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As chef and owner of COPA, the nation’s first farm-to-table living wage-certified Cuban restaurant, Roberto Copa Matos knows the importance of cultivating quality in all areas of business.

Elizabeth Matos and Roberto Capo Matos, co-owners of COPA
Elizabeth Turnbull and Roberto Copa Matos, co-owners of COPA.

The strategy of sustainable agriculture that the former biochemist practices at the full-service Durham, North Carolina, restaurant he owns with his wife, Elizabeth Turnbull, trickles down to the way the couple manages all aspects of the restaurant from staff to menu to technology: Reduce waste of both product and time, and provide guests with the highest quality experience possible.

Some of this was learned out of necessity. Nearly a decade ago, when management backed out a week before the couple was set to open their first food industry venture, Old Havana Sandwich Shop, Copa Matos and Turnbull were left holding the keys. Motivated to execute the dream of bringing quality street food from Copa Matos’ native Cuba to the city—even with no restaurant experience—they rolled up their sleeves. Hungry customers starting lining up, and regional food awards followed.

“By about year three, we had gained a faithful customer base and we realized that we loved it,” Turnbull recalls. “From there, we just started to think about if we were going to do this full-time longterm, what was it that we really felt called to do in this industry? We had land and we had always wanted to farm it.”

But first they had to scale. So after seven years, Old Havana Sandwich Shop closed its doors to make way for COPA, a concept featuring farm-to-table Cuban sandwiches and traditional plates by day, and old Cuba cocktails and tapas by night, the latter inspired by a circa-1864 cookbook of Cuban dishes that Copa Matos and Turnbull came across while running Old Havana. The new project would allow for personal and professional growth and fulfillment, but also the daunting task of managing a larger, more complex operation with more staff, and more inventory.

How Technology Helped a Sandwich Shop Grow to a Full-Service Restaurant

Aside from expanding responsibilities with a farm and sustainable practices to support a larger menu of both lunch and dinner, plus cocktails, Copa Matos and Turnbull also had to tackle the new ownership and management duties that came with opening a full-service restaurant that doubled seating and added a full bar.

To keep up with new demands, upgrading their restaurant management platform was a top priority. They chose Upserve, a cloud-based restaurant management platform that boasts point-of-sale, inventory, online ordering, loyalty programs, a mobile app, and payment processing.

“We had worked with a couple different options at our previous location, but we knew that this concept was bigger, it was more complicated, we had more moving parts, and we needed something that could really address each of those needs,” Turnbull says. “Roberto, in his previous life, was a biochemist. So what he does best of all is research and gather information and sort through that. When he did, he just really felt like Upserve products would be able to meet all of our needs at a price point that we would be able to afford.”

The investment was a no-brainer.

“Starting a restaurant is hard enough,” she says, “so anything you can have that makes your life easier, I think is worthwhile.”

The Importance of Actionable, High-Quality Data

Upserve’s ability to provide useful restaurant data was a key selling point, Copa Matos says. “There is an expression in Cuba that says: ‘El ojo del amo engorda el caballo,’ or ‘The eye of the master fattens the horse.’ We keep that in mind, especially at the beginning of opening the restaurant, because we need to look at many different things happening, analyzing many pieces of data, and we’re using Upserve for that,” he says, noting that he is able to track server and menu item performance to analyze trends and popular dishes among both newcomers and regulars, and identify specific areas for staff and menu improvement.

Turnbull says she appreciates that Upserve highlights trends based just on the few months they have been open.

“Upserve’s reporting lets us make the most out of the little bit of data that we do have at this stage,” she says. “Data is key and it’s allowing us to prepare the best we can as a new restaurant.”

That data is delivered daily about the previous day’s sales, so COPA can always operate at its best.

“We’re getting consistent drips of data. We don’t have to sit down and go through a massive amount of sales reports and really try to understand it. We can keep a pulse on the business every single day,” Turnbull says, helping know and prepare for cash flow, payroll and ordering.

Why Comprehensive Inventory Management Matters

“Liquor,” Turnbull sighs. “Those bottles spring a leak if you don’t watch them.”

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Design Your Menu

Tasked with managing a bar for the first time, she wanted to make sure she had a handle on inventory and waste from the very start. She found Upserve Inventory, with its ability to communicate throughout the technology platform and ease of use, was the perfect fit.

Plus, the tool has proven its success in the market. Upserve Inventory customers see about 15 percent food waste, which is half the national average. Customers who use the product meticulously see less than 10 percent food waste.

Upserve Inventory helps COPA with the following:

