Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Savneet Singh, President and CEO, Partech
Savneet Singh, President and Chief Executive Officer of Partech (PAR), joins Steven Elinson, Head of Worldwide Restaurants, Catering and Food Service Distribution at AWS, for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and his company’s response to that disruption. PAR creates the optimal customer experience through its highly customizable restaurant point-of-sale (POS) systems, durable hardware, and world-class services.
This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity and capacity for innovation. The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel & Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run”. Filled with strategic observations, hints and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.
Steven Elinson: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?
Savneet Singh: I think the fact that the company has been rebuilt in the last 18 months. It’s a completely new team and new culture. PAR is a 52-year-old company, the vast majority of the new talent that has joined the organization wasn’t alive when the company was founded. What people may not realize about PAR is that it has transitioned from a traditional hardware and services company to a very fast growing software as a service (SaaS) company with an incredibly rigorous and intense culture under the hood.
SE: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them?
SS: The biggest challenge we have experienced is to see our clients facing extreme pain. We have worked hard at being an ally while also keeping our own business up and running. The way we got here, is to uphold our company principles; we acted very quickly and we took accountability. We act with great empathy towards our clients, our employees, our shareholders, and the broader ecosystem that we service.
The single biggest disruption we faced is that the majority of meals at restaurants are eaten inside the restaurant or picked up at the restaurant. We went from servicing a client base where the vast majority of the business was driven by foot traffic and overnight, that traffic went to zero. It’s hard to express how that challenges a business; these are not retail stores that could rely on their ecommerce websites. We’ve had to navigate and find ways to get our clients online, help them manager labor remotely, and help them manage their vendors remotely.
SE: As we all prepare for the next phase of guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?
SS: Well, I think COVID-19 has just accelerated a lot of the trends that were playing out already and will force us to get better and faster. Restaurant businesses, to me, are actually similar to traditional retail businesses. Restaurants need an ecommerce solution. If you’re a restaurant today and you don’t have a digital footprint, your customers can’t order online, or order from their phone, or engage with your loyalty program, it’s very hard to stay in business. We’re making massive investments with consumer-facing technologies that can arm restaurants using PAR to fight back in a world where people are scared to go to restaurants, or when restaurants are using third-party delivery and need a solution to make margin there.
The second thing we’re doing is looking at artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the restaurant employee, not replacing the employee. We can increase productivity. In a world where revenues are challenged, our clients are telling us that they need to get more out of their resources. We are looking at acquisitions and partnerships in the AI space that will enhance the team that works in the restaurant day-to-day and provide insights to restaurant brand corporations who can then use the insights to serve their franchise community or store owners.
SE: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?
SS: PAR has taken the path to build products that live up to our brand promise. Our brand promise is to “deliver the solutions that connect people to the restaurant meals and moments that they love.” So in the time of COVID-19, we went out and built products that restaurants could use to operate during the time of disruption. We deployed QR code-based ordering, we provisioned online ordering for free, we integrated into third-party delivery for any restaurant that desired it, overnight. We worked to provide restaurants with the tools to fight back during this time, all while being cognizant that this may be a very long-term shift and not a short-term shift.
The thing I’d say I’m most proud of with the PAR team is that in the face of our own company, dealing with the challenges of servicing a client base in pain, our employees rose to the challenge. Answering phone calls, staffing the shipping dock, and sprinting to help customers in ways that I had never seen before. I take less pride in our ability to deploy technology, but more pride in the way that we service our clients that were in extreme pain. We worked to absorb the blows with great empathy and love.
SE: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?
SS: Everything we do aligns to using technology to get out of the way. We like to think that in hospitality, it should be food, people, and nothing in between. We look at COVID as having just accelerated that. I can’t imagine there’s a restaurant organization today where technology is not at the forefront. If it’s not priority number one, then its priority number two. COVID, in many ways, forced that to happen. As much as I think we were great at focusing on our mission of using technology to connect with customers, COVID accelerated it, because without technology, restaurants couldn’t service their guests. Imagine being a restaurant and not having an online ordering platform. There would be no way to survive. As we begin to emerge from the initial impacts of COVID, I think that restaurant brands will actually embrace technology faster because they’ve seen it work. We have immense data; we can tell you how certain restaurants that had online ordering and loyalty programs fared better than those that did not. In many ways, I believe that what we’re seeing now is going to just accelerate as we get out of COVID because it made the case so much stronger to adopt technology. Not only to serve the guest, but on the operational efficiency side. How do you manage your workforce? How do you get more of that workforce? In short, I think all that’s happened is that the demand for technology within hospitality has accelerated and will continue to accelerate.
SE: There’s much talk at the moment about how the food experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and what do you think the restaurant experience will look like three years from now?
SS: I think that oftentimes we think things change a lot faster than they really do. I would expect that as a vaccine emerges, dining will look a lot like it did in the past. I believe people want socialization, they desire great service and great dining experiences. But there’s no doubt that there is a community of people that have now embraced this new way of living. So I believe we will see continued growth in food delivery as a core part of lifestyles. I believe we will continue to see restaurants reduce their footprint and embrace innovations like ghost kitchens. I also feel we will see the creation of an enormous amount of new restaurants as a result of this quarantine experience. I think we probably had a whole bunch of new chefs created over the last few months. Additionally, consumers who sustained on takeout alone will convert back and drive demand for dine-in experiences.
SE: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?
SS: I am incredibly excited about the innovation we’ll see in technology to help make sure this never happens to restaurants again. I think technology will become more ambient and less in the way as a result of COVID-19. I think this experience has heightened our desire to disconnect over meals.
At the same time, I’m excited to see all the great food that will come out of this because I think all of our palates have expanded as a result of COVID. So I’m excited to see the world rebound and for people to get back to socializing and having a great time. Our minds tend to always assume an extreme, when more often than not, the human condition evolves over time. I do think we’ll go back to dining and enjoy the company of others again.
Where am I most excited to visit? New York City, to patron the hundreds of small restaurants that focus on a specific style of cuisine. I love these magically intimate places.
Learn more about the new Travel & Hospitality E-book: “Building Resilience For The Long Run”.
See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel & Hospitality Blog.
Savneet Singh serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer – PAR Technology Corp. Prior to joining PAR, he served as partner of private equity ventures and managing director of a holding company of niche software businesses that he co-founded. In 2009, Mr. Singh co-founded GBI, LLC, an electronic platform that allows investors to buy, trade and store physical precious metals. Mr. Singh serves on the Board of Osprey Technology (NYSE:SFTW), Blockchain Power (TSX:BPWR) and PAR Technology (NYSE:PAR).