Chris Blair, founder of Nashville’s Listening Room Cafe, opened for business in 2006 after becoming frustrated with the lack of venues committed to both the guest and performer’s experience. A musician himself, Chris set out to build a venue that does justice to the moniker “Music City.”
“We’ve created a place that highlights both the talent on the plate and the talent on the stage,” Chris says. “You’re going to hear songs from the radio from the perspective of the writers who wrote them. The experience highlights the creativity that goes into making songs - and is paired with really great food.”
The Listening Room found that Toast’s powerful mobile bar point of sale solution allowed them to drastically increase efficiency and guest interaction.
The Challenge: Crushing the Rush
The Listening Room seats 250 for dinner and puts on two shows per night. With a chef-inspired menu and quick turnaround times, the venue comes with some unique challenges.
“Our first show starts at 6:00 PM, and no one shows up until right at 5:30,” Chris says. “Suddenly, 250 people fill the room at once and we have to deliver exceptional food and service in a 15-minute period before the show starts.”
Servers at the Listening Room have extra-large sections to account for a single table sitting two hours at the show. From a restaurant operations perspective, the traditional technology just wasn’t cutting it.
“With our traditional system, a server would go out with a pad of paper against 250 people,” Chris remembers. “They’d do four tables at once, then go back to the POS system and enter all the orders. That first table would end up waiting 15 minutes just to get their drinks! The kitchen would sit idly while a rush of madness came in the door because they couldn’t do anything until orders came through. It was a terrible experience for both the staff and the guests.”
Not only was this lack of efficiency impacting the overall experience, but the business was leaving revenue on the table every night.
“If it takes 15 minutes to get a beer, you’re not going to order as many,” Chris says. “If people are thirsty and you keep them drinking, they’re going to be happier and spend more money.”
When The Listening Room’s first show of the night is over, servers go to work closing tabs and clearing tables for the second. With their previously outdated technology, this was a painfully slow process.
“It was chaos,” Chris remembers. “We have to clear 185 tables in thirty minutes. My team was working their butts off but there would still be receipts left out and un-bussed tables on the floor when the doors opened for the second show.”
The Solution: Mobile Restaurant Technology
The solution, Chris knew, was portable tablets that would allow servers to send orders on the fly. He set out to find the best mobile pos solution equipped for full-service restaurants.
Through his research, Chris found that not all handheld tablets are equal.
“I did a lot of research on mobile POS systems and we tried a couple of different products,” he remembers. “They were all awful. The tablets were unreliable and went offline all the time. I found them difficult to program. If we wanted to change a price for a special event, we had to get on the phone with customer service instead of just doing it ourselves.”
Then Chris found Toast. Toast has always been built on a mobile platform, bringing the full power of a stationary terminal to the palm of your hand.
“Toast has completely changed our world,” Chris says. “Handheld tablets create a far better experience for our guests and my staff loves it because they make more money on every table. The servers picked it up immediately - they’re Millennials, after all.”
Equipping the staff with mobile tablets has transformed The Listening Room’s business.
“When the doors open, servers walk up to the first table and send the order to the kitchen or bar immediately,” Chris says. “That first table has their drinks before the server has even finished up with their second table. With Toast handhelds, guests are served in half the time and the server doesn’t have to run back and forth.”
“We’re making significantly more money every night,” he adds. “With Toast, our weekly sales have increased 10 percent.”
When the show’s over, handhelds create a unique opportunity for servers to provide a personal touch - and close the check in half the time.
“We want our servers to have a personal touch with their tables, just as the guests are up close with the performers,” Chris explains. “When the show’s over, servers hand over the Toast tablet to the guest to close out on their own. They can select a tip and send a digital receipt to themselves. The servers take that opportunity to make conversation with the table and ask what they thought about the show.”
The 30-minute turnaround between shows is far more attainable with a streamlined closeout process.
“Toast has made the entire closing out process so much easier,” Chris says. “By the time the second show comes around, the room is clean and servers are ready to go. They even have a chance to relax for a few minutes before the second wave comes in.”
Out of the Weeds with Kitchen Display Screens
Just as mobile technology had an impact on the front-of-house, digital kitchen display screenshave been transformative for The Listening Room’s kitchen operations.
Shortly after the doors open at The Listening Room, the kitchen is flooded with tickets. This rush, Chris says, is unprecedented. In a restaurant without a freezer, there are no shortcuts.
“Talented chefs, who have years of experience in high-volume restaurants, would bail after two or three nights in our kitchen," he says. “It’s too fast-paced. When you’re really in the weeds and have a full rack of tickets plus a pile on the side, it’s really hard to keep morale and quality high."
Before Toast, the Listening Room battled primetime with a single printer at the expo station managing hundreds of tickets at a time. Their Toast kitchen display system has been a gamechanger.
“The Toast KDS gives us visibility to look ahead and prepare,” Chris says. “We can hit a button and see we’re going to need 12 orders of chicken and six orders of fries coming up. The expeditor orchestrates everything from this tablet. It’s amazing.”
The Listening Room Cafe offers an intimate experience for guests - from the live show to the personal interaction with staff. Toast has facilitated this personal touch, even at closeout, with mobile handhelds and real-time communication with the kitchen.
The result? Satisfied guests, happier staff, and higher sales.
“I want my staff and our guests to feel like family here,” Chris says. “Toast gives us the tools to create a great experience for everyone.”