Evaluating Restaurant Tech with Phil Crawford

SPEAKERS

Phil Crawford, Zack Oates

Phil Crawford (preview)

But just go back to what your core is and stick to that and just see if technology can become the enabler. It shouldn’t become the hinge or the friction point. Technology should enhance the guest experience. It shouldn’t make it a detriment to the guest experience.

Zack Oates

(Intro) What’s up? Zack Oates here – author, entrepreneur and customer relationship guru. Welcome to Give an Ovation: growth strategies for restaurants and retailers, where we find industry leaders to share their secrets to grow your business. This podcast is sponsored by Ovation, the actionable guest feedback tool that works on or off premise, and is easy, real-time, and actually drives revenue. Learn more at Ovationup.com.

Welcome to another edition of Give an Ovation. I am joined today by Phil Crawford. I am so excited to talk to Phil today. He is the CTO for CKT restaurants, most of you know Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. He’s got over 20 years of tech leadership experience with restaurants and retailers globally. And his resume quite frankly reads like a masterclass in logos, CTO of Godiva, CIO of Shake Shack and CIO of Yard House, where he was instrumental in their $585 million sale to Darden. Phil, stoked to have you on Give an Ovation today.

Phil Crawford

Awesome to be here. Always great to chat. Thanks for the humble, welcoming and the background of myself because now you just dated me. So I appreciate that.

Zack Oates

Well, that’s as far back on LinkedIn as you go. It’s like you start off as a CIO on LinkedIn. It’s like, man, straight from the womb into the C suite.

Phil Crawford

That’s it that just came right out of college, and boom, you’re set! No. A lot of preface before that. But it reads really well, you’re absolutely right.

Zack Oates

Yeah, no kidding. So first of all, tell me a little bit about what do you do as the CTO of CKE. Other than explaining to people that Carl’s Jr, and Hardee’s are the same thing.

Phil Crawford

That’s all I do all day long, that and podcasts. No. So really, as the Chief Technology Officer, I work a lot with the leadership team really to redefine what we are as a brand. And both brands, quite frankly. So I’ve been blessed to have this opportunity to really transform the business when it comes to front end consumer experiences. But also back end analytics data. The brand has been around for, you know, decades, started off in California, obviously back east as well as Hardee’s. And we have the unique opportunity to really transform this business from end to end. And that’s really what I’m, I’m leading that entire charge, both from a digital innovation side of it, as well as a tech stack side of it too. And because of that, we’re making leaps and bounds in our market space, which has really been flooded with a lot of different consumer technologies that haven’t been really pushed on our end at all.

Zack Oates

So basically, I heard a lot of golf. So no, I mean, yeah, you’re staying busy, Phil.

Phil Crawford

Oh, yeah, we have, we have quite the roadmap ahead of us, the great part is our partners in work. And the other leadership teams who really believe in what we’re trying to do, they have a vision of what CKE will become in the QSR space on both ends. And we have a little bit of a benefit, because we’re kind of coming late to the game, right? Our competition has done a lot of this already. And so we can actually learn what they got right, but also what they get wrong. But we’re also not taking too much of a bleeding edge, we’re also coming in at a very steady pace, it’s function over feature. Just to get products out there, just to be able to understand what the consumer wants, and really meet them in the middle and create a frictionless environment for them to go ahead and and experience our brand like they never had before, which is really what the catalyst is for change.

Zack Oates

I totally agree. I love that word frictionless. Because there’s so much effort that a lot of technologies require from guests. And the more effort the lower engagement and the lower engagement, the lower worth, right? The value is in the volume in a lot of cases when it comes to technology. And you know, you’ve seen a lot in your career and you know, obviously, Gadiva, Shake Shack, Yard House, CKE now. What are some, How do you evaluate technology? How should restaurants be looking at what technology should be implemented? You gave some kind of framework under the hood of how you’re able to, you know, not be that super bleeding edge where maybe it’s only going to help 3% of your customers but not being so late to the game where you don’t want to you know, always you’re still analog, right?

