Enhancing the customer experience by incorporating technology

Utilizing digital age technology

By Sheila Paz

In these digital times, keeping up with the Joneses in terms of technology can be challenging but it can make a world of difference when it comes to enhancing the customers’ experience. Ian Mason, general manager of Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana on Hilton Head Island, explains how staying current with technology enhances customer experience. 

More than a reservation

The biggest piece of technology that Michael Anthony utilizes is the online restaurant reservation application OpenTable. They have become what Mason calls “power users” of OpenTable because of how much time and energy they have spent learning its ins and outs. Through OpenTable guests are able not only to make reservations but also to note where they want to sit, who they would like as their server and make notes of allergies, special occasions or special requests. 

OpenTable has been able to assist them in creating a more personalized experience, since the service will retain each guest’s information as well as let the restaurant keep notes on each guest who dines. Mason gave the example that if a guest notes that it is the guest’s anniversary, Mason can mark that down on the guest’s reservation page for future reference. “Imagine you come and celebrate your anniversary with me one year, and the next year you made the reservation, but you didn’t say anything. And then you walk into my restaurant and your table is set with a happy anniversary tent card. A couple glasses of Prosecco have already been poured, and the server comes over and wishes you a happy anniversary.” It is details like this within the reservation application that elevate the dining experience and allow Michael Anthony’s to capitalize on future visits. 

OpenTable allows guests at Michael Anthony’s to make reservations, choose their seat, choose their server and make notes for allergies or special requests.

Change of guard

A big change that Michael Anthony’s made recently was the decision to update its Point of Sales (POS) system from Aloha to Toast. This change has enhanced not only the customer experience but the employee experience as well. 

By updating to Toast, handheld devices were introduced. At first Michael Anthony’s was uneasy because they did not want to diminish the fine-dining experience, but it has proven to improve the service experience. Servers now can send orders to the bar and kitchen instantaneously without having to leave their section to input the order at a terminal, allowing servers to spend more time with the guests. For guests who prefer that their servers not use handhelds, Michael Anthony’s can go back to OpenTable and note this. “We put it in their notes, and as far as they know, we don’t have handhelds anymore. They just don’t see it, and we’re able to provide that service because of the technology that they specifically don’t like.”

As for the employee experience, Toast has Kitchen Display Systems (KDS) that can be placed in the kitchen to eliminate the use of ticket printers. The KDS displays table orders on large screens versus printing out a ticket order that has to be pulled off the printer and placed where the chef and cooks can see it. For Michael Anthony’s this update allows their chefs and cooks to keep their hands busy cooking without having to stop what they are doing to grab the ticket.

Advice to others

1. Embrace industry-specific software

By implementing industry-specific software, companies can benefit from tools and features designed with their specific operational needs in mind. This not only streamlines workflow and enhances productivity but also reduces the time and resources spent on workarounds and customizations.

2. Truly vet the company

Make sure you do your research on these service companies, and make sure you have enough time to evaluate the company with the ability to get out of any situation that may arise. Not all of the service providers have employees that have experience in your area of business. Do your research to make sure the service provider can fully cater to your business. 

3. Umbrella companies

The service companies are all trying to merge the needs of restaurants under one application where things such as reservations, POS, scheduling and payroll are all under one program. When deciding on a program, pick out the program that you think has the best chance of accomplishing that in the coming years. “If you end up five years down the road and you strapped your cart to the wrong horse, changing POS systems is like open heart surgery for a restaurant.”

Ian Mason, general manager of Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana

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