hire employees in any location, and reduced IT costs.
Sailors Thai is an iconic restaurant that’s been around for nearly 20 years, and it prides itself on offering authentic, traditional Thai dishes. But there’s nothing old fashioned about its use of technology. Waiters bustle around with iPad minis to take orders, which wirelessly transmit data to the kitchen in real-time; the cash register consists of an iPad sitting on top of a cash drawer; and even the staff room has a dedicated iPad that employees use for punching in and off out of their shifts.
Tait has also shifted the restaurant’s entire IT system to the cloud, enabling him to keep a close eye on things without needing to be physically present. “Restaurants are small businesses, and shouldn’t have to try and maintain a server in the back office. Systems that use a cloud back-end, like Revel, are the best solutions for most restaurants,” he says.
In addition to Revel, Tait uses Deputy for staff rostering, Xero for accounting and payroll, Dropbox for storing legal and admin templates, menus and forms, and Asana for task allocation and communication with the management team.
“I can see everything that’s happening as it’s happening—from home or from the other side of the world. If sales are a bit slow, I can call the restaurant and tell them that they can close early. Or I can see that we’re over-booked, and I’ll tell them to add extra staff for the night. Labour is expensive, and with our set-up, we manage to do things with less people and less paper. As a restaurant, we’re making decisions in real-time, not the next day or the day after.”
Like Sailors Thai, Opera Kitchen—a busy restaurant on the lower concourse of the Sydney Opera House—takes advantage of a handful of technologies to keep the business running efficiently. The restaurant’s rostering and attendance is managed by Deputy, a workforce management application that makes it easy to communicate with and keep track of staff members.
“We used to have a roster penned up that everyone would look at. Now, staff get their roster sent to them via email. We also use the Deputy iPad kiosk app for signing in and out of shifts,” says Pete Boyce, business operations analyst at Opera Kitchen.
“Deputy makes it easier for supervisors to cover staff if someone calls in sick. They can see who’s available quickly, and in conjunction with other venues, we can send staff elsewhere if required. Using Deputy, I can quickly see who’s working where and when. It also lets me communicate with staff directly if I need to.”
Not all of the features in Deputy have been implemented at Opera Kitchen, however. Boyce doesn’t allow employees to use the Deputy iPhone app, which has a feature that lets staff clock on and off based on their geographic location.
“Because we’re at the Opera House, which is such a big site, someone could actually log in and not be at work at all,” he explains. Instead, employees are required to sign in and out using an iPad.
Boyce works from home once a week on his laptop. Occasionally, he uses the LogMeIn desktop software to ‘dial in’ to his computer at work, enabling him to access all of the files and internal systems remotely. He also uses his smartphone to reply to emails.
Boyce says teleworking technologies can streamline certain processes, especially when managing staff across more than one venue. “The rostering in Deputy lets us run four venues on one system—a huge benefit to our venue managers for accessing staff they need.”
Tait has this advice to offer: “The restaurant business isn’t for the faint-hearted. If a tool can give you any sort of advantage, then you should use it. Modern cloud-based apps and services can provide enterprise-level features at a small business price, and the always-on, available-from-anywhere nature of these systems suits the environment that the modern restaurant is operating in.”