Phil Crawford

Yeah, I think for us, the biggest thing and the biggest recommendation I mean, is just be who you are. Don’t try to be somebody else you’re not. So have some humility to what you’re trying to do. But just don’t go away from your core values ethos, right? Everybody wants to go be the next Starbucks. Everybody wants to go be the next Chipotle, the next dominoes, right you name the brand. Everybody wants to go be it. Sometimes you just aren’t the same, you don’t have the same powerhouse. You’re not the same concept. Especially when it comes to technology. Sometimes less is more and less kind of the ethos that we have.

And I’ve actually went through a variety of my tech stacks throughout my career. It’s, its focus who you want to be. That’s right, the map how to get there. And then it’s just iterate as we go. But it’s fail fast and at the same time. So that’s the number one thing. buying more isn’t always, isn’t always best. Right? Doing what’s right for you is key when it comes to technology. Maybe you don’t want to do delivery, maybe you do, maybe you want to do AI, you know, artificial intelligence, maybe you want to bring flippy into your restaurant, maybe you don’t, but just go back to what your core is, and stick to that. And just see if technology be can come the enabler. It shouldn’t become the hinge or the friction point, technology should enhance the guest experience. It shouldn’t make it a detriment to the guest experience.

Zack Oates

Absolutely. And I think, as Stephen Covey talks about begin with the end in mind, in that you don’t implement technology, because it’s cool, and then see where it gets you. It’s like you come up with where you want to go. And you have technology enable you to get there. And so when we talk about fail fast, do you have any examples of of how in your career, you’ve been able to maybe one or two examples of like how to fail fast, because I think people understand the idea of that, but then when it comes to actually doing it’s like, Okay, well, to fail fast, I need three months of planning, I need to spend $150,000, on infrastructure, I need to, you know, hire three more people. And then I can fail fast at that. It’s like, Okay, well talk to us about what does that mean, in practicality,

Phil Crawford

In practicality, it’s like, let’s say, let’s say you already have a product out there, and you make an enhancement to the product. And obviously, you see the backlash from a consumer sentiment standpoint. To me, that’s a fail fast, you can admit it and pull it back fast. Firstly, if you start rolling down a new technology, that might be so bleeding edge, it has no user adoption, that’s a fail fast, you iterate on that idea. So you know, back in my previous life, we’ve rolled out a variety of cool technologies that went to market so fast, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And all of a sudden, we’re like, okay, maybe sliders already invented, we didn’t really need to do that that quick. That’s really what like, I can think of times we released apps, we’re really used to front facing consumer technologies, were even even even worse, is not just the front facing technology, but also back facing technologies. Our employees used it, it made their life hard. And we listened. And you’ll learn and adapt. So many people focus on the front facing stuff. Remember, your customers are internal and external. So in those individual scenarios, it was take it, take the responses, and either modify it or something, you just got to throw it away. Yeah, right. Steve Jobs has been, was I should say, you know, a catalyst for that. Like we’re trying to build technology to support what the consumer experiences, right, we shouldn’t build technology that the consumer just has to adapt to completely. I don’t believe in that philosophy. So that, to me is the key when it comes to fail fast. It’s, it’s also acknowledge your mistakes, right? Oh, no, yeah, if you screw up, it’s okay. But learn from it. So you don’t repeat it again. But also make, be willing and daring to take those risks that may have a new unlock down the line.

Zack Oates

Brilliant, man, I think that thing is so great. And going to that guest experience. What do you think is the most important aspect of guest experience nowadays?

