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‘Restaurant Impossible’ star pushes technology at Maryland event

Lizzy McLellan//Daily Record Business Writer//October 2, 2014

‘Restaurant Impossible’ star pushes technology at Maryland event

By Lizzy McLellan

//Daily Record Business Writer

//October 2, 2014

On his television show “Restaurant Impossible,” celebrity chef Robert Irvine gives a lot of advice to restaurants about how to strengthen their businesses.

At Maryland Live Casino Thursday, a variety of restaurant and hospitality business leaders from across the state gathered to get a bit of that advice, specifically when it comes to technology.

“Our business is so backwards,” said Irvine. “Technology is something we’re afraid of, as mom-and-pop operators or chain restaurants.”

But it’s important, he said. Restaurants need to have Internet capabilities for customers and in the back office, he said, and they need to take advantage of social media. He recommends that restaurants post daily specials and photos of big groups on social media. It could help them avoid becoming one of the 1,000 restaurants that fail each week.

“I would say between 18 and 27 percent of those businesses, if they realized sooner they were in the deep mess that they are and used technology, they wouldn’t be out of business now,” said Irvine.

Comcast Business organized the event in partnership with Irvine and the Restaurant Association of Maryland. Comcast Business customers and members of the Restaurant Association were invited to attend.

Technology has become more important for the restaurant industry, said Marshall G. Weston, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. It allows for better customer service, data collection and marketing.

“Twenty years ago a business, a family-run business for example, might have just done things a certain way because it worked for them,” he said. “Making decisions by gut instinct is not going to work nowadays.”

Restaurateurs now have various technologies that can help them to keep inventory more efficiently, so that supplies are not wasted. They can make ordering and serving happen faster by providing servers with iPads. And they can quickly offer deals to customers via email and apps, if they get the sense that it might be a slow night.

That particular capability was especially important to Michael Menefee, owner of Carmelo’s in Linthicum, when he decided to give the restaurant a makeover this year. That includes work on its appearance, as well as the addition of a computerized point-of-sale system and various digital marketing strategies.

“The younger generation, they don’t go looking in the newspaper for coupons,” he said. “This gives you the ability to reach more people directly in a much shorter time frame.”

Larry Leonardi felt the same about his plans for a new business, Firenze, which is planned to open soon in Reisterstown. He has 28 years of experience in the restaurant business, most recently 18 years at the Padonia Ale House in Timonium.

In his new restaurant, Leonardi plans to provide an iPad for every server so they can enter orders immediately as customers give them.

“It’ll make things a lot more pleasant for the customers,” said Leonardi.

From his experience, however, he recognizes that implementing this kind of system might be easier said than done for older restaurants.

“We’re lucky because we’re starting from scratch,” he said. “I think it’s going to be well worth it.”


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