Photo: Havana Central
Whenever New York’s Cuban comfort food chain Havana Central tries out a new computer system or application, founder Jeremy Merrin does a test run on the technology in its newest location. “It costs too much to change everything in the [flagship] location,” he tells us, and in the newest establishment, “the staff isn’t as familiar with the default system as the ones at the older locations.”
Ultimately this saves time and money retraining employees.
“As you grow, it’s very expensive to change things, so you test out the new stuff in one store, and decide if you want to expand it to the rest of your locations. We spend a lot of time analysing this.”
But he prefers to introduce new items on the menu — or any changes that don’t require a tech team — at the flagship location, so the most experienced staff and loyal customers can offer feedback.
Havana recently changed its Point Of Sale system to a software called “Digital Dining,” which Merrin tells us is a “very big deal” for restaurants. The kitchen also recently adopted a new display system that tells the cooks exactly when to start preparing entrees, so that the different items will be finished at the same time without anything sitting in the kitchen for too long. The company tested this out in its newest location.
Photo: Havana Central
But whatever changes are being made, it’s important to continue updating customers, says Merrin, so that they feel in the loop: “That’s how you retain them.”
The first Havana Central restaurant opened in Manhattan’s Union Square nearly a decade ago, and Merrin knew then that he wanted to create a national brand.
Restaurants in Times Square, Manhattan’s uptown and Yonkers, New York eventually followed.
But in the next few years, he wants to expand rapidly, which means two or three new locations every year — focusing on the Northeastern U.S. area for now.
When connecting with customers online, Merrin says not to come off as if you’re trying to make a sale.
“You don’t want to sell online. You have to mean more to your social media followers than just a promotional agency,” he tells us. “You want to to throw out content that isn’t sales-related. We’ll throw out recipes, interviews we do, discuss summer bar-be-ques we’re hosting and feature bands who play at our restaurants.”
Merrin hired a social media director to maintain the restaurant’s blog, post pictures, interact with customers and announce deals or specials.
The restaurant currently has an email list of more than 30,000 people and heavily uses its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“It’s very important to establish a conversation with your customers, and that’s possible with technology now,” Merrin says. It’s important because “most neighbourhood restaurants can’t survive solely on walk-in customers. Instead, they need regular clientele.”
“There has to be a conversation for people to come back and that’s why technology is so important for the restaurant industry these days. They have to feel as if you’re directly talking to them.”
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