As the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation, many of the small businesses that were hit the hardest were in the service industry. Restaurants and bars were forced to shut their doors to patrons and find innovative ways to stay afloat.
One company that mastered this difficult transition was Sus Hi Eatstation. Through the implementation of new technology, it managed to not only survive the worst days of the pandemic, but also increase sales by 50%.
Finding a way to stay afloat during COVID-19
Founded in 2011 by Robert and Teresa Ly, Sus Hi Eatstation is a fast-casual sushi restaurant with nine locations across central Florida. The restaurant initially featured a Chipotle-style assembly line for patrons to order custom sushi rolls, bowls, and burritos, but when the coronavirus struck, Sus Hi Eatstation had to close its dining room and find a new way for customers to safely order food.
The Lys quickly found a solution in technology: They implemented a new customer ordering process with a self-serve kiosk and pickup model.
"We needed a system to keep our employees and customers safe while abiding by social distancing guidelines," owner Robert Ly told business.com. "We have always been a company to embrace technology and believe it is a necessary part of our growth."
Finding the right technology wasn't an easy task; resources were limited, and many large kiosk companies were too expensive. The restaurant owners also knew it was imperative to find a vendor that aligned with their business's core values of fun, passion, creativity and integrity.
After a few phone conversations, they finally found a kiosk company that they could grow with: Grubbrr. The company guided them seamlessly through the kiosk implementation process for all nine Sus Hi Eatstation locations.
The benefits of implementing new technology
With this new ordering process, things quickly changed for Sus Hi Eatstation. Having customers order via the visual platform of the self-service kiosk increased the restaurant's average ticket sale by nearly 40%, and the kiosk system helped them stay organized with the influx of online orders.
"We made many changes during COVID-19 and never expected sales to increase, especially online sales," Ly said. "The kiosk system allowed us to keep everything streamlined and prepare orders as they come in. Without the kiosk, we would be facing confusion with the line and online orders coming in at the very same time."
Another unexpected advantage of the kiosks was the valuable customer data and insights it provided.
"The kiosk has a back end with stored data that we have found very useful," Ly said. "We are able to understand our business more through this data and connect with people. We can see what our customers order, how many times [they've ordered from us], check their loyalty accounts, add points, email them, and much more."
The new kiosk model had a trickle-down effect into other business processes, creating possibilities for Eatstation to evolve in ways the owners hadn't anticipated.
"What started out as a need quickly grew into many more possibilities for our small business," Ly said. "Since introducing the kiosk, we were able to pivot and shift our focus back to our customers through table service. We are also able to offer our customers a comfortable way to wait for their food."
Instead of standing in an assembly line, their customers are now able to sit and relax while their food is being prepared fresh in front of them. This got the owners of Sus Hi Eatstation thinking creatively. They now have plans to expand on this idea and offer other enjoyable ways for their customers to wait for their food.
Although the pandemic caused Sus Hi Eatstation to change its business model unexpectedly, the forced innovation and implementation of new technology ultimately helped the business thrive.
"We exist in a world where technology is a huge part of our life and our families' lives," Ly said. "Since it is already a part of our lives and our consumers' lives, it is a necessity to work it into your business. Make it happen, my entrepreneur friends, and enjoy the journey."
Read about more small businesses that made changes that allowed them to succeed despite the pandemic in our article "What We Learned in 2020: Businesses That Did Well and Why."