Hot Tips & Takes w/ Jaimeen Dalia: How Can Emerging Restaurant Franchises Succeed

Meet Jaimeen. 

He’s grown up in a family of franchisees, and now he’s using his inside knowledge of the industry to connect franchisees with their peers and with technology. As the founder of FranTable, Jaimeen Dalia brings a wealth of knowledge across franchises of varying sizes and industries. We sat down to talk to him about the advantages of purchasing a franchise and how emerging restaurant franchises can stake their claim in the current landscape. 

What is an emerging restaurant franchise?

The definition of an emerging restaurant franchise can vary depending on who you ask within the franchising industry. 

A commonly accepted definition is that any brand with fewer than 100 units is considered an emerging franchise, while enterprise brands are characterized by having over 500 units. Emerging franchises often have a larger pool of available territories, which can be an appealing prospect for potential franchisees. 

What are the pros of purchasing a franchise over opening your own independent restaurant?

There are several significant advantages to opting for a franchise as opposed to launching an independent restaurant. Firstly, franchisees benefit from the established brand equity of well-known franchises, which can be a game-changer for new businesses. Imagine a scenario where a new resident is deciding between a local eatery and a nationally recognized franchise; the trust associated with the familiar brand often sways the decision in its favor.

Another key advantage is the potential for more favorable rates with vendors.  Franchise brands tend to have more bargaining power with their vendors, given the large volume of supplies they purchase, from food ingredients to everyday items like paper towels. This leverage allows local franchise owners to access better deals on essential supplies, which can be challenging for small business owners operating independently.

Lastly, franchise ownership offers accelerated learning curves when it comes to business development. Independent entrepreneurs typically spend months, if not years, fine-tuning fundamental aspects of their business, such as understanding customer preferences, pricing strategies, and marketing tactics. By partnering with a reputable franchise brand, franchisees can tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience of the franchise brand. 

What challenges do emerging franchises face that are different from independent restaurants and enterprise brands?

I think the number one challenge for emerging franchises is their limited capacity to provide robust support to their franchisees. Unlike well-established enterprise brands with ample resources and a large workforce dedicated to operations, marketing, and sales, emerging franchises typically operate on tighter budgets and have fewer full-time people on staff. This can sometimes impact their ability to provide the necessary assistance and guidance to their franchisees.

Number two; emerging franchise brands often face a significant challenge when it comes to raising capital to support their franchisees. While established franchises have a track record of success and access to more traditional financing options, newer brands tend to lack the same level of credibility and may struggle to attract investment. This can affect their ability to expand, provide ongoing support to their franchisees, and develop effective marketing and operational strategies. To overcome this challenge, emerging franchise brands need to be innovative in how they pursue fundraising, explore alternative financing options, and demonstrate a clear and compelling vision for their business to attract potential investors and lenders.

The third challenge would be the tough competition they encounter from larger, more established brands. They can struggle to distinguish themselves in a market where a number of well-known names already dominate the consumer landscape. Something I’ve noticed often is how even small coffee franchises with just a handful of locations often tend to be compared to mid-tier and enterprise-level coffee giants. Emerging franchises need to get creative with their marketing and product innovation so they can carve out their niche.

What advantages do emerging franchises have over enterprise brands?

Emerging franchises can have some unique advantages over their enterprise counterparts. One notable advantage is their agility and speed in decision-making and support. As a franchisee within an emerging brand, individuals often enjoy direct access to the brand’s executive team, sometimes even the founders. This level of direct engagement allows emerging franchises to be more hands-on and responsive. This close collaboration with founders and experienced executive teams can be particularly beneficial for less experienced franchisees. Generally, such personalized support is not as readily available within the larger enterprise brands.

Emerging franchises are also typically more flexible in adapting to local market conditions and changing customer preferences. They can often customize their products, services, and marketing strategies quickly to better cater to the unique needs of their specific locations. This nimbleness and ability to pivot quickly helps form stronger connections with the local community and drive higher customer satisfaction.

In many cases, emerging franchise brands may also require a lower initial investment from franchisees compared to larger enterprise brands. This lower financial barrier to entry can make it more accessible for aspiring entrepreneurs and individuals with limited capital to become franchisees. 

What are the signs that an emerging franchise is succeeding? 

This can be tricky to answer. I think there’s a few factors involved. Firstly, the satisfaction of franchisees plays a pivotal role. Are the current franchisees happy? Are they getting along with the brand? Is their experience in line with the expectations they had before buying the franchise? 

Secondly, you can look at some of the quantitative indicators. That involves evaluating the financial performance of the brand. Are the franchisees profitable? Are they growing year over year? 

Lastly, the growth trajectory of the franchisees can also be a good way to assess how well the brand is doing. So you can look at whether there’s year-over-year expansion through increased same-store sales or the addition of new systemwide locations. I also like to see if the current franchises are adding more units. When existing franchisees show confidence in the system by investing in and opening additional territories, this can demonstrate the brand’s potential to establish itself as a category leader within the industry.

How important is it for franchisees to connect with their peers? 

I think establishing strong connections with fellow franchisees is very important for franchise owners, particularly with those who may be in similar business situations as them. In my view, this is one of the biggest advantages of being part of a franchise system. It provides a network of non-competitive peers who are willing to share their operating experience with you. 

Unlike independent business owners, who often lack a supportive community, franchisees can readily seek guidance from others who have likely encountered and addressed similar issues. 

FranTable plays a vital role in facilitating these interactions, enabling franchise owners from various brands and industries to engage in knowledge-sharing and ensure they are making informed decisions.

>> To learn more about Jaimeen Dalia and the ins and outs of operating a restaurant franchise, check out FranTable.

Hot Tips & Takes w/ Greg Nasser: How to Avoid Becoming a Statistic

Meet Greg. 

As a veteran of the service industry, Greg Nasser has been a bartender, cooked, and eventually opened restaurants of his own. Over his long career in the industry, he noticed a common trend: restaurants often fail prematurely. And more often than not, failing restaurants seem to operate on intuition and impulse, rather than looking to the data.

That’s why he created Borne. At Borne, they’re focused on restaurant intelligence powered by AI and machine learning, with the goal of preventing premature restaurant closures. With data-backed insights, Borne provides restaurateurs with the tools and information they need to make the right business decisions and stay afloat.

What are the main reasons you see restaurants fail?

There are a lot of reasons that restaurants fail, but those reasons usually fall into one of two major buckets: wrong concept or wrong location. 

From the wrong concept side, a boring or forgettable concept in an already saturated market doesn’t make sense. There may be value perception issues — like a higher check average when there are 10 other burger restaurants that are all half the price. You need to understand what people want and need in a neighborhood, which is where tech can come in. AI allows you to pinpoint what people are searching for and offer them a concept that they want.

The other bucket is wrong location. In this category, a lot of restaurants fail because of a bad lease deal. Owners often find themselves signing an unfavorable lease based on unrealistic projections. People often overestimate the consumer value sentiment for their brand based on incorrect information or human intuition that isn’t complemented with data. That leads to failure because people don’t see value in your concept in the area. 

