It’s the dawn of a digital age in local restaurants, but staff and diners are still adapting

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It’s the dawn of a digital age in local restaurants, but staff and diners are still adapting – [225]






















The phone does stop ringing.

As takeout orders increased and staff numbers dwindled during the pandemic, local JED Poboys co-owner Sally Davis said handling phone calls had become a huge hurdle.

Even now, business at JED is roughly 50% take-out, 50% on-site dining, compared to 20% take-out before the pandemic.

“It was a really dramatic change,” says Davis. “We’ve welcomed this influx of business, but it’s so difficult to simultaneously try to take care of your restaurant guests when callers are struggling to get through. “

This is what prompted JED to implement online ordering three months ago via Toast.

Thanks to the Toast app and site, diners can now order take out food at many local restaurants, including The Chimes, Elsie’s Plate & Pie, and Hannah Q Smokehouse. Toast and similar services integrate seamlessly with Google and Google Maps. Thus, when a customer searches for a restaurant, he will be prompted to “Order online”.

QR-coded menus for restaurant patrons have also been a game-changer for restaurants. UMAMI Japanese Bistro has done away with paper menus entirely, now relying only on contactless menus that restaurant patrons can scan with their phones.

“The digital menus make it easy to update the menu and replace our specialty fish, which we exchange every two weeks,” explains Izzy Grisoli, director of UMAMI.

If an item is sold out, the team can also quickly remove it from the menu. Grisoli says he has improved communication between the kitchen, waiters and customers all around.

It is also designed for a smooth transition for the new restaurant owner. Tien Lee, Jimmy Nguyen and Mike Tran took over the restaurant in February, bringing the experience of their other brand, Geisha, Sushi with a Flair. They added a few new specialty dishes alongside the signature UMAMI fare.

Online reservations are also changing the dining experience, becoming more common as restaurants and diners crave structure.

Eliza, JED’s sister restaurant, uses the OpenTable app and website to organize and schedule her reservations.

“For years we haven’t taken reservations, but since the pandemic it’s clear that people need a firm plan for dining out. Mingling at the bar isn’t always appealing anymore, ”says Davis. “Now we are really using this tool in ways we never expected. You can manage the flow of your night by setting the rate of reservations. And diners can add notes on dietary restrictions or the occasions they are celebrating. We are able to serve them better.

But results may vary by restaurant. With the exception of special events, Bin 77 Bistro & Sidebar is moving away from reservations. It favors the first come, first served system.

“It’s more sustainable not to reserve tables at, say, 7:00 p.m., because even though I have a table open at 6:00 p.m., I can’t sit nobody there for an entire hour,” says Mitch Rodgers, manager. general of Bin 77 and director of wines.

Due to Bin 77’s location in Perkins Rowe, customers have plenty to do while they wait for a table. Diners can stroll through the mall, order a drink from the Sidebar, or even listen to live music on some nights.

“Perkins Rowe is a draw for us, but I understand why not allowing reservations might not work for everyone,” Rodgers said.

Using Resy worked well for Bin 77’s sister restaurant, Solera. Having reservations helps forecast kitchen ingredient and staffing needs, says Rodgers, especially when the pandemic has resulted in labor and supply shortages.

At the very least, digital upgrades are helping already stretched restaurant staff manage their workloads.

“Most restaurateurs would agree that the personnel problem is still relevant. You see it everywhere, even as a consumer, there just aren’t that many people to help you, ”says Davis. “And those workers who resisted you carry an extra load, sometimes doing the work of two people. We not only want to make life easier for customers, but also help our staff.

While the National Restaurant Association predicted in 2020 that the pandemic would increase self-service ordering kiosks and automated systems, the local market appears to prefer using technology in a different and more personal way.

“I think consumer behaviors were changing before the pandemic, and maybe the hospitality industry was a bit behind. Now the pandemic has kind of accelerated that, ”Davis says. “More and more restaurateurs will embrace technology for its efficiency, but I think people will always seek individual hospitality… What we want to be is a sweet place for people to land after a long day. This personal element? I think it still stays.

An app for that

Number of restaurants in Baton Rouge that currently use OpenTable or Resy to reserve meals on site.

Number of restaurants in Baton Rouge now using the Toast app and website for online takeout orders. While this volume doesn’t yet compare to Waitr’s 300+ local restaurants, it’s one of the many take-out apps that are gaining traction here. And unlike competitors like Uber Eats, Toast charges restaurants a monthly fee rather than taking a percentage of sales.

Number of restaurateurs nationwide who say recruiting and retaining employees was still their biggest challenge in the summer of 2021.


This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of 225 magazine.



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