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Hospitality Operators Shift Toward Experiential Dining With Gotab

A guest blog by Tim McLaughlin, CEO of GoTab Inc.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is that the hospitality industry has to embrace technology to move forward, especially during challenging times. As restaurant, bar, brewery, winery, and entertainment venue operators discovered 2 years ago, operations can be severely disrupted by external factors in an instant. Historically, the hospitality industry was resistant to change and slow to adopt technology. I heard from owners that they had assumed that technology would take away from the guest experience. When faced with having to pivot—whether that meant switching to takeout, delivery, curbside pickup, or ecommerce grocery markets; implementing contactless ordering and payment for guests; or operating with a limited staff—many opted for technology solutions. Some did it reluctantly, and others fully embraced it. What is certain today is that technology is here to stay and that the future lies in a hybrid service model where hospitality staff use technology to enhance the guest experience.

Understanding experiential vs. transactional interactions

I believe that hospitality entails two types of guest interactions: experiential and transactional. Experiential interactions are your food, drink, ambiance, and the personalized aspects of service. The undesirable aspects are the transactional experiences. We have tried to make the transactional interactions seem experiential and therefore fun, but they just aren’t. The best example of a transactional interaction is paying the bill. We can put it in a nice leather folio and put a handwritten note on it. But in the end, as a diner, I’d rather just not think about it. It’s like paying my electric bill—can’t you just automatically withdraw it? Oh wait, we do that now for our electric bills, our taxes, and most every other sort of mundane transactional interaction we have every day. So why is the restaurant industry still reluctant to embrace technology and let systems handle transactional operations?

Great waitstaff is essential . . . when you can find them

Let’s consider experiences that are both experiential and transactional. Let me say it loud and clear: waitstaff are an essential, nonnegotiable part of the hospitality experience. But as I often say, waitstaff are essential when you can find them. The past few weeks have proven that the COVID-19 pandemic can deplete a restaurant’s entire staff in less than 24 hours, and the labor market remains extremely tight. At GoTab Inc. (GoTab), we believe a great first impression by a restaurant staffer will create the best experience. It’s great when a waitstaff member knows the menu and has the time to bring it to life with in-person presentations. But when that is not the case, it can quickly hinder the guest experience, sometimes (most times) to the point of no return.

Great waitstaff is essential . . . but they can’t be everywhere

My wife owns Caboose Tavern, a brewpub and coffeehouse in Virginia, and although she’d love to have the human touch always available, she’s found that waitstaff can’t be everywhere at once. If guests are greeted properly and warmly when they arrive, there’s a high chance that they will enjoy the rest of their onsite experiences. But sometimes, guests just want another beer without having to interrupt their conversation or having to flag the waitstaff. Or better yet, they’re happy to pay using their mobile device and walk out without having to wait for the check.


Embracing technology to resolve pain points and enhance the guest experience

Since our inception, GoTab has worked on a solution to improve restaurant operations with technology. As a truly cloud-based point-of-sale company run entirely on Amazon Web Services (AWS), GoTab provides operators with flexibility and scalability. When operators are faced with a sudden influx of customers and high demand, they can go from a traditional single point of sale—where the server takes the order and interacts with the kitchen—to virtually unlimited points of sale in an instant with mobile guest orders going directly to the kitchen, seamlessly accommodating rising ordering input. This was the case at a major golf event, where GoTab served as the contactless ordering and payment solution at concessions throughout the course and was able to fulfill hundreds of thousands of orders when capacity restrictions lifted just days before the event.

GoTab also supports flexible modes of service and makes it simple for operators to quickly add additional fulfillment channels and access new revenue streams. This means that waitstaff are equipped with a suite of GoTab tools and features that facilitate pivoting from dine-in to takeout, delivery, ghost kitchens, or even ecommerce, through grocery, retail, and other modes of service.

GoTab’s system also lets guests seamlessly move back and forth between self-ordering and using waitstaff-assisted service, as demonstrated in this video. This means that guests can start their own tab, and waitstaff can add items to that same tab (such as another round of drinks or additional dishes). When they’re ready to leave, guests can pay with waitstaff through a payment terminal or choose to settle their tab on their own. This system relieves stress for guests, placing them in full control of the dining experience and automating the transactional tasks with technology. Waitstaff can then focus on the experiential aspects: making sure customers leave happy and wanting to return. The premise that technology takes away from the guest experience is no longer valid when technology is seamlessly integrated into the service experience.

Finding success with a hybrid service model

At modern cantina Espita, a restaurant brand within the Destination Unknown Restaurants portfolio, the team implemented a hybrid service model for dine-in and takeout and delivery, leading to higher guest satisfaction. “We get compliments constantly. The amount of repeat business is outrageous at this point,” said Josh Phillips, general manager of Destination Unknown Restaurants. “At least five or six times a night, guests come up to me and tell me how much of a better dining experience they’re having thanks to GoTab. We’ve also been able to shave off 30 minutes per table.”

When we launched GoTab in 2016, we were focused on solving the same problems that we’re focused on today. We want to help hospitality businesses grow more efficiently, which ultimately helps operators to scale. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for restaurants to think of technology as a strategic advantage and a way to remain successful. It has also truly reinforced our core belief that operators succeed when they let their waitstaff do what they do best: offer an unmatched service experience.

See more industry insights from executives on the AWS Travel & Hospitality Blog.

Tim McLaughlin

Tim McLaughlin

Tim McLaughlin has served as cofounder and CEO of restaurant commerce platform GoTab Inc. since 2016. Prior to GoTab, Tim led Siteworx Inc. (now Shift7 Digital LLC)—a midsize digital experience agency with clients including PayPal, Goldman Sachs, VeriSign, Bain & Company, and Thermo Fisher Scientific—to a successful private equity exit in 2013. He also cofounded and operated Caboose Brewing Co., an upscale brewery and farm-to-table concept based in Fairfax, Virginia, where most of GoTab’s features were incubated.