How are restaurants faring in 2023?

Restaurant closures overall are down in 2023 from 2022. But, first off, restaurant closures are not predictive of economic trends — they’re kind of a reaction to them. 

It’s a complicated question, because different service styles (counter service, drive-thru, full service) all have different metrics. You also have to consider differences between rural, urban, suburban, and destination restaurants. 

In the QSR sector, I know that they’re doing 30% better than they were prior to 2019. But in some urban sectors, restaurants in downtown corridors still haven’t recovered as well, especially in cities like San Francisco. 

Still, restaurants are definitely going in the right direction, and people are continuing to go out to restaurants and spend money and enjoy themselves. 

What are some of the blind spots for restaurant operators that can impact their success? 

If we’re talking about in-house operation, your biggest challenge is your prime costs. If you have a relatively fixed prime cost, you kind of know what your cost of goods will be. You can get into the theoretical costs of goods sold to control your cost there.

The one statistic that’s always evolving and changing is labor. With minimum wage increases, insurance increases, legality by city, by state forecasting and understanding how labor can impact your brand over a five-year window is really important. Labor is something that I think a lot of us take for granted. 

We also see owners having an idea and hoping to open a restaurant because they’re passionate about it. But does the data back up your idea? Where is the right place to open it? You have to plant seeds early on so that your restaurant can flourish. In the past, you would spend six months on R&D, standing outside of a location to see how many people are going to nearby restaurants and engineering the menu. That old-school methodology is pretty much out of use and only works if you really know the area. Otherwise you’ll get inaccurate information. 

The blind spot here is that we have data and AI tools that you can use to guide your human intuition, and that is invaluable for learning what customers will value about your cuisine and brand. You have to learn who your customer is and make sure it matches with your brand personalities.   

How important is real estate for the restaurant business? What can operators do to make your location successful?

I mean, it all starts with the location. So one thing to keep in mind is that when we talk about restaurant trip takers and market opportunity, restaurant trip takers will always buy brands that they feel are like minded. If they go to Whole Foods, Lululemon, Pete’s Coffee, then they’ll go to X Restaurant because it makes them feel like the other three.

From a real estate perspective, you need to understand how a brand should feel and how it should be presented to meet the restaurant trip-taker’s needs. That includes the right cuisine for the location. 

As I mentioned before, it’s also important to know what a reasonable lease deal is for your restaurant. I think a lot of restaurants fail because of unfavorable lease deals that leave no money on the bottom line. Usually this means they’re overpaying and underperforming. 

I think understanding revenue projection and matching occupancy budget for a specific address is really the key to the real estate piece. At the Borne Report, we help people get that and bridge the gap between real estate broker and restaurateur.

How can restaurateurs look more to data and AI rather than their own intuition to ensure that they don’t fail?

The Borne Report is a great resource to help guide human intuition. I don’t think AI should ever take away human intuition on the restaurant side, because the restaurant business is a human business dealing in a lot of human characteristics. 

When you look at the Borne Report in its totality, it gives you a really good understanding of cuisine recommendations, revenue projection, market profile of the restaurant trip taker, competitive landscape, and other key data. You also get an inside look into retail and restaurant trends and spend in that specific trade area around that address. It really saves that time that you would need to spend on R&D, allowing you to focus more on things that matter, like guest experience and design. 

You can think of the Borne Report as a way to guide your intuition but also as an insurance policy to avoid failing. 

What is the outlook for restaurants in 2024? What can restaurants do to stay on top?

Being versatile in service styles is important. Maybe you’re a counter service brand that offers dine-in with beer and wine. Or if you have a model that works well with adding drive-thru, breakfast, or late night, those can be beneficial depending on your location. That versatility will lead to faster growth and more success. 

Our models are also predicting that live music, farm-to-table, wine bars, and live fire will be huge trends in 2024. That experiential dining that we didn’t get during the pandemic is becoming more readily available and drawing people in. 

To learn more about Greg Nasser and data-backed restaurant recommendations, check out the Borne Report.

FSTEC Recap: Tip Management 101 Forum

Restaurant operators and tech companies descended on Dallas to meet at FSTEC, the premier conference to learn about exciting new solutions for the quickly-automating restaurant industry. 

Our very own Brian Hassan, co-founder and co-CEO of Kickfin, joined a panel to talk about everything tip management — including employee buy-in, legal compliance, and profit growth. Brian discussed the importance of creating a tip management strategy and how to execute on it alongside Mike Manley (Senior IT Director, Dave & Busters), Ken McGarrie (Founder, Korgen Hospitality), and James Fessenden (Partner, Fisher Phillips). 

Watch the full video or check out our key takeaways from Brian’s conversation. 

Building a Tip Management Strategy

Things are changing in the restaurant industry — and fast. A unified tip management strategy should be a key component of your restaurant’s operations. 


  • Fewer cash transactions at restaurants 
  • Servers still want daily tip payouts 
  • Changing IRS policies for claiming tips 
  • Competition in the labor force 

Forward-thinking restaurateurs are already investing in tech to automate many aspects of their business, so your tip management strategy shouldn’t be left in the past. 

For restaurants looking to scale, having a single strategy across all your locations is the best way to simplify operations, ensure compliance with tip pooling laws, and prevent theft. You’re going to have growing pains, but paying employees efficiently should be priority number one.

So how do you create a tip management strategy? 

  1. Choose a tip pooling system 
  2. Decide how you’d like to pay out tips to employees 
  3. Monitor for compliance with tipping laws 

Tip Distribution Models

85% of our customers are currently sharing tips, one way or another, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all tip distribution model. 

For QSRs, it’s pretty simple: pool tips and divide them by hours worked. At QSRs, you’re all working as a team to serve customers quickly, whether you’re running the cash register or manning the drive-thru window. It feels fair for employees to share tips based on how long each team member’s shift is.

Things start to get tricky when splitting tips at FSRs, especially in fine dining. Servers provide the majority of direct service to guests, but there are a lot of key people involved in the entire dining experience (hosts, runners, bartenders, and bussers). 

Many FSRs will use a “points” system to assign a share of the night’s tips based on their role, or servers will “tip out” the other supporting staff members based on a percentage of their sales. Beware: splitting by percentages can often veer into non-compliance without proper management. 

>> Learn more about tip distribution models here

Once you’ve chosen the right tip distribution model for your business, communication is key. Employees should be notified in writing about the tip pooling policy, but you should also be talking to them about why you have this policy and how it will work. 

Pay-out Methods

Once you’ve split up the tips, how are you going to pay them out to employees? 


Cash has ruled the restaurant industry for decades, and most servers have come to expect an envelope of dollar bills at the end of every shift. But does it still make sense?

While 90% of hospitality outlets are still paying out in cash, some restaurants are seeing as low as 1% of transactions paid in cash. This creates a logistical problem for restaurants who have to order cash deliveries or send a manager out to withdraw thousands of dollars just to pay servers. 