Phil Crawford

I think it’s all about personalization and persona. Like everything that we’re striving for, is to understand who you are, period, I need to know more about you than you know about yourself. Right? I understand how you want to interact with us, what your likes or dislikes, where do you like to go? What your taste profile is, everything that I can know about you because you want to have a one on one connection with me, you have a one on one memory of the bite of the burger you’ve had, right? The experience with the consumer is so important to us as we evolve our brands. And if I can take those 75 data points about you, and then make that experience you they feel they know me, they get who I am, I don’t get blasted every day with an email about something I don’t care about. We all get them spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, right? But if I get something that touches me, the fact that they know my name, they start to they know, my profile, the fact that they addressed me with the products I like that is the game changer, right? Because it caters to who we are nowadays. Again, the enabler is I can interact with you. The question is, how much interaction is required? But is the extra, is the interaction quantifiable? That’s the key.

Zack Oates

Yeah. And I think a lot of times people, especially because you know, at QSR you’re not dealing with a $20 average ticket, right? And so people are saying, well, I can’t afford to have that one on one, interaction and engagement. And to the converse is like, how can you afford not to? Right? Yeah, cause there’s, there’s so many opportunities to do that. And it’s not that technology. You know, I was talking with Wade Allen about this. It’s not that technology is replacing humans. That technology is enhancing the human’s effort and letting them focus on what they need to do, which is, you know, going fast when it’s the rush times and making sure that they’re still offering the hospitality.

Phil Crawford

Yeah, like everybody wants a quality product for a reasonable price, right? But you got to meet in the middle. I often use the analogy like back in the day when you go to Vegas or a bar, walk in the bartender knows your name. He knows the seat you like knows the drink you want. And you know that by your first name, you know, it’s so basic. We have to just make that kind of scenario that feel and a technological prowess. That’s the key.

Zack Oates

Yeah, as I remind people often that hospitality isn’t dead. It’s just gone digital. So what are some successful things that you’ve seen or tried lately?

Phil Crawford

Wow. I really kind of like a lot of the different drive thrus that are doing the AI Drive Thrus. quite frankly, you kind of understand where they’re going with the with the personalization of it, as well as the order efficiency and the accuracy. I think that actually is becoming you see a lot of the news recently with McDonald’s and Yum, acquiring these things, because we have an impact of the labor force, right, and how it’s actually trying to get more margin and the bottom line when it comes to our businesses. I think those are beginning to really unlock other facets of artificial intelligence in our space. To me, that is a big, big, big change.

I also think a lot of the line automation, in the back house, especially when it comes to performance is becoming whether it be the Lancer system like McDonald’s, Android Auto does your drinks, or different holding, holding bins that are automated. So they know when they take away some of the the old prep sheets or manual. Some of those are the cool things that are really becoming more state of the art over time to again, it all goes back to your point – the hospitality enhanced guest experience.

Zack Oates

I mean, because look at look at what Amazon is doing, right, they’ve got robots in the warehouse, and then they have humans that stand there. And they will still pick and put it in the box and make sure that everything is there, because there’s some things that humans as they’re thinking they could see and what does it worth, but they still will have like, the the crate, they’ll show up and a light that will shine the object that they need to pick up and hand package. You know, using and leveraging that philosophy to again, make sure that it’s not humans that are going and picking up the crates, but the crates are getting moved by robots by technology. But the humans are still there to make sure it’s packaging. And accurate, right?

Phil Crawford

Especially in a supply chain world, right? Supply chain automation in and of itself, and just applied lean supply chain logistics. We’re a worldwide economy, we have to think worldwide, but also act locally. So a lot of the work that I’ve seen to on the supply chain automation side really is like state of the art when you’re taking all that data and analytics. And you’re using you know, machine learning to understand where products are going and how you modify your your distribution channels to get that just in time methodology and reduce your waste. That’s a lot of cool stuff, too, that we’re working on. And others are as well. Because at the end of the day, it’s how do you get it from an end user from farm to table, there’s not really what we are but from the farm automatically to the to the QSR and really cut down that entire, you know, barrier from a logistical standpoint.

