Growing Out of the Cash Register
Will Goodwin, staffer-turned-owner of Spoken Cafe in Chicago, IL, had worked with paper tickets and a cash register for almost 15 years at the cafe. In recent years, however, word about Spoken Cafe’s handmade Cajun dishes has gotten out, and the restaurant has grown by over 20% every month since Will took ownership in 2013.
“We’re getting busier and busier and I’m adding new specials every day,” Will says. “Eventually that got to be a massive amount of paperwork with handwritten tickets and a standard cash register. I was plugging everything into a spreadsheet and crunching numbers just to get a look at historical data.”
Steady growth, busier rushes, and the need to simplify sales reporting drove Will to look into a more efficient restaurant management system.
The Right Cafe POS Technology
Through the years, Will avoided POS systems in general because the costs for legacy hardware and installation were insurmountable. However, the emergence of tablet-based cafe POS systems has changed the game for independent businesses like Spoken Cafe.
“Every time I looked into new POS systems, the only options were legacy companies that charged a fortune just for clunky hardware,” Will says. “Tablets have transformed the restaurant industry. Rapid advancement of technology has made tablet-based POS systems more affordable and much easier to use.”
Will says he spent over a year researching the right technology for Spoken Cafe and finally landed on Toast, partially because of its core restaurant functionality.
“There are lots of systems out there, but Toast was the only one that was designed only for restaurants. We have a new special every day of the week, we make tweaks to the displays and item modifiers, and we change how we close out the day. In Toast, it takes seconds.”
In addition to being designed specifically for restaurants, Toast is one of the few Android POS hardware systems out there, which was a major indicator of quality to Will.
“The fact that Toast is an Android system is huge for me,” says Will. “iOS products are really cool looking computers, but they’re not customizable at all. Android-based systems are highly customizable, which I think is important when running a business. Every one of our employees is an Apple user, but all of them easily figured out how to use and customize Toast.”
Beating the Rush with Modern Hardware
Spoken Cafe is strategically positioned between two train stations, so the staff has to be equipped to handle a rush of guests every half an hour. Will reports that the line can go from one to 15 people in just a matter of seconds. Throughput and efficiency are essential to their success.
“Toast has made a huge impact on helping us move through the rush faster. We use handheld tablets to jump through the line and take orders before people get to the counter. The average ticket time during our rush is about 8.5 minutes, which is much better than it was with our pen-and-paper system, although I wasn’t able to actually measure it back then.”
Before Toast, cashiers at Spoken had to handwrite orders on tickets or coffee cups and physically walk them over to the deli or barista station. There was a mile-high stack of coffee cups on the cashier’s counter, and baristas relied on legible handwriting to manage orders.
Toast’s kitchen display screens enable the staff to get started on orders even before the customer payment is taken at the register.
“Toast KDS screens tell us exactly how long it’s taking to get an order to the customer because each order has a timer on it. We have a better grasp on how we’re managing the line in that moment. We’ve eliminated a lot of unnecessary walking around behind the counter by replacing paper tickets - we’re in tight quarters here!”
Real-Time Access to Restaurant Data
Part of Spoken Cafe’s success in recent years can be attributed to Will’s close attention to bookkeeping and sales reporting. Will understood that data was a key component to running a profitable restaurant, but he didn’t want to spend so much time keeping up with it.
“You need data to help improve your business, but at what cost? I look at our sales compared to last year’s sales almost every day,” he says. “With Toast, it’s really really easy to look back and see how we did last year. I use the comparative data in Toast to measure success over time.”
For Will and his staff, time is money.
“Everyone’s time is worth something. My time is worth a lot. Toast saves me money because I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one tracking all that data by hand. Before Toast, I had to pay my staff to do it. Now, it’s incredibly easy to look and see what the day’s looking like when I’m not here in the restaurant.”
Return on Investment
Finding an affordable system was important for Spoken Cafe, but Will’s purchase strategy was based more on measuring a return on his investment rather than finding the cheapest option. Toast was customized for Spoken Cafe and has allowed them to serve customers faster and pull sales reports with ease. For Will, that’s ROI.
"It’s scary to put more money into your business,” he says, “but you have to realize that these additions are going to make things better. Toast has been an investment for us, but it’s a quantifiable investment that’s paid us back.”