Alex Barrotti was enjoying sushi on the patio of a restaurant in the Caribbean in 2010. The restaurant owner, Yoshi Ono, was a friend, and he approached Alex for help in finding technology to solve a problem he was having with operating his restaurant.
At first, Yoshi’s request seemed simple. But as Alex dived into the technology available at the time, he found there was nothing on the market that would solve the problem—a problem many restaurant owners experienced.
This was just the kind of challenge Alex enjoyed. Fifteen years earlier, he had developed an online store with downloadable templates sellers could use to set up their own e-commerce websites. At that time, this was a novel concept and most people thought online shopping would never take hold. But we all know how history evolved, and Alex sold this disruptive technology in 1999, at the age of 30, for $45 million.
As his next major project, Alex decided to take on the development of new technology that could revolutionize the way restaurants operate.
Edible Manhattan: Tell us more about how your friend’s Caribbean restaurant inspired the start of TouchBistro.
Alex Barrotti: The restaurant seated customers in the dining room and on the patio. All sushi preparation was done in the air-conditioned environment indoors where the fish would stay fresh. Waiters had to constantly run indoors and outdoors to take orders, deliver food and drinks and take payments. My friend told me the inefficiency was gobbling up waiter time, slowing service and reducing table turns.
While watching the waiters run in and out, writing orders on little order slips, I envisioned how technology, particularly mobile technology, could be developed specifically for the unique needs of a busy restaurant. I believed the right technology could make a big difference in reducing all the running back and forth that was affecting the restaurant’s operational costs. It could also increase revenues by eliminating delays in table turns and improving the customer experience.
So I searched for mobile devices and apps that would provide the functionality my friend and other restaurant owners needed. I thought, ideally, the device would be not much bigger than an order pad a waiter could easily take to the table. Ideally the device would have an app that could wirelessly transmit the order immediately back to the kitchen for preparation. Ideally the device would integrate with the popular payment processors. I was surprised at the time to find there were no mobile devices to fit the bill.
Then the iPad was launched, the perfect form factor for a waiter to take to a table and enter orders, just like an order pad. However, there were no restaurant point-of-sale apps for the device.
So I cut short my “sabbatical” in the Caribbean, pulled together a team of exceptional innovative designers and embarked on the development of TouchBistro. The app was launched in 2011 as one of the first mobile iPad POS [point of sale] solutions with robust functionality designed exclusively for restaurants.
Initially people thought the iPad was just a cute gimmick, that it would never catch on as a business tool. But today, TouchBistro is the top grossing POS system for restaurants in 37 countries on the Apple App Store that has been deployed on more than 15,000 iPads.
EM: How have you seen TouchBistro improve sales or efficiency at restaurants?
AB: Restaurant owners who use TouchBistro have told us they save several minutes on each table because of the efficiencies they have been able to implement, such as tableside ordering and payments. This allows them to turn more tables.
TouchBistro also has a full suite of reports that help restaurateurs make informed decisions about how to improve profitability, such as controlling inventory waste.
Restaurateurs have reported revenue increases as much as $2,000 a day and increased profits as high as 14 percent since they started using TouchBistro.
EM: What’s next for TouchBistro?
AB: We will continue to add features and integrate with best-of-breed applications that restaurant operators need. This has been the foundation for our rapid expansion—we are engaged with restaurateurs, we see how their operations function and the challenges they face, and we listen to their wish lists of how to do things better; then we provide easy-to-use functionality in our POS that address those challenges, making TouchBistro a dynamic asset for improving their bottom line and creating an exceptional customer experience.