Cash also opens the door for theft. Servers leaving work with a wad of cash in their aprons are easy targets, putting their physical and financial safety at risk. Owners also run the risk of employee theft. Since cash isn’t traceable, that money is gone

Now that the IRS is planning to use POS data to estimate tips, cash could also cause major issues for servers at tax time. The POS data might show that a server likely earned $200 in tips (claimed or not), but it doesn’t account for how much a server had to tip out. If you’re only left with $150 after tip out, why would you want to be taxed on $200? 


Putting tips on payroll is probably the easiest option for restaurant managers. It makes for straightforward compliance and takes much less time than counting cash. 

But (and it’s a big but), servers are used to an influx of cash on the daily — not every two weeks. You run a big risk of losing veteran servers and struggling to hire new staff when you move their tips onto payroll. 

Digital Tipping 

The innovative tech we mentioned earlier? This is it. Rather than cash or payroll, you can look into digital options that will free you from cash without alienating employees. 

But there are still options in the world of digital tip outs: Prepaid cards and instant, direct payouts. Prepaid cards were the earliest iteration of digital tip outs, offering employees their tips instantly on a card provided by their employer. They come with some major drawbacks though, including fees, restrictive ATM networks, and questionable legality. 

Direct digital payments send the tip right into employees’ bank accounts. No one needs to add another card to their wallet or spend time transferring funds from a prepaid card to their normal bank account. 

The Digital Tipping Landscape 

Ready to try digital tip outs? You have a lot of options — including Kickfin

When choosing a digital tipping partner, you have some things to consider. First and foremost, solve problems one at a time, in order of importance. Seek a solution that best fits your pain points without overcomplicating things. 

Here are some things to consider when choosing a digital tipping solution 

  • Does it send payment instantly? 
  • Does it have a payroll option for unbanked employees? 
  • What does the implementation and onboarding look like? 
  • Can it integrate with your POS? 
  • Does it manage compliance? 
  • Will it make employees’ experience better? 

If you choose wisely, the impact of your tip management system will go far beyond paying employees. For one, your employees will stick around for longer. Our survey found that Kickfin was the top reason that servers decided to stay at their current restaurant. And with more time on their hands, managers can do their most important job — creating more profitability for your restaurant. 


Remember: tipping laws are no joke. Here’s a quick refresher (but always ask an attorney for personalized legal advice). 

The Tip Credit

If your employees are earning more than $30 every month in tips, you are allowed to take the tip credit. According to federal law, you can pay employees $5.13 less than the state’s minimum wage per hour, as long as the employee is making up the difference in their tipped earnings. This only applies in states where the tip credit is legal (sorry, California restaurant owners). 

Tip Pooling 

As we mentioned before, tip pools are a great way to reward FOH staff for their part in creating excellent guest experiences. But, when not carefully monitored, tip pools are one of the easiest ways to get in legal trouble for wage theft. 

Depending on your state, mandatory tip pools may not be legal, but employees are always welcome to create a voluntary tip pool. Where mandatory pools are legal, BOH employees and managers are not allowed to participate in the pool. 

As a general rule of thumb, California is leading the charge as tipping laws evolve. Look to their current laws as a blueprint for what other states will be putting in place in the near future. 

Tip Management Best Practices

As you’re creating (or recreating) your tip management system, follow these tips from the panelists. 

Keep It Simple 

There’s no need to have a complex tipping system if you don’t need it. Come up with a single system that will work at all of your locations. Same goes for your tech stack — don’t add tools that you don’t need. Only bring in technology that makes your life easier without overcomplicating it. 

Be Transparent 

You’re making changes to your employees’ livelihoods, so keep them in the loop. As you develop your tip management strategy, have an open-door policy where employees can come to you with concerns or with pain points they’d like a solution to. 

Also, always give written notice of your tip policy to your employees and have them sign it. This goes for changes to your use of the tip credit or for tip pooling. 

Know Your Market 

To retain staff as you make these changes, you need to know what other restaurants in your area are doing. If it’s common practice to pay tips on payroll (as it is in New York City), then you may not need to worry about losing employees to daily pay restaurants. But if your competitors are handing out cash daily, make sure you have a solution that is just as enticing for servers.

Thanks to FSTEC for giving us this opportunity — we can’t wait to see you all again there next year. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a first step to overhauling your tip management strategy, check out our FREE tip pooling templates.

Hot Tips & Takes: Revenue Forecasting & Financial Planning for Restaurants w/ Stephanie O’Rourk, CohnReznick

Meet Stephanie. 

Stephanie O’Rourk co-leads CohnReznick’s National Hospitality Emerging Concepts, and Operational and Financial Consulting Divisions. Everyone from small, family-run restaurants to nationwide franchises can benefit from her insights into budgeting and forecasting. We sat down with her to learn the ins and outs of revenue forecasting and get the details on CohnReznick’s Restaurant Planning & Forecasting app.

Why is revenue forecasting so important for restaurants? 

Revenue forecasting is the basis for the major line items in your overall forecasting cash flow — cost of goods, labor needs, and operating supplies. Therefore, whenever you start to model and do financial planning, revenue is an appropriate starting point.

Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business, enabling business continuity; the ability to invest in itself and future growth; as well as the ability to satisfy both short- and long-term debt obligations. It’s vital to understand how your business needs to perform in order to achieve your desired free cash flow and liquidity.

How does planning improve the resiliency of your restaurant and position you for growth?

To improve resiliency, you need real-time visibility into your business to make fiscally responsible and financially fluent decisions. It’s vital to the continuity of your business to understand where your cash flow is currently, and where it’ll be in the future. This can’t be done without measuring, forecasting, and monitoring the performance of your business on a consistent basis.

Another valuable tool is scenario forecasting, which allows operators to model how operational decisions affect their overall cash flow and financial performance. For example: You’re expecting a cost increase for a key ingredient utilized in numerous menu offerings from one of your main suppliers. If you utilize scenario forecasting, you can address menu prices based in a more thoughtful manner rather than just increasing prices by 5% across the board.

Planning provides an operator real-time forecasting and monitoring that will change as the business evolves. Monitoring your forecast and projections is what enables you to better monitor cash flow and, quite frankly, leads to operational success or failure.

What makes revenue forecasting difficult for restaurant owners?

It’s really a lack of understanding of their revenue and menu mix — the in-dining, to go, online orders, and food and beverage mix.

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“If you’re utilizing the prior year as a baseline without understanding what some of those outliers were, and not adding relevant information for this year, you’re not forecasting.”

Another issue is understanding fluctuations in menu pricing and projected average checks. If you are reviewing year-over-year — comparing February to February, and then notice a big increase in May, you cannot assume that the increase is a result of menu price changes. That’s not a good enough. You must understand what caused the increase. It could have been more covers, it could have been increases in pricing. Not digging into the details to understand what happened in prior years is what can potentially produce a faulty forecast.

What are some of the common forecasting mistakes that you see operators make?

