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4 Ways Restaurateurs Have Adapted to Fuel Success

How to stay ahead of the curve and adapt, according to seasoned Square restaurant owners and operators.

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor Square, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.
Photos by Cassie Anna Photography

Jordan Andino has growth on the mind.

The owner of Filipino taqueria Flip Sigi, Andino entered 2022 with one restaurant: the concept’s seven-year-old flagship in New York City’s West Village neighborhood. By the close of February, however, Andino had launched two additional Flip Sigis — one in Chicago and another in Jersey City. This summer, Andino will debut a second Flip Sigi in New York City. “And we’re looking to have 10 total units up and running by the end of 2024,” Andino says. “We believe in where our brand can go.”

Despite the pandemic-ignited disruption of the last two years and harsh industry headwinds, Andino continues elevating Flip Sigi and positioning his upstart concept for additional growth.

And he’s not alone. The U.S. landscape is peppered with restaurants — from single-unit independents to national chains — who conquered the tumult of recent years. They adopted new technologies, like Square, integrated new revenue streams, leaned into data to optimize operations, and brought an intense strategic focus to their work. Now, those same restaurants, Flip Sigi included, aim to stay ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive industry littered with challenges, including supply chain woes, labor shortages, and ever-shifting consumer habits.

At an industry gathering in Chicago, Andino joined experts Scott Koehl, co-owner of the Chicago-based gastropub Ada Street as well as Bryan Solar, general manager of Square for Restaurants, and Christine DeSousa, director of sales and marketing for the Illinois Restaurant Association, to discuss how restaurants have not only weathered disruption but surged into a brighter future. Their collective insights present a roadmap for success for the future of restaurants.

1. Evolve and adapt.

The world has changed dramatically over the last two years. Digital adoption has soared and consumers have embraced off-premises ordering while simultaneously increasing standards for safety and convenience. Solar says the most successful restaurants evolve with the fast-changing times.

“And some even find themselves doing better after the pandemic than they were doing before it,” Solar says.

At Ada Street, Koehl and Chef Ryan Bair sliced the menu and invested in productivity-boosting kitchen equipment. At Flip Sigi’s New York City flagship, Andino launched breakfast items to address customer needs and kickstart revenue.

“The worst thing to say in this business today is, ‘This is how we’ve always done it,’” Andino says. “Being unwilling to cater to changing times means you’re unwilling to make money.”

2. Leverage the right technology.

From Square’s ubiquitous tech solutions and over-the-counter software to cutting-edge kitchen automation technology, savvy restaurants continue incorporating technology to streamline operations, drive results, and relieve pain points.

Upon taking ownership of Ada Street in August 2020, Koehl decided to convert the restaurant’s phone number to a Google Voice account, which suggested customers shoot the restaurant a text with any inquiries. By leaning into technology, Koehl reasoned he could reduce the administrative burdens on in-restaurant staff and drive a more positive guest experience.

“Every single day we’re open, we take 10-20 reservations [with Google Voice],” Koehl says.

But not just any technology will do, Andino says. At Flip Sigi, solutions must fit within the restaurant’s workflow and provide a clear performance benefit. With Square, for instance, Andino could quickly and seamlessly reach out to Flip Sigi’s customer base to promote specials.

With restaurant operators consumed by needs within four walls, Solar calls it his team’s job to offer products that respond to new developments and push restaurants forward.

“We need to be the partners looking around the bend for the operators because that’s not something they have the bandwidth to do,” Solar says.

3. Have an opportunistic plan.

When Andino evaluates any new Flip Sigi location, the prospective unit must hit 10 checkpoints, a list that includes a nearby hospital, college, and LGBTQ population. As such, the company’s new Chicago eatery sits in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, the city’s LGBTQ epicenter, tucked between the 218-bed Thorek Memorial Hospital and 22,000-student DePaul University. Andino also will not sign any lease unless the owner includes tenant improvement (TI).

“That’s essentially free money that opens up capital for other needs, like equipment or staffing,” he says of TI.

And without the resources of a larger chain to inform expansion to new markets, Andino closely monitors the development of other quick-service chains similar to Flip Sigi. When a new franchise opens, Andino sees that as a hint to a compelling opportunity given the market research bigger chains can devote to store development. “So we’ll see where they are, do a pop up, and test the market ourselves,” he says.

4. Constant — and earnest — reflection.

As other restaurants rushed to adopt third-party delivery, carryout, meal kits, and the like in 2020 and 2021, Koehl carefully evaluated the resources and fit of such options at his establishment. While those offerings might have served others, Koehl and Ada Street did not hop onto the bandwagon.

“Even if there was a sales opportunity, we didn’t see the profit potential,” he says. “We had to be honest about who we are and the goals we have.”

DeSousa, from the Illinois Restaurant Association, says the thriving restaurants she encounters across the state are constantly evaluating their model, digging into data, and asking — and, more importantly, honestly answering — tough questions about their menu, operations, staffing, and culture.

“There’s a real desire to regularly evaluate what the restaurant is doing and a real self-awareness driving decision-making,” she says. “That reflection is critical in times of such change.” Such reflection may be one the most soundproof ways to future-proof your restaurant for what’s to come.

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