Technology on the menu of restaurants affected by Covid


Before the pandemic, the term “QR code” would have been anathema to many restaurateurs. But, says Jeremy King, managing director of Corbin & King, which owns London restaurants The Wolseley (pictured above) and The Delaunay, “the pandemic is making all transitions easier.”

Speaking from his office in the century-old Wolseley building, just down the road from the Ritz hotel, he says: “One of the few perks that have come out of the pandemic is that it has technology cutting edge in what is an industry of at least three years, maybe more.

One of the apps tested by Corbin & King, which owns seven London breweries, is Sunday, a payment system. It was developed by restaurateurs for restaurateurs during lockdowns, based on what co-founder Victor Lugger calls “little more than a hunch”.

Lugger and his business partner, Tigrane Seydoux, run the Big Mamma trattoria group, based in Paris and present in three other French cities as well as in London and Madrid. Lugger realized that when his restaurants reopened after last year’s closings, customers would want contactless payment and he would have to find savings.

The Sunday system works by allowing customers to scan a QR code on their table with their phone and pay their bill without having to alert a waiter and use the card machine.

When the app was tested at Big Mamma’s 14 locations, Lugger said average spend per guest increased and tables were returned faster as departing diners spent less time footing the bill.

From left to right: Tigrane Seydoux, Christine de Wendel, Victor Lugger from the Big Mamma catering group ©

Sunday cuts at least half the commission restaurant owners pay credit card companies to process bills. In addition, the app increases the time wait staff can spend with customers and thus increases the amount they are likely to receive in tips. At Gloria, Big Mamma’s site in the City of London, tips have dropped from £ 300 to £ 3,000 a week, Lugger says.

“We’re not adding technology to the restaurant, we’re just replacing the credit card machine,” he explains. “Fifteen minutes before you have to leave, you don’t have to think about the bill. You have time for coffee and dessert.

King says payment has always been the “dirty” part of dining out. “The perfect experience for a lot of people who eat out is either getting up and going, or signing a bill with a bang and getting up and going. Sunday is as close as possible to this experience. “

Anthony Hood, co-founder of Farm Girl, an Australian-style coffeehouse chain in London, said that, less than a month after the adoption on Sunday in September, 70% of sales from the company’s Notting Hill site went through the application. “There is a risk that people will do it, but overall people are honest and pay the full amount,” he says.

Sunday has no setup fees, fixed fees or minimum expenses. It takes a commission of between 0.5% and 1% – about half of the amount credit card companies charge restaurants – and has 30 different point-of-sale systems built into its app.

In September, five months after its launch, the company raised $ 100 million in a Series A funding round led by Philippe Laffont’s Coatue Management.

Payment via the Sunday app

Payment via the Sunday app © Alex Jonas photography

Customers using Sunday scan a QR code on their table and pay their bill online

Customers using Sunday scan a QR code on their table and pay their bill online © Alex Jonas photography

Marginal savings of the kind offered by Sunday have been welcomed by restaurants that have spent much of the past 18 months shutting down and going into debt. Ordering and payment apps such as Sunday, Zapaygo and Round are attracting increasing interest from the cash-strapped hospitality industry.

The Round table ordering app has attracted over 500 restaurant and pub businesses to its platform, as well as 25 universities and 400 independent hospitality venues, while Sunday claims it has signed 1,500 UK restaurants and in Europe, as well as in the United States (the other co-founder of the company, Christine de Wendel, is the American general manager, based in Atlanta) and that she processes $ 2 million in invoices per week. “The end of the pandemic is accelerating change,” says Lugger.

What he hadn’t expected, but something that also fueled Sunday’s success, was that while demand for food after the lockdown exploded, restaurants were forced to turn away customers in due to a lack of staff.

The uncertain future of hospitality businesses, which could be shut down again if coronavirus rates rise, has prompted thousands of waiters, kitchen concierges, chefs and bar staff to leave the industry in search of more stable work.

UKHospitality, the trade body, estimates that the industry lacks around 10 percent of the workforce it needs. Lugger says Big Mamma, which is 7% smaller than it needs, has had fewer workforce issues than the wider hospitality industry – because of Sunday. Lugger says the app has improved the quality of work for its staff, as they have 40% more time to talk to customers, rather than processing invoices.

Steve Holmes, managing director of Azzurri, owner of Italian chains Zizzi and Ask, says technology won’t replace staff but should “make their jobs more enjoyable so they can have a better work-life balance and be better off. paid ”.

Jeremy King turned to the Stint app to fill labor shortages at The Wolseley
Jeremy King turned to the Stint app to fill labor shortages at The Wolseley © Charlie Bibby / FT

At Wolseley, King says he’s also turned to technology – specifically, the Stint app – to fill labor shortages. Stint works similarly to other gig-economy concepts: it pairs students looking for short shifts at restaurants that need manpower for basic tasks like polishing glasses. or set tables. Some 100,000 students are registered with the application.

Benoit Massonneau, director of operations at Swan at The Globe restaurant in London, says Stint has helped the restaurant cope with the spikes in demand following the closures. “[Sales] can range from £ 100,000 to £ 200,000 per week. It depends on the levels of events we are in. We have to adapt to the current situation and Stint gives us more flexibility, ”he says.

Staff recruited through Stint

Staff recruited through Stint

In addition to streamlining operations with QR code-based ordering technology, Swan at The Globe uses approximately 20 students per week recruited through Stint. “Life changed completely after Covid and now no one is picky [about staff]. We’re just looking for a pair of hands, ”says Massonneau.

Sol Schlagman, who co-founded Stint when he and his brother were looking for work at university, says the app frees up skilled staff to serve clients and could attract more young, full-time talent to the industry.

The base hourly rate for students enrolled at Stint is £ 8.92, with restaurateurs paying £ 10.99 and Stint taking the difference.

Lugger believes the advantage of apps like Sunday and Stint is that they were developed by people with experience in an industry that operates on low margins and involves a lot of skill, cost, and customer demand requirements.

He has big ambitions for the Sunday project, which he now runs full time, leaving Seydoux to manage the restaurants. He is targeting as much the global hotel market of 7.5 billion dollars as he can allow Sunday to reach. For example, it is developing ordering capabilities to integrate with its payment technology so that it can be used for hotel room service or in noisy nightclub bars.

Lugger also wants to integrate the loyalty programs of the various operators into the application so that restaurants can capitalize on the data. Hotel check-in and, optionally, near-field communication technology allowing payment without a QR code scanner are also on its list. Instead, a wireless device under the table will recognize guest phones. “We’re going to make the bricks and mortar as transparent as they are online,” he says.

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