Zack Oates

Love that. What piece of advice would you have for restaurant operators and owners?

Phil Crawford

All right now it’s really just stay strong, right? Stay the course, we realize we’re in some really tough, you know, economic and, you know, geopolitical environment right now. And it goes back to what I said, just stay true to who you are. Don’t try to be anything more than you don’t think you can be or don’t want to be. And don’t forget, you know, I think people forget about the hospitality and the experience, right? Just continue to do what you do best. That’s the number one thing and if technology helps, great. If it doesn’t help, don’t implement it. If it’s not helping your business, maybe it’s not time for it. Maybe there’s a time down the way but just stick to your guns and your laurels and I think things will be okay.

Zack Oates

Lovely. So Phil, who deserves an Ovation today? Who should be invited on the podcast?

Phil Crawford

I do you know, I would do Joe Tenczar, Sonny’s BBQ or three CIOs. Longtime friend, has great perspectives on our industry and technology. You should reach out to Joe. Joe would enjoy it.

Zack Oates

Joe, I’m coming for you, man. We’d love to have you on the podcast. There you go. Phil, how do people find you/follow you?

Phil Crawford

So you can find me on LinkedIn. That’s really the only social channel I’m on. It’s under the you know, the LinkedIn with the slash Phil Crawford. I was an early adopter. So I actually got a good moniker name, which isn’t a random number in office.

Zack Oates

Awesome, Phil. Well for being such a light and showing us that technology can help us, not just take us over and rule the world and subject us to a life of slavery. But know technology’s there to help us for helping us do that. Today’s Ovation goes to you, Phil, thanks for joining us, man. Thanks for having me. Always a pleasure to catch up.

Zack Oates

(Outro) Glad you were with us today. And thank you! Thank you to the risk takers, the troublemakers, the crazies who are keeping this world clothed and fed. You’re the ones who deserve an Ovation. Again, this podcast was sponsored by Ovation! To see how we can help you grow your business, go to Ovationup.com. Don’t forget to subscribe, and as always, remember to give someone in your life an Ovation today!

Find out the right balance of innovation and stability from the CTO of CKE Restaurants Inc., Phil Crawford.

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Big wig alert! Phil Crawford is the Chief Technology Officer at CKE Restaurants, Inc., which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. He’s currently in the midst of revitalizing their brand through innovation on the user-side and the back-end. Phil has also been the CTO at Godiva Chocolatier, CIO at Shake Shack, and CIO at Yard House Restaurants.

Here’s our main takeaway from this episode and Phil’s answers to the questions Zack asks each guest:

Featured Takeaway: Be Who You Are

When evaluating tech solutions for your restaurants, don’t just look at what others are doing. “Everybody wants to go be the next Starbucks. Everybody wants to go be the next Chipotle, the next Dominoes, right – you name the brand. Everybody wants to go be it. Sometimes you just aren’t the same, you don’t have the same powerhouse. You’re not the same concept. Especially when it comes to technology. Sometimes less is more”

1: What is the most important aspect of the guest experience today?

Personalization and persona. “Everything that we’re striving for is to understand who you are, period. I need to know more about you than you know about yourself.”

2: What is something successful you have seen or tried lately?

Several innovative technologies such as AI drive thrus and line worker replacements. “Again, it all goes back to your point – the hospitality enhanced guest experience.”

3: What would be your one general piece of advice for restaurant owners and operators?

Stay strong and remain true to who you are. “Don’t try to be anything more than you don’t think you can be or don’t want to be.”

4: Who is someone in the restaurant industry that deserves an Ovation?

Joe Tenczar. “Longtime friend, has great perspectives on our industry and technology.”

For more from Phil, you can find him on LinkedIn as Phil Crawford.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to check out the whole episode, as well as other interviews with restaurant gurus by checking out “Give an Ovation: A Podcast For Restaurants” on ovationup.com/podcast or your favorite place to listen to podcasts.

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