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Tech Solutions Helped Cleveland Restaurants Survive the Pandemic. Now They’re Driving Additional Benefits for Owners and Diners

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Tech Solutions Helped Cleveland Restaurants Survive the Pandemic. Now They're Driving Additional Benefits for Owners and Diners

Corner Spot depended on tech and apps to open last year - PHOTO BY DOUG TRATTNER

  • Photo by Doug Trattner
  • Corner Spot depended on tech and apps to open last year

Restaurant owners have been notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, preferring instead to cling to time-tested practices like hand-written guest checks, mechanical cash registers and analog reservation books long after better options were available. But that all changed on March 15, 2020, the day that Ohio bars and restaurants were ordered by the Department of Health to shut down their dining rooms. To cling to any hopes of survival, restaurant operators were compelled to put all their eggs into the take-out and delivery basket. While many continued to man the old landlines, others scrambled to establish online ordering, digital payment processes and expanded delivery. Before long, Cleveland diners were experiencing their first ghost kitchens, attending pop-ups they learned about from Instagram and pre-paying for meals using Venmo.

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it is this burst of technological advancements that diners have been demanding and desiring for years. According to the National Restaurant Association, a full one out of two diners want restaurants to adopt more, not less, technology, mainly in the order and payment process.




“I will emphatically say that this is here to stay,” says Drew Winick, senior district sales manager with digital point-of-sale (POS) system provider Toast. “As bad as things have been, it’s moved the restaurant industry at least five years forward for something that was coming. A lot of this technology is only going to improve and advance, but it is certainly not going anywhere.”


Online Ordering for Pick-Up and Delivery

It’s difficult even to recall a time when everything wasn’t a few taps of a smartphone away, but pre-2020, online ordering, payment and delivery still was extremely rare in the independent restaurant space. UberEats had an inauspicious local launch in 2016, DoorDash didn’t land here until 2018, and GrubHub routinely earned censure for adding non-partner restaurants to its roster.


In July of 2020, just months after the Governor shut down indoor dining, Doug Katz launched Chimi in Cleveland Heights, one of the first ghost kitchens in the area. The then-foreign concept relied exclusively on online ordering, curbside pick-up and delivery. The novel, seamless and satisfying technology allowed diners to view the current menu, order a complete meal, pay for it via the web and pick it up at a designated time with almost zero face-to-face interaction. The format proved so successful that Katz introduced a second ghost kitchen concept, Amba, just four months later.


Ben Bebenroth took the ghost kitchen concept even further when he launched Keep the Change, a “virtual food hall” with multiple concepts under one roof. The robust technology behind the curtain makes it possible for customers to choose from four different “restaurants” when placing an order for pick-up or delivery. Because no money was invested in brand-specific menus, furniture, interior design or tableware, Bebenroth could easily mothball an underperforming concept and replace it with something else. The real-time tech also makes it possible to test out new concepts – like Boom’s Pizza – on a trial-run basis.


For restaurant operators who want to leave all those complex technological details (and startup expenses) to someone else, there are options like CloudKitchens. When the Cleveland facility opens soon in MidTown, it will have 29 rentable kitchens available to local, regional and national food brands. Leases come not just with gas hook-ups, sinks and a hood, but also proprietary restaurant management technology that streamlines everything from order taking and kitchen fulfillment to partnering with third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash.


“It’s a much smaller investment and that’s what’s attractive about the whole thing,” explains Bac Nguyen, who dropped a mini–Ninja City into the Columbus CloudKitchens. “You can get up and running in a matter of months with far less money than you would if you were trying to open your own ghost kitchen.”


Pop-Ups and Takeovers

Without apps like Instagram and Venmo, Jordan Lakin would still be saving his pennies in hopes of launching a Detroit-style pizza shop. But when the whole world decided to stay home, Lakin saw a window of opportunity open as wide as the Montana sky. Without so much as a storefront, website or marketing budget, he launched Corner Spot, a pick-up-only pizza concept that went viral.


“There’s no doubt that the ability to generate the interest and the energy – and also to let people see your product – has been helped greatly by social media,” he explains. “Up until now, I haven’t even had to pay for a website. Being able to operate in such a lean way has been helpful.”


Lakin quietly launched Corner Spot in the summer of 2020, when he sent an email to a small group of friends advertising his pizza. As his social media following grew, so too did the orders, which were prepaid through Venmo and picked up within a short two-hour window on weekends.


“The best part of that is it’s a prepayment system, which allows me to run the business in a way that’s unique because people pay for their pizzas before they get them,” Lakin says. “That’s super helpful for cashflow.”


More importantly – at least back in the summer of 2020 – was the speed and efficiency of the pick-up process. Because the pies are all prepaid, there is no person-to-person interaction save for the church parking lot handoff.


