Kenn Pluard

As a restaurateur, it pains me to see other restaurants so resistant to change. I go to a lot of restaurants that are just so behind the times in terms of technology. Even the vendors I buy from in the restaurant industry, like my meat vendors, they’re still writing receipts by hand. It blows my mind. All these old school restaurants need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Millennials want a good experience. They want efficiency and they want to order online. You have to adapt to them. Restaurants can’t be scared to use technology because it’s something that can only benefit them by saving time and eliminating errors.

I have a unique perspective on this issue. I initially got into the restaurant industry as an investor. I own a computer wholesale and importing business, but years back, I partnered with someone who had sushi restaurant franchising experience. Over time, things fell apart between our partnership and things weren’t getting done the way that I wanted–from the food quality to the point of sale software–so I bought out my partner and took over the restaurant.

Kenjis Ramen
Kenji’s Ramen & Grill

Suddenly, I was running Kenji’s Ramen & Grill in Vancouver, Washington. It was a huge learning curve because I had never run a restaurant before. But I wanted to see what it was like. I told myself, “No matter what happens, I’m going to learn everything there is to know about running a restaurant.” And I’m glad I did.

Between filling a void in the market for ramen and Korean cuisine, and my understanding of the importance of technology in restaurants, we’ve found great success. By implementing online ordering alone, we saw a 10-percent increase in sales. And that was just one of the changes.

Once I took over, we improved a lot of things. We changed the software, the POS, the food quality, the menu and the staff. I love Korean food and Japanese ramen, so we started there. My wife added tremendous value with recipes and sauces and food quality.

But, of course, there were challenges. There’s so much more labor involved. You have to control the labor costs while maintaining consistency with food and marketing, which are things I’m not normally doing in my other business–a business that is a lot more profitable with a lot less work. It’s quite challenging, but I’m glad we did it this way because I’ve learned a lot and we’ve turned things around.

Kenjis Ramen and Grill
Kenji’s Ramen & Grill

Technology has been a game-changer. We’re reaching so many customers by offering online ordering through our POS provider, Upserve, plus delivery through Uber Eats. Delivery can be tough because of the high commission, or royalty, rate that they take, but that’s the only way people can get deliveries, and it’s still profitable. It’s so effective that sometimes when it’s busy in our dining room, we actually have to turn off delivery so we can service our in-house guests.

But regardless of delivery, you have to have online ordering if you want to be relevant in today’s day and age. Millennials are especially tech-focused, and if you don’t adapt to today’s new generation, you’re going to fall behind. You have to have online ordering. It’s critical.

The fact that we have a real-time website that goes into our POS is awesome. We’re getting even more orders than we ever did, and it’s more efficient. Servers get a notification, accept the order, and it goes right through the POS to the kitchen in real time.

Taking an order over the phone is very annoying. First of all, it’s kind of loud in our restaurant, so sometimes it’s hard to hear. Then you have to verify everything the guest has ordered, and then you have to punch it in. It takes a good five to 10 minutes of an employee’s time for one order, and that’s time they could be spending serving our in-house guests. It’s a nuisance to take orders over the phone when the guest can just do it themselves on a mobile device or a website. That way, there’s no chance of an error. Guests also prepay, so we don’t even have to swipe their card. It’s all done online.

Kenji's Ramen & Grill
Kenji’s Ramen & Grill

All these little things add up. Running a restaurant is labor; it’s time. We can service our existing guests better when our servers aren’t on the phone trying to take an order. It’s hugely beneficial. The fact that it ties real-time into our existing POS, so we don’t have to reenter anything, is even better. With Uber Eats, when an order is placed, we have to transfer it from the tablet they provide to our POS. Our in-house online ordering process eliminates that risk of human error. Whether it’s a restaurant or a little retail store, every business should have this feature.

We started seeing results immediately, even with minimal marketing. We promoted online ordering capabilities through Facebook and Instagram, and by adding a button to our website. Customers have been very happy with it. The orders are sitting on the counter ready to go when they arrive. And we have a lot of regulars who order online, and also come into our restaurant frequently.

There’s also a lot of potential for additional revenue sources, too. With online ordering, we sell T-shirts, hats, cool little Asian dishes that have our logo, bowls. We didn’t have to go out and try to develop an online store on our own, it was just all built in.

Kenji's Ramen & Grill
Kenji’s Ramen & Grill

That’s why smaller, older restaurants need to get with the program if they want to grow their business. Maybe they’re just happy the way they are, but they’re never going to grow or become more efficient if they continue to do things the old way. Our software is catered to have multiple locations, and the reporting is amazing. We can always see real-time stats of labor and sales. These businesses just need to be aware of the potential of what they can become by using technology.

Labor costs are going up, especially in Washington state. It’s going to continue going up. And technology can make processes more efficient to make up the difference. Eventually, restaurant owners are either going to raise their food prices or cut down on labor. If they can be more efficient with labor by using technology, it will pay for itself. I just wish all these restaurants could see what I see.

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Kenn is owner of Kenji's Ramen & Grill in Vancouver, Washington.