  • Reduce Manual Work. “Upserve Inventory saves us hours a week because it’s all done automatically,” Turnbull says. “Because those recipes sync to the point-of-sale, every time we sell a mojito, Upserve Inventory knows exactly how much rum and lime juice was supposed to leave the bar. Then when I go to do my reporting, it’s all tracked there for me. My manual work is really reduced to a minimum.”
  • Manage On the Go. By organizing the system based on physical areas, like the bar or the walk-in cooler, Copa Matos explains, “You walk by them and you count. It is very simple and very efficient. It should take no more than half an hour for each one of us to do the count every week.” Turnbull adds, “It makes it easy, and if it’s easy, that means we’re going to do it. If we do it, it means that it works.”
  • Maximize Cash Flow. Every new restaurant faces a cash flow problem. “With the reporting that we can get through Upserve, we’re really able to hone in on how much we have to order, which means that we don’t over order,” Turnbull says. “That has been really important for us as a bar because we’re able to build quite an interesting and diverse inventory of product because we aren’t tying up extra money in existing inventory.”
  • Minimize Waste. “By being able to have a system that allows you to count your inventory and keep track of your losses, everything adds up very quickly,” Copa Matos says, adding that instead of the $10 or $20 owners may think they’re losing each week, “You’re losing probably $100, $200 or $300 if you’re not being careful.” He continues, “I don’t know how they used to run businesses before.”
  • Increase Menu Profitability. Turnbull says she regularly utilizes Upserve Inventory’s recipe costing feature that allows the system to recommend a price based on cost per each ingredient and the desired profit margin. “There was an example where I thought, ‘Oh, this drink has only three ingredients. How much can it cost? But one of those ingredients was really expensive, and Upserve Inventory helped me see that we actually had to boost the price on that to meet our margins,” she says.
  • Easily Send Orders to Distributors. “With Upserve Inventory, we’re able to track everything that comes into the restaurant. We can have that sync with the sales and we really know what we’re moving, what’s waste, what’s loss,” says Turnbull, noting that as bar director, one of the features she uses most is the ability to generate orders to send directly to distributors on one concise document.
  • Use Only One Tool to Connect the Whole Restaurant. “There are a lot of tools in the industry that do each of the features that Upserve does, but being able to have everything integrated under one umbrella with one company, with everything speaking to each other and syncing, makes our lives infinitely easier,” Turnbull says. Copa Matos agrees, noting that before Upserve Inventory, the pair was operating with independent systems for inventory, point-of-sale, accounting, and merchant services. “We had all the different parts running, but they were not talking to each other,” he says. “It not only allows for innovation of all the different parts, but it allows for a lot of savings in time, which is one of the most important resources that we have.”

Maximize Staff Success

Growing a team is hard work. “You cannot do it by yourself,” Copa Matos says. “It’s a big challenge, I think, to pass that passion that you have as an individual to others.”

Turnbull and Copa Matos use the Upserve platform to easily train, motivate, and measure performance among their team.

  • Easy-to-Learn Software:“We have people from many different countries here, and they speak different languages. We needed something that is intuitive, that they understand in the back of the house and the front of the house,” Turnbull says. “Since it is done on tablets, these are tools that people are already using in their daily life. So it makes training really easy. If you’re a new restaurant, you’re constantly having turnover and you have to be able to train new team members quickly and easily.”
  • Simple Processes: Thanks to transparency about which items are about to be 86’d, notes about each dish, forced modifiers to ensure servers are asking the proper questions about preferences, and the ability to split a check any way, COPA is running better shifts with Upserve. “From the very beginning to the end, we’re able to help provide a smoother experience for our guests,” Turnbull says.
  • Promotion of Teamwork: “We all have to work together as a team. The bar is as much a part of the front of the house as it is a part of the kitchen. We all work together. The point-of-sale allows us to communicate with each other,” Turnbull says.
  • Reporting that Encourages High Performance: For Copa Matos and Turnbull, one of the best features of Upserve’s reporting is the ability to see which servers are performing the best and using that information in a way to encourage and improve others by modeling behavior and training based off best practices. COPA also uses the data to set goals: “If it’s a really busy night, and we’re all exhausted,” Turnbull says, “it helps everybody if we can say, ‘We set a new record for the number of guests we served!’ We can tell them right then in the moment, and they all leave tired but also encouraged.”

Why Upserve?

“We recommend Upserve because it is so powerful,” Turnbull says. “It has a large suite of services and tools available for restaurants.”

“The cost was significantly lower than competitive products,” Turnbull says.

Tablet-Based Equipment
“I really appreciate the fact that the equipment that Upserve uses is not necessarily proprietary equipment that they may no longer support in two years and force an upgrade. It’s all run on tablets that are commonly sourced, easily accessible, and if we break it and have to replace it, it’s easy to do,” Turnbull says. “If there was equipment that we didn’t want to source and we just wanted the ease of purchasing it through Upserve, we were able to do that. That flexibility was key for us as a new restaurant.”

24/7 U.S.-Based Customer Service
Customer service is based on trust, Copa Matos says.

“It is very easy to talk about the conveniences of technology and all the different software developments and applications that we have available nowadays,” he says. “The difficult part is developing trust in that particular company.”

Copa Matos and Turnbull have found that trust in Upserve.

“I would happily recommend Upserve because of the customer service. It does not matter which point-of-sale system you use, I guarantee you’re going to have issues and problems. Some of those will be user-driven, some of those will be program-driven, some of those will be equipment-driven. It is just going to happen,” Turnbull says. “To have reliable, friendly, knowledgeable customer service 24 hours a day is essential for any restaurant.”

The Bottom Line

For Turnbull, Copa Matos and the rest of the COPA team, technology’s greatest triumph is not just being able to make a new restaurant more profitable, but the ability to help foster connections in the community as neighbors gather to celebrate and converse each day.

“My favorite part is having the opportunity to contribute to our community with the awareness of growing food and raising animals, and sitting down at a table and having a conversation that will develop relationships that will make all of us stronger,” Copa Matos says.

Turnbull agrees. “It surprises me every single day that we unlock those doors and people choose to come in and dine with us,” she says. “I just find that remarkable. It’s a tremendous privilege.”

It’s also, she says, part of the responsibility that restaurateurs bear.

“Our job is to provide an experience for guests. We are to be a place for them to come and enjoy. Things go wrong. Things happen. We sell out of food. Somebody doesn’t come to work. But none of that is the guest’s burden,” she says. “Before you start a restaurant, it’s important to realize that your burden is to provide a special experience to the guest. Your responsibility is to get the tools that you need so that you can provide that experience to your guests while also keeping your sanity and taking care of yourself.”

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Holly Everett is a five-year restaurant industry veteran turned small business marketing specialist. After working at Seven Stars Bakery in Providence, Rhode Island throughout college, she entered the world of marketing where she led B2B marketing initiatives at companies focusing on growing small businesses.
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