Other pop-ups fueled by social media, online ordering and prepayment systems include Martha on the Fly, a quick-serve breakfast concept that takes over Good Company on weekends, MarMar’s Pizza, which utilized a sidelined restaurant kitchen in Beachwood, and Roaming Biscuit, the peripatetic breakfast biscuit outfit.


Bouncing Back While Scaling Back

For more than half a century, Bialy’s has been the place to go on the East Side of town for hot, fresh and steamy bagels. And while the price of a baker’s dozen of fragrant mish-mosh might have climbed from $1.50 to $16 over the years, the accepted method of payment had never wavered: cold hard cash or bust. Bialy lovers have relatively new owners Rachel and Sarah Gross to thank for moving the shop into the modern era when they replaced the mechanical cash register with a newfangled POS system that accepts alternate forms of payment.


But we have Covid to thank for ushering in the next big advancement. After shutting down production in March of 2020, the sisters elected to fire up the ovens one month later. But the kitchen is small and the retail storefront even smaller, so in an effort to minimize the risk of transmission, the business launched an online pre-order and payment system. Knowing what and how much to bake days in advance allowed the shop to scale back staff. Customers were not permitted inside the store, instead retrieving their orders out front at a designated time.


“It sounds really simple, but it was a lot more time-consuming,” Rachel Gross says of the progression. “When we first implemented Toast, we were just ringing out the total number of bagels that people bought, we weren’t ringing out that it was three mish-mosh or four plain or whatever. When we wanted the online ordering to be a thing, we couldn’t just have people order 12 bagels, we needed to know what 12 bagels they we’re ordering.”


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COURTESY CHOOLAAH

Even a company as contemporary and forward-thinking as Choolaah was caught ill-prepared for the Covid-inspired digital revolution. The fast-casual Indian BBQ concept launched in Orange Village six years ago but had been so obsessively focused on food quality and restaurant expansion that they failed to develop the sort of robust tech that customers would begin demanding in 2020.

“We did not have an app, we did not have delivery, and our online ordering was weak,” says CEO Randhir Sethi. “We fixed all of that in the first week because it was already in the works. Without that we wouldn’t have made it.”


The Return to Dining Rooms

As diners began returning to restaurant dining rooms, the focus shifted to cutting-edge health and safety protocols like surface sanitation, air filtration and germicidal UV lights. At the same time, printed menus were jettisoned in favor of QR codes that conjured digital versions on diners’ smartphones. These “touchless” menus provide benefits beyond just peace of mind for guests; they allow the restaurant owner to be more responsive to mounting problems like supply chain issues. Instead of having to print up new menus – or have servers apologize to diners – when a vendor runs out of chicken wings, a manager simply can remove them from the digital menu.


Andy Himmel cut his teeth in fine dining, so he’d be the first to admit to being slow to adopt new technology at his restaurants, especially if it hinders the guest experience. But the pandemic did accelerate the transition to a handheld POS system at his company’s three Paladar locations and four Bomba Taco shops. The devices carried by servers reduce the number of trips staffers need to make to service stations, bars and kitchens, thus making the whole process more efficient. A positive side effect, notes Himmel, is better paid servers.


“I do see real value in the handhelds,” he reports. “At the end of the day, it comes down to reducing steps, and there’s no question that when someone has a handheld, there is the ability to reduce steps that the person has to take. As we’re looking to find a model where we could have a few less servers that make more money, I think that’s better for retention long term.”


Himmel adds that while there is a minor learning curve for employees at the outset, the system cuts down on mistakes, mix-ups and omissions between servers and the bar and kitchen. What’s more, the ability of the servers to accept payment anywhere in the restaurant means never having to hand over your credit card.


“Like everything with Covid, the idea of taking and keeping a credit card and then bringing it back, with the guest not knowing where it’s been and who touched it, it almost seems old-fashioned overnight,” adds Himmel.


When diners walk into ETalian in Chagrin Falls, they can elect to stand in line at the register or head over to the self-ordering kiosk. The iPad-like device allows customers to view the menu, place orders, make modifications and pay with the tap of a credit card. That order gets immediately transmitted to the kitchen, ahead of customers still standing in line. When the order is ready, you’ll receive a text.


“It’s crazy how fast things have changed, but the client dictates what we do as restaurateurs,” says owner Eddie Tancredi. “Ten, 15 years ago, everybody wanted that sit-down, white-tablecloth experience. Now, people want something that’s still really good, but they want it quick and to not take up their whole night.”


The Future of Dining In

Walk into Butcher and the Brewer downtown on a game day and you might encounter a bar three-deep with thirsty guests. But thanks to GoTab, a mobile point-of-sale system, a customer can order a beer from anywhere in the building and receive a notification when it’s ready and waiting at the bar. For those seated at a table for a meal, the QR code-based system lets food runners know precisely where to bring the grub when it’s ready.