For a mature operator, one of the mistakes we see often is having a very siloed approach in terms of forecasting — that is, not incorporating all team members that affect all of the lines on their cash flow, financial modeling, and projections. You need to incorporate each important team member’s knowledge of the business for an accurate picture.

A big one is relying too heavily on historical data and just applying percentages across the board, stating: “I think we’ll grow 5% this year.” As we just talked about, utilizing straight year-over-year increases from the prior year without accounting for outliers doesn’t work. I see that a lot due to lack of understanding of menu mix and theoretical costs. Without menu analysis done on a regular basis, you don’t really have a true understanding of your costs for your various menu items.

Another mistake includes no consideration given for inflation as it pertains to expenses outside of the core prime costs. Everything in this world goes up in price. You’re seeing your G&A expenses, consulting expenses, office expenses, and paper supplies go up.

And then, there’s focusing on only P&L (profit and loss) items, but not incorporating balance sheet items that need to be considered when forecasting cash flow. That includes debt service, tax and profit distributions, and other long-term liabilities such as customer deposits. These are the things that affect current and future cash flow.

New operators are a little different, right? One huge miss we see a lot is failing to build the founders into their own model. How are they going to pay themselves? Another issue is they have no true North Star— no definition related to what successful growth means to them.

Finally, failure to execute on lessons learned.

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“In the restaurant industry, we always concentrate on the bad when it comes to financial performance. Rarely do companies say, what did we do right? And how can we repeat that?”

That takes looking at your forecast and comparing it to your actuals. We must update the forecast as the business evolves, otherwise it becomes a useless piece of paper that we’re not able to utilize to make the decisions needed to be successful.

How do new restaurant concepts forecast when they have no historical data to rely on?

They must develop a menu. That’s number one.

Number two, they must cost that menu. Then they must understand their business model and revenue streams: Will it be in-dining or primarily delivery?

Next, determine the number of seats, projected table turns and covers, as well as the projected average check to generate the information you need to forecast for revenue and costs of goods sold.

You’ll need to develop a labor schedule, which is based upon your FOH and BOH needs, which ultimately is based on your covers. It’s not all about revenue; it’s covers and the minimum amount of labor required to successfully execute those covers. From a BOH perspective, whether you’re doing $100,000 in sales or $1 million in sales, sometimes you need the same number of cooks in the kitchen to successfully execute your concept.

Then, you base controllable expenses (expenses that are driven by revenue) on your revenue and business model. For example, if your model is to do a good deal of delivery, then your third-party delivery fees and paper supplies are going to be higher based ony our business model.

You also need to know the price per square foot of your restaurant space to determine your rent and occupancy costs as an industry standard percentage of revenue. These costs will only increase over time and are fixed in nature. An operator’s business model needs to support whether a space is an affordable long-term option for their future business needs.

For G&A, marketing, and the rest, you can use industry standards. These costs are typically fixed in nature and are not typically driven by revenue.

What are the implications of variables like a competitive labor market and high turnover?

Understanding the cost of turnover is critically important because it affects other aspects of your business. With turnover comes the loss of institutional knowledge, which in turn means a potential loss in revenues and increase in costs. A new employee isn’t as familiar with the menu, needs time to be trained, and might not be able to upsell as well. Those are the things you need to and build that into your financial model.

Any conversation about the cost of labor also includes retention and that takes rethinking how you pay and incentivize employees. Operators always think it’s too expensive to offer the benefits that everyone wants, but you don’t know that until you model it and see how it will affect your financial performance. The model will show you how employee retention could mitigate some of the risks associated with turnover.

Operators may find that they can afford most of those benefits that haven’t traditionally been provided by the restaurant industry. With the proper financial planning and analysis, an operator can see the potential increase in revenue that could come with providing such benefits

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Operators always think it’s too expensive to offer the benefits that everyone wants, but you don’t know that until you model it and see how it will affect your financial performance.

You might find that you can afford all those benefits that haven’t traditionally been given in the restaurant industry, but the people who are doing financial planning and analysis can see how they could potentially increase revenue.

What kinds of tools/resources are important for restaurants to have as they’re building a forecast?

You should have the technology in place to obtain the information needed to perform budgeting and forecasting. The data you need will come from your POS, inventory management system, reservation system, general ledger, labor management system or any other business intelligence tool within your organization.

Integration is key when you’re trying to connect all the dots and connect the varying platforms. For instance, CohnReznick has a restaurant planning and forecasting application that provides instantaneous visibility into your business performance. It uses real-time data from all in-house sources to create both traditional and scenario budgets and forecasts.

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“It’s important to understand what you’re going to do next year and what you should expect in cash flow, but what’s really more important is the real-time visibility that enables you and your team to make those quick, real time decisions.”

Information is power, and connecting platforms to provide real-time visibility into operational performance is key.

Back to my example from earlier: Suppliers told me that there is going to be a dramatic price increase on a key ingredient that runs across many menu offerings. So how do I pass that along? Do I pass the entire increase along to my customer? How is that going to affect my potential marketability? I might have to think about other revenue streams that might mitigate some of these additional costs that maybe I can’t pass along.

If you have the information at your fingertips and you can compare actual to theoretical, you’re going to be able to pivot in real-time. You’ll also able to identify operational trends, remediate risk, and forecast performance impacts.

Anything timely that restaurant operators should take into consideration in 2023 and 2024?

Again, lack of employee retention remains a challenge in the industry. It’s wise to rethink pay and incentives and understand how you will be able to pay for that. Many operators will be seeing significant increases in labor rates for some states in the next few years. Putting pen to paper, computing to quantify the financial impact on your business, and incorporating scenario planning into your future budgets and forecasts will put operators in a position to be ahead of the curve.

Commodities are also always a factor. For example, with egg prices — everyone talked about them and now they’re back down. There’s always something — like acts of nature — that cause a crop to underperform, resulting in demand outweighing supply and therefore higher prices arise.

We are still in a competitive market and understanding your market in your segment and geographic territory in relation to your menu pricing is key — because if you are above market, there has to be a value proposition that keeps customers coming through your doors.

Knowing your customer base and ensuring that you are catering to your bread and butter is everything. While there’s a lot of technology out there to help manage customer relations, it isn’t a substitute for real, face-to-face interactions and a human touch.

Stephanie leads the National Hospitality Emerging Concepts and Operational and Financial Consulting Divisions at CohnReznick. Learn more about her and CohnReznick here.

Hot Tips & Takes: Balancing Tech and Culture w/ Wil Brawley of Schedulefly

How can tech work within an employee-first restaurant culture? Ask Wil Brawley. 

As co-owner and co-founder of Schedulefly, Wil Brawley recognizes the value tech can deliver to restaurants — but he’s also realistic about its limitations. Schedulefly is a simple scheduling and communications tool for restaurants. 

Through his Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast, Wil keeps his finger on the pulse of the restaurant industry, and he’s keenly aware of how tech can both improve and disrupt the employee experience. We sat down with Wil for some real talk on the upsides and downsides of restaurant tech and how restaurant owners can innovate without taking away from an authentic, human-centered culture. 

