4food gets interactive, eyes growth

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Both the BuildBoard and Trending Burgers lists are displayed online and in the restaurant on a media wall that plays content from multiple sources, including 4food’s website, feeds from Twitter and Foursquare, and YouTube videos tied to the restaurant or its customers’ attempts to market their culinary creations.

The media wall and dynamic digital menu board system — which, among other features, removes ingredients from the display as they are no longer available — use third-party Scala digital signage software and 4food’s own scripted feeds.

While 4food employees behind the front counter use five touch-screen point-of-sale systems using modified Firefly POS software for order entry, Shuman said other staffers augment those terminals with hand-held iPads during rushes. He said the line-busting iPads, which use an edited version of the online ordering application and Square payment-card readers, are also useful for helping customers order additional items.

Guests can also use six table-top-mounted iPads to place orders via the restaurant’s online ordering interface or to create an online account, Shuman said. However, he added that the web-based workaround for in-restaurant guest self-ordering might soon be a thing of the past.

“We will be in the near future proving a customer-facing POS engine, which will eventually become our in-house employee-facing POS engine,” Shuman said.

The majority of in-restaurant orders are still placed by employees interacting with guests at the service counter, he said, but “we’re definitely headed more in the user-ordering touch-screen [terminal] direction.”

Shuman said approximately 40 percent of the orders received by the restaurant are placed online, with nearly two-thirds served as pickup orders. He said a little more than a third of those orders, or about 15 percent of the restaurant’s total orders, are for delivery.

4food’s recent decision to work with third-party, customer-aggregating service providers — Seamless.com and Delivery.com — is expected to boost online orders for eat-in and takeout foods, as well as enhance the delivery business, Shuman said.

He said his company is fluid about how it grows the enterprise, in terms of self-operating or licensing the 4food concept or its underlying technologies.

“We consider ourselves a health and technology company that builds burgers,” he said. “We plan for our technologies to scale with us as well as potentially to be a licensable asset within and beyond the food industry.”

As for 4food’s place in the world, Shuman said, “We know it is very much an event space and a destination space for urban markets and large college towns.”

Shuman said his partners in 4food LLC include co-founder Adam Kirdon; Bill Niman, founder of natural-meats purveyor Niman Ranch; Dr. Woodson Merrill, founder of the Beth Israel Center for Integrated Medicine; and Ed Winter, chairman of advertising and marketing agency TracyLocke.

He said the opening of 4food and its aspirations to build business with the help of a social network was timed very well in light of the convergence of new web and mobile device technologies and social media.

“A turning point for us, when we really knew we were on the right path, came when we were three months into being open and user-generated [menu] creations were outselling our own [chef-driven] creations,” he explained. “It’s pretty cool that a customer would take the experience offered by another customer before that of a corporate entity. To date, seven of the top 10 best-selling items have been user created.”

Shuman explained that according to 4food’s business plan, the restaurant does not spend money on traditional marketing and advertising. Instead, 4food uses such expenditures to invest in higher quality ingredients.

While Shuman did not disclose specific business metrics for 4food, he remarked, “I can tell you that on the business front we’re definitely trending in the right direction.

“It is a very new concept, not just for our market, but for the marketplace in general,” he said. “We’re getting better at what we do every day … we have a handle on the cost of food and labor matrices.”

Contact Alan Liddle at alan.liddle@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN