RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY – A tablet-based system helps Café Strudel better handle crowd control

When it comes to brunch in West Columbia, S.C., the line typically snakes out the door at Café Strudel, known for its cheesy and spicy Hangover Hashbrowns.

But owner Trip Turbyfill fretted he was losing business from guests wary of the sometimes unpredictable wait. So in the spring of 2015, he decided to try a guest management program: the Cake Guest Manager, an iPad-based seating app.

“After about a month I thought I could never do without it. Before that we were doing everything with pencil and paper. It was like the dark ages,” Turbyfill says.

Essentially the app allows Café Strudel to better control and predict table availability by following the status of every table in real time. When guests arrive, they can put their name and mobile numbers on a list. The app, meanwhile, shows the host a map of tables and where they are in the dining process: seated, orders placed, check dropped, closed out.

That data helps the host better manage empty seats. “And the people who are waiting in line won’t wonder why they can’t sit down at some table they see is empty,” Turbyfill says.

The system texts guests when their table is ready. That frees them to wander off and explore shops in the area, rather than waiting at the restaurant.

Servers can also see a history of guest visits, how long they’ve waited and what they ordered at their last visit.

Guest Manager integrated with Turbyfill’s point-of-sale system at the time, but since then he’s shifted to Cake’s POS, which is cloud-based.

“With our old computers, if we lost power or something went wrong with the server, we lost business,” he notes. “Now if something goes wrong with the terminal, I’m still in business.”

It also frees Turbyfill to leave town. “I could be sitting on the beach in Florida and I could pull out my iPad and log in to check daily sales, hourly sales, item sales, voids or gift cards,” he says.

Café Strudel uses another app called 7 Shifts, which integrates with the Cake system, for scheduling. It pulls in sales data and helps Turbyfill set projections on staffing needs.

“We’re so busy on the weekends, but not as busy during the week, unless there’s a holiday, like Martin Luther King Day, and then we’re extremely busy,” he says. “In the past, we wouldn’t have anything that would flag that, we’d just have to remember. Now we can see that we need a couple more servers on those days.”

The restaurant pays a monthly fee per station for use of the Cake system, which includes technical support, which amounts to about $120 per month. The terminals were about $1,500 each, and included a cash drawer and printer.

With about 150 seats, a full bar, private dining and catering, Café Strudel is the only restaurant owned by Turbyfill and his wife Marila Turbyfill. Other restaurants like his might not see the need for such technology, or see it as too big an investment, he admits.

“But you see all these chains spend money on POS systems,” he adds. “And they don’t do it because they like to spend money. They do it because it saves them money.”