How important is the employee culture at a restaurant? Can it affect sales and daily operations? 

I’ve done over 450 episodes of our podcast, Restaurant Owners Uncorked, and worked on two books featuring successful restaurant owners, so I’ve probably interviewed close to a thousand restaurant owners in the past 15 years. 

If there’s one common thread across all those with long-lasting success, it’s culture. That culture might vary from place to place, but it is always centered on caring deeply about the people that work in your restaurants. The employees tend to come first, creating a culture that’s about nurturing and loving the people that work in the restaurant.

When your employees are well taken care of, they treat their customers well too, and then the investors do well, too. That’s been my observation.

How do you define a positive employee culture? What are the steps owners need to take to create that culture? 

For a long time, restaurant culture has been: “If you aren’t willing to work seven days in a row, then we don’t want you here. We want people that are going to show up and bust their ass.” And that’s changed for the better, for everybody. It’s leading to less burnout. It’s leading to less negative behavior outside of work. Substance abuse has been a big issue, and the industry is going through a conversation about mental health and substance abuse.

Yesterday, I interviewed someone for the podcast who started her first restaurant in Denver a couple of years ago. She’s worked in restaurants for 15 years and has worked in places where she actually worked 13 days in a row. Obviously that restaurant doesn’t have a great culture. You’d never have somebody work 13 days in a row if your employees came first. 

She learned from that, and now at her own restaurant, she never schedules anyone for more than four days in a week because she cares very deeply about the mental health and the well-being and the work-life balance of her employees. She knows that if she gives them what they need, then everything else is going to fall into place.

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“When you’re on day 12 of 13 days in a row, are you going to represent that restaurant and that brand well? Of course you’re not. On the flip side, an employee who feels their needs are being met and their work-life balance is respected will actually enjoy what they do and pass on that good, memorable experience to customers.”

With happy customers returning to the restaurant for reliably excellent service, the restaurant thrives and therefore so do owners and investors. 

How can tech be a positive part of your culture? And how can it cause tension? 

It’s quite a balance. There are 300+ restaurant tech companies out there right now, Schedulefly being one of them. People who use our platform tend to manage their folks and their behavior more through engagement and culture than by leaning on technology. What you’re really looking for is technology that will improve on the culture, not enforce it. 

Here’s a specific example. When you schedule someone for 10 am, they’re supposed to be there at 10 am, but you start seeing people clocking in five or 10 minutes early — which costs you money. You’ve created this schedule with a specific budget in mind, and when multiple people add just a few extra minutes a day, it runs through your budget much faster than you planned. 

You have two options to deal with the problem. One is to simply implement tech that systematically prevents people from clocking in early. The other, which I recommend, is building a culture where you can communicate openly with employees. You set the expectation, explain why it’s important, and create trust that everyone will do their part. 

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There’s nothing wrong with using tech, but it creates a different type of culture where you expect tools to influence behavior versus communication. “

You run into similar situations with Schedulefly. If someone offers up a shift and another employee wants it, the manager has to make a decision: is that the right person to pick up that shift?

If it’s not the right person, they’re not going to allow that trade, and then they’ll need to talk to the person to say, “I appreciate that you’re trying to pick up this shift. This is a prime shift and we need one of our veteran servers to pick that shift up. You aren’t quite ready to handle that yet.” It creates an opportunity for engagement. Again, that’s part of a culture of engagement and trust. 

Yeah, it’s easier to use technology than to have these interactions, but to have a robust, thriving, healthy culture, you have to communicate. We really encourage people to use technology where it helps, but it can’t replace engagement and human interaction. 

Do you find that it’s harder to build this culture in larger chain restaurants?

Communication isn’t just for smaller restaurants with only one or two locations. Some people believe that as you grow, you have to become more “corporate” and use lots of technology, but you find that the culture becomes less friendly, less human-oriented. People who loved working there when it was fun and authentic will probably leave for the place down the street that can provide that.  

Big Red F in Boulder, Colorado has 800 employees across over 16 locations, and to this day, culture is king there. They really figured out culture at scale, so it’s definitely possible. They’ve been a customer of ours for 14 of our 16 years at Schedulefly, so I’ve studied them for a long time. They certainly have one of the best cultures I’ve come across. It’s been interesting to see them grow this much without losing their truly authentic, employee-focused culture. 

What should restaurant owners take into consideration when exploring new technology options? 

Some people want a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution that manages everything, and there’s certainly a place for that, but I think sometimes you wind up spending as much time managing the technology as you are managing your people. And that’s just a question you have to ask: Which is more important?

You definitely want to consider implementation. Is this something that takes a lot of training and focus, or is it easy-to-use, point-and-click to get started?

Support is another big one that I think may get overlooked sometimes. This tech company may have a great slick software, but do they have great support to back it up? Because your employees have questions, and you’re going to have questions.There will always be problems, like small glitches, so you should find out if the tech company you’re interested in is known for outstanding customer service. 

Finally, you need to marry the need with the priority and timing. We see people sign up for a 30-day free trial of Schedulefly, never use it, and then start the trial again six months later — only to not use it again. Eventually, they do implement and move forward. Talking to people over the years about this, I found that it’s a matter of just prioritizing. Running a restaurant, you’ve always got a long list of things you have to manage, so you have to be able to prioritize and hit the most important one first. So, be realistic about your own time management and top priorities before trying to implement new tech. 

Any final words of wisdom for restaurant owners making decisions about their tech stack? 

With 300+ restaurant tech platforms out there right now, every one of them is hoping to earn your business. It must be overwhelming to sift through all that noise to find the tools that you need.

Start with a focus on employees and trying to give them what they need and deserve to be successful — and again, you want to balance that with not bringing so many tools that there’s no engagement and management. 

As you prioritize which problems you need to resolve within your business, I always encourage people to remember good old-fashioned word of mouth. Call people you know in the industry and find out what they’re using. Ask if it’s solving their problems and if it’s backed by phenomenal customer service. 

And if you’re talking to a salesperson, ask them for a list of their customers in your area and start talking to them. That’s probably one of the most efficient ways to figure out what if a tool will be useful and will contribute to your success in the long run.

Learn more about Schedulefly or catch the latest episode of ROU.

[WEBINAR] A Tip Pooling “Deep Dive” with Restaurant Strategy Podcast Host Chip Klose

Tip pooling can have big benefits for your entire team…but landmines abound.

Don’t just take our word for it: a quick Google News search for “tip pools” will return countless stories detailing costly lawsuits against operators who were — sometimes unknowingly — running illegal tip pools.

Of course, if you’re going to pool or share tips in your restaurant, compliance is only one (albeit very important) consideration.

It’s also critical to choose the best structure for your restaurant based on a variety of factors — including your restaurant type, team size and local market. And then there’s the rollout: Properly communicating the policy to your team and soliciting feedback can go a very long way in ensuring the success of your tip pool.