“This has vastly improved our ability to get food and drink to you in a quicker time so you can get out the door and head to your event in a timely manner, even when we are short staffed,” says partner Jason Workman.


Butcher and the Brewer is the first full-service restaurant in the region to employ the technology, which means there’s a slight learning curve for guests initially to summit. After starting a tab, customers must input their personal and payment information. The process is not unlike opening an account with a scooter-sharing service like Lime: after setting everything up the first time, subsequent uses are quick and painless.


“The biggest hurdles we are facing is changing behavior,” adds Workman. “This flips the service model upside-down; usually you deal with credit cards at the end of the meal. We’re asking you to do this stuff up front. But then you’re done, and the next time you come in, you don’t have to do any of that.”


Benefits for the diner include the ability to order what you want when you want it, splitting tabs with tablemates and walking out the front door without ever having to flag down a server. If you forget to close out your tab, it will happen automatically at closing time. Benefits for the restaurant include the ability to serve more people with fewer staff, increase pay (and thus retain employees) and operate a cashless business, which is more sanitary, eliminates end-of-shift drawer counts, and kills dodgy late-night bank deposits.


Old-Fashioned and Proud of It

Of course, restaurants are as individual as the people who operate them and when it comes to technology, not everybody is on the same page. Chef Jeremy Umansky says there are practical reasons why diners will not find Larder, his Ohio City deli, on third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub.


“None of the technology companies have a solution for a business like ours that changes in real time,” he explains. “They’re designed for restaurants that maybe change their menu twice a year or not at all. The amount of work I would have to do on my end to change the menus and update the counts, it’s not worth it for us.”


Umansky says that in addition to staple menu items like pastrami and fried chicken sandwiches, the freestyling deli might offer a half dozen specials, 10 fresh bakery items, and a deli case packed with pickles, slaws and salads that might not come together until that very morning. That same spontaneous approach also is why Larder doesn’t offer online ordering for carryout.


But truth be told, even if there was some magical tech that transmitted the day’s menu straight from the chef’s brain to the cloud, Umansky would kindly pass.


“We decided that we wanted to emulate an Old World concept with the style of our delicatessen,” he says. “Part of that culture, especially in a major metropolitan area, is the rite of passage of being in that line to get that sandwich. Part of the fun of going to Katz’s [deli in New York] is walking through that line and seeing them making the sandwiches and being in it for that experience.”

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wisely reveals new ways for restaurants to use data to

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wisely reveals new ways for restaurants to use data to

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, Nov. 29, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — sensible, a leading customer intelligence and engagement platform for restaurants, today announced several new features to be showcased at the Customer Intelligence Summit, powered by olo, on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time.

Following the recently announced acquisition of Wisely by Olo, Noah Glass, founder and CEO of Olo, and Mike Vichich, VP and GM of Customer Engagement products at Olo, will jointly unveil the latest Wisely product features built to enable restaurants use data to grow their business and deepen guest relationships.

Mr. Vichich will then host a panel discussion with Tana Davila, Chief Marketing Officer at PF Chang’s, and Matt Eisenacher, SVP Brand Strategy and Innovation at First Watch, about maximizing customer lifelong value with customer intelligence.

The 60-minute virtual release event introduces a number of new ways to personalize guest communication, deliver a meaningful dining experience, and keep team members informed. The following features are available, currently within the Wisely platform, for immediate use from December 1st:

  • Email Builder: Set up automated marketing emails in minutes
  • Supercharged segmentation: Segment guests with new Smart Properties such as predicted CLV and churn risk
  • Extensive library of webhooks: Take action after a guest submits a survey to show appreciation for feedback
  • Add a gift: Let others easily share a gift with guests (e.g. bottle of wine) during their dining experience
  • Flexible booking policy: Limit no-shows and last-minute cancellations by configuring selected reservations as subject to cancellation fees, with the flexibility to waive fees
  • Shift Notes: Streamline communication between team members so that the nuances of each shift are passed on

“Being a customer-centric brand means you’re in control of your customer data,” said Mr. Vichich. “Our new features make it easier than ever for restaurant brands to collect, analyze and act on their data – ultimately delivering an exceptional guest experience.”

“Along with Olo’s on-demand commerce platform, we’re proud to give restaurants the tools they need to maximize customer lifetime value and accelerate their digital transformation,” said Mr Glass. “We look forward to sharing our latest innovations and celebrating the unification of our two companies.”

To register for the Customer Intelligence Summit, go to: https://www.getwisely.com/summit.

