With how fast COVID-19 continues to reshape the restaurant world, it’s not surprising to see technology emerge as a key survival tool.
Josh Thurmer, the IT director for Cousins Subs, a 100-unit chain out of Wisconsin, took some time to chat with QSR about what life has been like from the trenches. And where digital comes into the fold.
Walk us through those early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the early days of the pandemic, we served as news hounds to learn as much as we could about its effect on our business and communities. Then, we developed plans to mitigate the effects on our workplaces, from our corporate office to our restaurants throughout the Midwest, and abide by the rules and regulations set on food consumption. A lot changed in the first few days, and is still changing now. Throughout it all, we've maintained a level of fluidity and good communication with our internal and external stakeholders to make necessary changes to our business quickly and smoothly.
Where did technology come into the picture, especially as dining rooms began to shut down?
Technology has always been at the forefront of our business, and during this pandemic it's more important than ever. We've implemented platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, to stay connected and host video meetings, to replace in-person meetings, with our teams to keep everyone up to date and the business moving forward. We also introduced curbside pickup in less than two days. This enables guests to place their order for pickup at their local store online at www.cousinssubs.com, through the Cousins Subs mobile app or by calling the store directly.
What was the one thing you had to do, technology wise, right out of the gate?
Introduce curbside pickup. It was also important to ensure all Cousins Subs locations have a constant connection to our cloud technologies. In past Cousins Subs could still operate stores during intermittent ISP issues. However, as online ordering has become our main source of revenue, our cloud connection is more important than ever.
Talk about the communications part of it. How have you kept consumers up-to-date through Cousins Subs technology?
Clear and concise communication to our guests is paramount during this time. We’re utilizing every digital platform we have to ensure guests know how we are responding to this pandemic. With temporary restrictions in-place for restaurants, we needed to pivot to services like Curbside Pickup and EZ Pickup and communicate these new offerings to our guests through social media, our website, email blasts and in-app messaging. As this remains a fluid situation, we continue to be proactive in our communication and provide updates to our guests very frequently.
What does the split between delivery and takeout look like from a technology perspective?
Delivery and takeout look very similar from a technology perspective. With really smart integrations, we have been able to easily split order types and have them automatically flow to the correct destination, whether it be delivery, rails or carry out. Each order type flows seamlessly into our POS and our kitchen tickets are clearly labeled by destination to ease operations.
What are some things you've done to make carryout a more seamless process via technology?
The way our system was setup, prior to the pandemic, really optimized our operational flow. So, when it comes to carry out, there was very little we had to adjust to handle the increased use of our carryout offering.
With some locations using third-party delivery and one utilizing first-party, how did technology need to be adjusted as a result of COVID-19? Was there a mass movement in one direction?
From the get-go, we had a very well-optimized integration for first- and third-party delivery. It was important that we planned ahead. When testing and designing our online ordering system, we ensured it could handle the worst-case scenario. For this reason, we were confident our systems could handle the influx of delivery orders we received during the pandemic.
Generally speaking, what do you think the restaurant industry is going to look like after this from a technology perspective? Will COVID-19 accelerate changes we were already seeing?
So far, this pandemic has taught us that our technology can be rolled out really quickly and seamlessly when we devise a well-balanced, driven task force that can work efficiently by playing to their strengths. Coming out of the pandemic, I believe we'll develop prototype ideas and bring them to our restaurants quicker than ever before. The restaurant industry will bounce back and what we are learning from this situations will help us bounce back stronger than we have ever been before.