If you’re considering instituting a tip pool or tip share — or if you want to evaluate your current tip distribution program — check out our recent webinar moderated by Restaurant Strategy Podcast host Chip Klose and featuring Justin Roberts (co-CEO, Kickfin); Larisa Thomas (VP Operations, Kickfin); Beth Schroeder (Partner, Raines Feldman LLP).

Watch the recording below to hear the panelists cover the ins and outs of tip pooling, including:

  • Pros and cons of running a tip pool
  • The most common types of tip pool structures
  • Tip pooling myths and misconceptions
  • Avoiding costly tip pooling compliance mistakes
  • Best practices for launching or updating a tip pool policy

Tipflation: What Are the New Norms Around Tipping?

Look, we’re in favor of tips around here, but we can all probably agree that over the past few years, tipping has gotten…weird. (Are you already picturing the iPad?) 

Most people know and practice proper tipping etiquette at FSRs, bars, and at fast-casual restaurants. But now, you might be prompted to leave a 30% tip at a self-service restaurant. The phenomenon – aptly named “tipflation” – has many of us questioning if we need a $9 chai latte today.

So what’s the new normal? And how should customers respond to rising costs due to the expansion of tipping? 

Why are we expanding tipping? 

It’s not like there was some major event that completely changed how most of the public sees the service industry and tipping as a whole … oh right, Covid. 

In the early days of the pandemic, restaurant workers at QSRs and takeout spots were deemed essential workers, and they were genuinely risking their lives to keep working in person. Since they were at such high risk of getting sick, many of us felt compelled to leave higher tips as a huge thank-you for their work (and for saving us from another night of spaghetti at home). 

Also, the pandemic ramped up cashless and contactless payment options — resulting in the meteoric rise of tablet tip acceptance software. With almost all restaurant operations going digital, restaurant owners opted to streamline their tipping systems as well.

And of course, restaurant owners saw the trend of higher tips as a way to mitigate the effects of the labor shortage. By expanding tips to less-traditional environments, owners could promise higher wages to potential hires — even during a time when business was unpredictable. 

Online Backlash 

As tips continue to creep up, people are taking notice — and sharing their opinions online. Last summer, TikTok creators poked fun at the awkward moment in front of the iPad, while others just shared their genuine frustration with the increasing pressure to tip. Even employees shared their discomfort with the “turning the iPad” situation. 


@maddiemischak It’s funny because I am indeed this employee  #tips #tippingculture #icecream #serviceindustry ♬ original sound – poop

And if you go through the #tippingculture on TikTok, you’ll see a lot of videos discussing whether or not we should be tipping in all of these less-traditional scenarios. In the comments, customers share the most surprising place they’ve ever been asked to tip (like at a self-checkout) as well as past and current service industry employees reminding us that people rely on tips for their livelihoods. 

Tip Etiquette in Our New Normal 

Our main takeaway? Tipflation leaves a bad taste in your customers’ mouths — even if they leave a tip in the moment. But good news: you can implement tipping at your business without offending your guests.

Because really, tipping isn’t the problem — in fact, tipped employees are overwhelmingly in favor of tipping because it significantly increases their take-home pay beyond what normal revenue constraints would allow. (Case in point: Many of the restaurants that have tried out no-tipping policies have reversed course because employees preferred the opportunity to earn more.) Plus: customers like the opportunity to reward great service.

But there’s a way to navigate tipping in a post-pandemic world without the awkward situations and risk of alienating customers. 

Here are a few tips for new-normal tipping:

  • Set the right options on your POS: Most people are happy to leave a tip for great service — but they don’t want to double the cost of their daily coffee. Set realistic tip prompts based on your business. For example, it might make sense for a bartender with many regulars to offer higher tip options of 15%, 20%, and 30%, but at a coffee shop, consider options like $0.50, $1, or rounding up to the nearest dollar. That way, customers don’t feel frozen in their choice between an over-inflated tip amount or no tip at all.
  • Make sure your customer has an option for “custom tips”: On the customer side, we often feel rushed to click on a tip option and move out of the way, completely ignoring the “custom tip” button. But think about it: you leave custom tips all the time at full-service restaurants — what’s the big deal about doing it at a QSR or coffee shop? So if you don’t immediately see a tip amount that feels right to you: stop, take a breath, and remember the custom tip button is there for a reason.
  • Give your guests some space: We all get a little shy when leaving a tip right in front of a server or cashier — and the employee usually feels pretty awkward, too. But you can make the interaction a little more comfortable for everyone involved. Rather than waiting for the customer to fill in their tip, suggest to your employees that they step away for a second. They can go get started on the guest’s order or check in on another table while the customer fills in their tip in private.  
  • Reserve judgment: Tips are great, but they don’t define people’s worth. Rather than viewing the iPad as a barometer for your customers’ morality, see it for what it is: an opportunity for servers to boost their salary and a little incentive to go the extra mile. 

If your restaurant is expanding your gratuity options, don’t make it awkward for your customers (or employees for that matter). Be mindful of the new tipping culture so that your employees can earn more money and your customers won’t leave feeling robbed. 

And of course, make your tip distribution easier with instant digital tip-outs. Request a demo today.

SITCA: How to Navigate the IRS’s New Tip Reporting Program

Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and confusing updates from the IRS. 

This year, the IRS has rolled out a new tip reporting program that should help restaurant owners use technology to stay in compliance with tax laws — once we’re all on the same page as to how it works. Here’s a quick rundown of the new program and what it means for employers. 

How do employers typically handle taxes on tips? 

Most of the burden of tip reporting falls on the employee. They’re responsible for keeping a daily record of tips, reporting tips to their employers, and reporting their tips on their tax returns. And while tips aren’t wages, employers do still have a hand in reporting tips and withholding taxes

Did you know that even though tips aren’t wages, you still have to pay your share of income taxes on them? That’s why it’s so important to accurately report employees’ tips and keep meticulous records. 

In the past employers have had a few options for how to track and report tips: 

  1. Tip Rate Determination Agreement (TRDA)
  2. Tip Reporting Alternative Commitment (TRAC)
  3. Employer-designed TRAC (EmTRAC)

All of these programs require employers to educate their employees on the importance of properly reporting both cash and credit card tips — with some minor differences regarding how tips are reported to the IRS. 

One key thing to note: the TRDA does not use actual tip revenue to determine tax liability. Instead, employees are expected to report tips at or above an estimated tip rate that is determined by the IRS. If reported tips fall below the established rate, the employer is expected to provide detailed documentation of employees’ names, social security numbers, hours worked, sales, tips reported, and job titles. 

The TRAC and EmTRAC programs do not establish a tip rate, but they do require employers to take on the responsibility of ensuring their employees report their tips. No matter which tip-reporting program you choose, they all generally entail lots of paperwork and vague language — but that might change in the near future. 

What is SITCA? 

Under the new IRS proposal, a new tip reporting program called the Service Industry Tip Compliance Agreement (SITCA) would allow employers to take advantage of their point-of-sale systems and other restaurant tech in order to report their employees’ tips. The IRS created SITCA in order to replace the outdated TRDA, TRAC, and EmTRAC tip reporting programs. 

Most diners are paying with credit cards or digital payment methods these days — so the transaction data is right at your fingertips. And rather than take an educated guess at your average tip rate, the IRS will use actual tip data pulled from your POS to determine tax liability for both employees and employers. They can also easily pull employees’ hours worked and sales information to ensure tips are being properly reported.

This move by the IRS should relieve some of the tax reporting burdens and save time for employers by getting rid of the endless forms and paperwork that were previously necessary for tip reporting. 

What about cash tips? 

As always, employees are required to report their cash tips — which of course can’t be backed up by POS data. The onus is still on the employee to accurately report all tips. If the IRS notices major discrepancies between sales and tips (especially missing cash tips), the employee could be audited. 

What do restaurant owners need to know for the 2023 tax season? 

For now, you don’t need to overhaul your tax practices. You will remain in your current tip reporting program until one of the following occurs:

  • Your restaurant is accepted into the SITCA program 
  • The IRS finds you noncompliant with your current TRDA, TRAC, or EmTRAC program
  • The end of the first full calendar year after the final revenue procedure is published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin

That being said, you should start looking to ensure that your restaurant has everything it needs to succeed under SITCA. Ask yourself: Do you have a POS system that you trust? Do you use a digital tipping solution? With the right technology, your restaurant’s tip reporting and tax liability should run smoother than ever before. 

Interested in the SITCA program? Follow these instructions by May 7, 2023 to enroll.

Hot Tips & Takes: Restaurant Accounting Tips from MarginEdge

How can restaurant operators use tech to stay on top of their accounting? Ask Kevin and Eric. 

At Kickfin, we know the right technology helps restaurants run more efficiently — and makes operators’ jobs easier. But if you know, you know: restaurant accounting can be a beast. So we connected with MarginEdge’s Kevin O’Nell (SVP of Payments and Partnerships) and Eric Jeffay (Senior Partnership Manager) to talk about the specific accounting challenges restaurant owners face, and how tech is solving them.

What makes restaurant accounting different from other businesses? 

Kevin O’Nell: I think two things stand out when it comes to accounting at a high level. First, most restaurants are structured on 4-5-4 accounting, which is unique from other small businesses and not necessarily supported in QuickBooks Desktop as well as restaurant owners would like it to be.

The second thing: A lot of owners own multiple locations, so they probably run accounting across those locations. Perhaps those locations have different ownership groups, so then when they report out earnings and dividends, they have to account for that as well.

What are some common accounting mistakes restaurant owners make? 

Kevin O’Nell: The mistakes someone would make are not unique to the restaurant industry. For example — any growing entrepreneur will see accounting become more and more important as you grow and become profitable.

Sometimes, in the beginning, it’s not always the highest priority. Surely building a business, hiring the right people, putting the right processes in place, and growing sales matters, but as an organization expands and as there are more stakeholders, then all of a sudden accounting really matters.

Many people start off with their accountant as themselves, their spouse, or someone in their family. But at some point, outsourcing or hiring a professional becomes an important piece of growing their business.

Eric Jeffay: Restaurant owners very often are not traditional business people. They don’t have offices and desks, and it’s easy to fall behind on your data entry when you’re doing accounting as a restaurant operator. So they should be aware that accounting is not something that happens on the last day of the period —and certainly not at the end of the year. That’s not the time to do your data entry.

And it’s a fairly common mistake to think accounting is not a daily process. But at the end of the day, somebody has to do the data entry on a somewhat daily basis, whether it’s a software or the restaurant operator themselves.

How does tipping play into restaurant accounting?

Eric Jeffay: I’m sure you guys know this at Kickfin — but tips are liabilities, not assets. It’s important to make sure you have those funds set aside. You’re not realizing those funds, or if you are, you have to be really careful you do pay those out in full. It’s really the same as sales tax. It’s not your money. 

How can tech ease the burden of accounting?

Kevin O’Nell: No one wants to have to stay and do accounting either at two o’clock in the morning after a restaurant closes or all day on Sunday morning instead of spending time with their family.

With technology like MarginEdge, QuickBooks, and Kickfin, we are allowing restaurant owners to easily digitize those transactions and that information in a way that just wasn’t possible five or 10 years ago. And so all of the paper processing that you would have done now is in a digital format that saves people tons and tons of time.

Eric Jeffay: I think Kevin is spot on. You just have to realize a lot of accounting reporting is not meant to be actionable on a day-to-day basis or a week-to-week basis. Tech can really translate a lot of those like end-of-period reports into more flash reporting where you can get more actionable data, so you’re not waiting until the 15th of the month to figure out what happened the previous month or period.

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“Tech can really translate a lot of those like end-of-period reports into more flash reporting where you can get more actionable data, so you’re not waiting until the 15th of the month to figure out what happened the previous month or period.”


Are restaurants automating their accounting? 

Kevin O’Nell: The main way restaurants are automating their accounting is in the data entry. You used to manually enter that data, but now there are a number of tools, including MarginEdge, that do it automatically.

For one, we’re seeing that automation is moving sales from their point of sale system into accounting software. You’re also seeing it in payroll – which is a large expense for restaurants – it can now be pulled into your accounting software on nearly a real-time basis. And, of course, receivables (like food and other orders) can be pulled into their accounting software digitally as well.

Eric Jeffay: Yes and all that data entry is super important. I also want to mention one thing — there’s absolutely a role for an accountant. Tech helps to speed up an accountant’s work to get you more actionable insights faster and to make it more efficient, but there’s 100% still a need for the accountant. Tech is a tool in their belt, but it’s not nearly at the level of replacement.

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“Tech helps to speed up an accountant’s work to get you more actionable insights faster and to make it more efficient, but there’s 100% still a need for the accountant. Tech is a tool in their belt…”


What are the advantages of outsourcing your accounting? 

Eric Jeffay: The advantage of outsourcing your accounting, especially if you’re a smaller restaurant or a small group of restaurants, is that you need the economy of scale to have an in-house staff accountant that you can afford to pay. So if you are smaller, if you’re growing, if you’re in an early stage, then it’s really much more cost-effective to outsource your accounting. But there are disadvantages to that. Oftentimes, I think when you outsource, you fit into that accountant’s processes and their workflow.

As you grow, the advantage to keeping your accounting in-house is you have more autonomy over accounting. That speeds up your reporting very often, and you can better customize your accounting reporting and your accounting processes if you are doing it in-house. You probably have more flexibility on what your period structure is, what your chart of account structure is, what type of flash reporting you get, and what type of tech you use.

I would also say — obviously all restaurants strive for profitability, but they do so to varying degrees and varying levels. So there are operators who have more of an economic focus on their businesses compared to others, and you probably want to shore up your weaknesses.

If you’re a chef-owner who maybe doesn’t have experience in business school – which, quite frankly, that was me – you would want to shore up by having a really strong accountant. Then you might say, “I’m going to outsource my accounting because I’m not an expert on it.” If you can’t manage an accountant or a team of accountants onsite, it might make more sense to go with experts from the outside who are going to manage themselves.

