2020 was a tough time to open a restaurant; COVID was at its peak and what that meant for the hospitality industry was anyone’s guess. The Greens, a New York City restaurant company sitting on empty real estate, faced a big problem.
That empty space would be a Latin concept in a year, and they had planned on using their other venues to make up for the wait. But with shutdowns, limited seating, and a major staffing shortage, they were up against a wall.
How would they stop their revenue free-fall?
Cobble & Co. was born from risk and optimism — a temporary pop-up restaurant to fill the space, recoup costs, and keep the venue profitable while still prepping for their more permanent concept. They brought on Manager Eduardo Lopez to create a winning plan to make Cobble & Co.’s brief stint count.
The following year, Cobble & Co. served hungry customers in New York City to overwhelming success when the odds were stacked against them. Not only did they turn a profit — they did so without losing a single employee.
So, how did Cobble & Co. launch as a full-scale restaurant with no employee churn during a global labor shortage? We sat down with Lopez to ask him how he led the pop-up to success.
Lopez makes a game plan
Eduardo Lopez went into Cobble & Co. with a north star: staffing.
“Without the team, you don’t have a restaurant, and you don’t have a business,” Lopez said.
If Cobble & Co. were to succeed, he would need to re-think the entire staffing model he’d worked with for over seven years.
Well-being for staff and customers was a major concern from both a pandemic and burnout perspective. Rather than hire a huge team to burn through, Lopez decided to re-do the traditional restaurant model.
The Greens had been using Bbot’s digital order and pay in their rooftop patio location to great success and had signed on to use the software in Cobble & Co from the get-go. Lopez used QR codes on each outdoor and indoor table; he then chose to hire ten front-of-house staff instead of the traditional 15.
Rather than burn out 15 servers on low pay, he used the funds he saved on front-of-house to give everyone, from front to back, a $2 an hour raise. Using Bbot’s flexible ordering system to cover the ordering part of the process, Lopez could reduce burnout in his servers and make them feel valued – which turned out to be more effective than paying more servers less money.
“We aren’t just putting money into the bottom line,” Lopez stated, “[Bbot] allowed me to give the people at the back of the house a raise from the start.”
Lopez also wanted to keep the health of his staff one of his main priorities during the pandemic. The team used their tech to encourage safe interactions between staff and diners while helping the team work more efficiently.
Cobble & Co’s plan becomes successful action
Cobble & Co opened as planned, using their tech strategically to make the best use of their servers’ time. They saw their results within months of opening, turning a profit without having to allocate any revenue toward training new servers or hiring. They discovered another bonus:
When diners ordered and paid for their meals directly from their phones, servers spent less time taking orders. The added time and smaller staff surprisingly offered guests a more intimate experience. Servers could build better customer relationships since waitstaff had more time to talk to guests and more chances of serving returners.
Each server made a monthly average of $1,700 in tips, almost double the industry standard.
When Lopez prioritized his staff, he found that they also prioritized his business. A big piece of that was how he decided to use specific Bbot features that his servers could use as tools to make their lives easier.
- Multi-menu support
- Order and pay at the table
- QR location codes and signage
Lopez created more than one menu, rotating for happy hours and regular business. He could swap out pricing and offers using an automated timer without logging in manually. The printing cost of multiple menus wasn’t worth it for a one-year business, but Lopez discovered it also saved servers time by showcasing only the most current menus.
Lopez also used categorization to his benefit when translating the menu to a digital platform. The ability to section out categories made digital ordering easier for customers, and Lopez could highlight best sellers in their menu for more sales.
Cobble & Co used Bbot’s digital software so guests could order from and close out their tab whenever they wanted. They hosted their interactive menu online for customers to order and pay without needing physical menus or flagging down servers. It created faster table turns and even less burden on customers to flag down a server, especially for outdoor tables where coverage was trickier.
The self-service ordering menu was paired with traditional service, creating what’s becoming known in the industry as ‘hybrid ordering’. A collaborative adaption to the more server-forward model, hybrid ordering sets up tech for the express purpose of helping servers do their jobs rather than replace them entirely, like in a quick service restaurant (McDonald’s as an example).
When adding QR codes to Cobble & Co, the team was acutely aware that dining laws were by no means set in stone. Lopez placed custom signage on his outdoor and indoor tables and the bar that customers could scan to access their digital menu.
Thankfully, Bbot’s QR codes come with location codes, letting the management team mix and match what tables are serviced depending on new lockdown measures. Even without the day-to-day changes of COVID rules, these location codes could be moved around the space to suit whatever layout Lopez needed.
“Having control over everything in the system gives us so much power,” said Lopez, “It allows you to make quick decisions.
Cobble & Co closed on a high note
Cobble & Co closed its doors at the end of 2021, paving the way for the promised Latin restaurant to open its doors permanently in the space. The pop-up was a success for The Greens. And with zero employee churn, the venue is now a blueprint for them to increase restaurant sales on a budget.
Lopez attributes much of the success to his restaurant management principles: that success is a team effort.
“The best thing I can say to anybody is: create a culture where people are comfortable and understand that they are being taken care of. We are all working shoulder to shoulder.”