About Wise
Wisely is a leading customer information platform for restaurants and was ranked number 300 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Brands such as Chuy’s, First Watch, Fat Brands Inc. QSR Division, PF Chang’s and hundreds of others wisely empower to personalize the guest experience to maximize customer lifetime value and build a profitable future with data. Wisely’s best-in-class software solutions include the first-ever CDP built specifically for restaurants, an all-in-one CRM with marketing automation, waitlist, reservations, table and order management, and guest sentiment. Say goodbye to transactions and hello to customers with Wisely. Visit getwisely.com.

About Olo
Olo is a leading on-demand commerce platform driving the digital transformation of the restaurant industry. Millions of orders per day run on Olo’s enterprise SaaS engine, enabling brands to maximize the convergence of digital and physical operations. The Olo platform provides the infrastructure to capture demand and manage consumer orders from any channel. With integrations with more than 100 technology partners, Olo customers can build digital experiences with the largest and most flexible restaurant commerce ecosystem on the market. More than 500 restaurant brands use Olo to grow digital sales, maximize profitability and maintain direct consumer relationships. More information on olo.com.

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HP bypolls result won’t affect 2022 election polls: Jai Ram

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elections, bypolls, BJP

The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Jai Ram Thakur, said on Monday that the results of recently closed polls will not affect the 2022 parliamentary elections and that the BJP will re-form in the state in a general election.

Speaking at a public meeting in Dharampur in Mandi district, Thakur said the results of the bypolls have given some time to rejoice before the congress, but they will not affect the 2022 election polls as the results will be different. and the BJP would once again form a government in HP .

“Today, the nation is safe in the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and gives an appropriate response to all the adversities of the neighboring countries.

The repeal of Article 370, the construction of Lord Rama Temple in Ayodhya is possible thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s strong leadership and political will,” he added.

He stated that the current state government ensures that every section of society and every area benefits from the BJP government’s welfare and development plans. The people of the Dharampur area were fortunate to have a dynamic and committed leadership that represents them in the state of Vidhan Sabha.

It was a historic day for the people of the Dharampur Vidhan Sabha area as a record 96 development projects worth Rs 381 crore were dedicated to the people of the area, the CM said.

Thakur further stated that the Coronavirus pandemic has severely devastated the global economy and Himachal Pradesh was no exception. But timely decisions of the central leadership and the state government combined with active cooperation of the people, the country and the state gradually got out of this situation.

But even during the pandemic, he had laid the foundation stone for development projects worth Rs 4,500 crore in about 42 Vidhan Sabha areas of the state.

“Congress leaders did nothing in this crisis and even tried to politicize this sensitive issue. It is a pity that, despite having been in power for about 50 years, the congressional leaders never thought of such welfare arrangements and the party leaders were busy with their own development,” he said, reminding congressional leaders that there were only 50 ventilators were in the state. as the pandemic spread, while HP has more than 1,000 fans today.

The CM added that Jal Jeevan Mission has proved to be a boon to the people as the state has committed to provide every household with a fully functional water tap by the middle of next year.

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Win Win W-644 results to be announced today at 3pm; first prize Rs 75 lakh

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Kerala Nirmal NR 249 Lottery Result 2021 Today: State to announce results today; first prize at Rs 70 lakh

People who win less than Rs 5,000 can claim their prize money at any lottery shop while those who win more than Rs 5,000 have to approach the lottery office

Kerala Lottery 2021: Win Win W-644 results to be announced today at 3pm;  first prize Rs 75 lakh

Representative image. AFP.

The Kerala Lottery Department is all set to release the Win Win W-644 lottery results today, November 29. The Win Win results will be announced at 3:00 PM for those interested to check the Kerala lottery results on the official website at keralalotteries.com.

The Win Win W-644 draw will take place in Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, in Gorky Bhavan near Bakery Junction. The winner of the the first prize will take home Rs 75 lakh, while for the second prize, the winner will receive Rs 5 lakh. Likewise, for the third prize, the winner will get Rs 1 lakh. There is also a consolation prize of Rs 8,000, according to news reports, for certain lucky winners.

The Win Win W-644 drawing will take place under the direction and supervision of professional judges. Once the Win Win W-644 results are announced, the cardholders are required to verify the winning numbers with the results published in the Kerala Government Gazette. According to news reports, a single ticket of the Win Win W-644 will cost Rs 30.

This is how you claim the winning amount:

Entrants who win any amount in the Win Win W-644 lottery must surrender their winning tickets within 30 days. Also, the process of document verification by award winners must be completed within 30 days of the Win Win W-644 Result Statement. Failure to do so will result in no claiming the winning prize money.

Winners who get an amount of less than Rs 5,000 can claim their prize money at any lottery shop in Kerala. While people who win prize amount of more than Rs 5,000 are required to participate in a verification process at the lottery office. To claim the winning amount, people will need to present a valid ID, along with their winning ticket.

The Kerala State Lottery Department was established in 1967 by the Government of Kerala. It is the first of its kind in India and hosts weekly raffles and six bumper raffles.

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