What accounting advice would you give to new restaurant owners? 

Eric Jeffay: Operators often view accounting as almost a dirty word, but accounting can be a really positive thing. It’s much better to know what’s happening in terms of building a sustainable business, taking care of your staff, and making sure you’re efficient with your resources. There’s a real upside to having good accounting practices. 

The other thing I would say is to get an early start on it. Make sure that you spend time on setting up systems, setting up software, and setting up processes early on that will help sustain you because it’s really easy.

Accounting is not the focus of restaurant owners and it shouldn’t be, but you should be able to have the processes on the back burner. That way you can focus on what’s happening in your dining room, what’s happening in your kitchen, and what’s happening with your marketing — the things that are sexier and more fun to spend your time on.

I think that’s where we get back into the discussion of tech being helpful. There are a lot of great programs that can make your life so much easier and more efficient by setting a lot of those things on autopilot for you.

Kevin O’Nell: When set up correctly, accounting can be a tool that allows you to spend more time with your customers and know when you’re making a dollar or losing a dollar. Set up incorrectly, it can be a complete blind spot, so it’s completely worth the time to do upfront. 

Hot Tips & Takes: How Independent Pizza Restaurants Are Using Tech to Take on Big Chains in 2023

How are pizza restaurant operators adapting to new technology and taking their businesses to new heights? Ask Steve Green. 

If you haven’t seen this year’s Pizza Power Report, you’re in for a surprise. Independent pizza restaurants experienced explosive growth, outpacing their big-chain competitors. We sat down with Steve Green, founder and publisher of PMQ magazine, to talk about the reasons behind independents’ success last year — and how they’ll continue to take off in 2023 with the help of new tech. 

Can you define an independent pizza brand and how they differ from a larger chain?

People always ask that and I used to be somewhat uncomfortable with the answer until I just went along with the crowd. According to the companies that do a lot of this research, independent pizza restaurants mean you have fewer than 10 locations. Once you hit 10 stores in a restaurant group, you can define that as a chain.

What kind of challenges are pizza restaurants facing? And how are independents addressing them differently than larger chains?

Labor is the biggest challenge, and of course, adopting technology is a challenge. But there are great solutions coming up, like the evolution of local RDS companies popping up — think: local DoorDash or GrubHub. One way to address the labor problem is by outsourcing delivery to these services. 

I’m a former Domino’s franchisee, and it was pretty easy to just follow the program. But problem-solving as an independent is a really tough job. The thing is, 60% of all pizzerias in the US are owned by an independent, so that’s where most of the people are. Independents have been doing things out of an instinct to survive, so that’s where you see most of the creativity and action. 

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“…Problem-solving as an independent is a really tough job.”

There’s no question about it — things have really changed. Domino’s said they were a technology company eight years ago, and they’ve made it so competitive that our whole industry has become a technology business. I’m pretty optimistic about the independents’ chances, though. I’m surprised by how adaptable they’ve been, and they’ve benefited from the army of technology companies like Kickfin that are helping solve problems. It‘s a great time to be an independent.

Do you believe independents are using tech more creatively than the bigger chains?

Yes, definitely. We’ve been following Andrew Simmons, owner of Mama Ramona’s in Ramona California, and I just love this guy. In the last three months, he’s made a commitment to showing the pizza industry how technology can really make a difference. He decided not to hire any more staff than his current 18 employees, and yet he’s on his way to doubling sales.  

He’s introducing robotics, including robotic vacuum cleaners and a Picnic robotic pizza maker. He also switched from a legacy POS system to something that allows more online ordering and automation. He’s tearing down walls, remodeling his kitchen, and ordering a new Hot Rocks pizza oven. And of course, he’s outsourcing labor. His whole idea is that he can reduce the cost of making pizza and let his customers know that they’re getting real value and more pizza for their money. He’s going for the gold, living the dream.

How else can independents keep up with rising food and labor costs without alienating their customers? 

I’ve seen a lot of people reminding their customers that they’re an independent pizza restaurant. They care about pizza as more than just a commodity but a part of their community. Independents have an obligation to play the personality card, use showmanship and authenticity that a chain can’t offer in their communications and social media. They need to remind customers that they aren’t choosing to raise the price but that prices are rising from the roots.

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“I’ve heard more positive stories than negative ones about customers accepting price increases for pizza that they feel is above average and special.”


How can independents stay competitive in the labor market? 

I know that a lot of independents already pay more than a bigger chain would, but how do they do it? It takes a bit of creativity. 

When I had a Domino’s franchise in Marin County California – the richest county in California during the ‘80s – it was hard to find drivers (and when you did some of them would be driving BMWs). After we were up and running, I ended up spending my marketing dollars on hiring efforts instead of, you know, telling people about how great Domino’s was. I cut radio ads, I did box topping, I did door hanging, and if I was still in it today, I would be using social media. 

My message was that we’re a fun place to work and could use some help. Then I’d introduce you to a driver to tell you what she likes about working at this Domino’s — that she likes to drive and listen to the radio and that it’s about more than the money. This strategy might be something that independents can get away with more so than a chain could these days. 

In spite of rising costs and labor shortages, how did independent pizza restaurants manage to grow so much in 2022? Do you expect the trend to continue in 2023?

Yeah, it’s interesting. Most of the time it’s the chains that have the muscle to keep growing. The pizza industry is a mature industry in that there’s always growth. 

One theory is that the number of new businesses that opened in 2022 outpaced the number of businesses that went under, giving the appearance that independents grew much more. It could be regrowth from the destruction we saw in the past three years of business. But I’ve also heard a number of people say that maybe the independents weren’t necessarily growing extra fast but that the chains are looking at the risky environment and opting not to grow as aggressively. 

On the other hand, you always have new people who want to get into the pizza business who bring new enthusiasm to the industry. It’s like a volcano, always bubbling up with hot, new ideas. And you end up with a steady stream of people coming in to make better pizza and offer a better pizza experience. 

Are there any specific trends we should expect this year from both independent and chain pizza restaurants? 

That’s always the big question. It’s probably going to be working with less on the labor side and leaning into automation. But it’ll also be creating an experience that seems like it’s not automation — keeping the humanity while also becoming more efficient. 

On the consumer side, great pizza at a fair price will just never get old. When you look at the bottom line, that’s always what’s driven the industry. 

Do you have any advice for pizza restaurant owners?

Stay on top of new technology. We’re definitely following this closely in our PMQ Think Tank, which is our online community where people in the pizza industry can ask each other questions. We’ve got 15 years of wisdom and information from our users, and it’s a great place to go when you’re just getting started in the industry.

Also, subscribe to PMQ magazine. It’s not written by us as experts but by our readers who are really connected to the industry. We spy on them through our Think Tank, we talk to them, and we do stories about them. And of course, our editor inserts some wisdom from his interviews with people in the industry. We put a lot of effort into it to show what’s really going on in pizza.