To RezPlus' Rachel Repp, Online Spaces Must Be as Hospitable as Brick-and-Mortars

An interview with the company's director of business development about the suite of technology it brings to restaurants.
March 29, 2021, 08:53 PM UTC
To RezPlus' Rachel Repp, Online Spaces Must Be as Hospitable as Brick-and-Mortars

Welcome to BOH Banter, an interview series designed to introduce our audience of independent restaurant operators to the Verified Vendors on our Solutions marketplace. Have suggestions for who we should interview next? Pitch us: tips@backofhouse.io!

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For 15 years, RezPlus has offered independent restaurateurs support in all things technology-based. In the words of Rachel Repp, the director of business development, "When you start working with RezPlus, you have a real voice here, and a real partner."

RezPlus began in the reservations space, but expanded upon seeing developing restaurant needs. Now providing support for e-marketing, online ordering, e-gift, and more, the platform empowers independent restaurants to harness their customer data and to make savvy business decisions with it.

Back of House spoke with Repp about RezPlus' history of partnership with independent restaurants, how the platform empowers restaurants to use customer data, and why RezPlus is an investment for a restaurateur in their own business.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Meet Rachel Repp of RezPlus

Back of House: Why don't we start with just the basics? Tell me who you are and what you do. 

Rachel Repp: My name is Rachel. I am the director of business development for RezPlus. I was fortunate enough to join the team about eight months ago — a really exciting opportunity to work with the company. My background’s been in hospitality technology for the last seven years or so. One thing that I really love about RezPlus: You don't want to get too focused on the current business climate, but it is different, and it is rapidly evolving, and it is challenging. RezPlus has the applications to really help the independent restaurateur function, thrive, pivot, and do business in a different way. 

BOH: If I'm a restaurant operator and I've never heard of RezPlus, what is this solution? What do I need to know about it?

RR: RezPlus is an all-in-one, cloud-based solution, focused, or built specifically, for the mid-range, high-end independent restaurateur with a whole suite of online guest interaction tools. From building a beautiful, brand-new website, to inserting online reservations right on your website, online ordering so you can start selling those pickup orders online, online gift certificates — all of the ways to interact in the digital space with your guests. We back that with e-marketing as well.

We have a beautiful CRM that pulls all of the data from these different applications — online ordering, e-gift, reservations — and you can start doing some e-marketing. We've got QR code-embedded contact tracing features, so basically everything a restaurant needs to take their brick-and-mortar service experience and transpose it online, because now, the way that restaurants are interacting quite a bit with their guests is online. How do you do that? How do you display your particular experiences, your food, your environment? That online space needs to be as hospitable as your brick-and-mortar restaurant.

BOH: Tell me a little bit about some of these functionalities. Was there a core functionality that RezPlus grew out of? Did it start with reservations? What's the DNA of the company?

RR: RezPlus started 15 years ago, recognizing the need for online scheduling, particularly in the restaurant space. RezPlus built out the reservation application first. RezPlus reservations have a unique algorithm that not only takes into account seating the front of house, but also the back of house. [That way,] you can have the perfect seating in the front, but also take into account how many plates your kitchen can do. Not only does it increase those table turns, but it also ensures the quality of the food, so you get that repeat business, which is so important in that mid-range higher-end independent space.

One other thing that RezPlus did really differently in the reservation space: We'll never route guests away from a restaurant’s website. We don't insert our brand. We honor the relationship between the restaurant and their client. You're never going to go to a third-party site. You're never going to see the RezPlus logo everywhere. It's all going to be very specifically built and branded for that restaurant’s unique look and feel.

BOH: In your view, why is that a differentiator for operators to be able to have their branding and not have RezPlus middleman-ing between operator and customer?

RR: [The answer is] twofold. One: You have all of this rich data for your guests. A restaurant has an incredible amount of interactions with unique guests — all of the data around them, very powerful analytics. So by owning all of your own guest data, that's one of the things we do. We're not routing you to a third party that owns that data. We're empowering the restaurant to own all of that data. That powers the restaurant to make really interesting and insightful business decisions around true analytics. We're never gonna sell that information. I think that's a really important component for marketing.

Second is all about keeping your brand alive and really building that connection with the guests. We don't want our guests thinking, “Let's go to RezPlus and find a restaurant,” or “Let's go to RezPlus and make a booking.” We want them saying, “I love ABC fine dining. Let's go there.” It really keeps that repeat patronage, that guest loyalty, connected with the restaurant, anywhere that we can build their brand. It also helps with their Google Analytics, their TripAdvisor reviews, and boosting their SEO, when we encourage people to go to their site and book on their site. We see RezPlus as an investment for a restaurateur in their own business.

BOH: Ownership over that relationship and over that data that corresponds to the relationship is not always something that the restaurant operator gets out of a relationship with a vendor. Certain vendors actually hold that data, and that's their competitive advantage. Why is RezPlus not interested in that?

RR: You'd have to meet our founder and CEO, Peter Hall. He's probably one of the most stand-up, down-to-earth good people that you've ever met. We truly, for the last 15 years, have always wanted to help restaurants. We wanted to be affordable. We wanted to empower them to grow their businesses. We don't see how we can empower restaurateurs to grow their business, to really be a partner for them in their business, if we're not empowering them with their own guest data. That's their data, and so our whole business model is around providing that top-level service, providing that top-level support, helping them grow and thrive. It's been that way for 15 years.

Data has become so ever-important over the last 15 years. Everybody's selling big data. That's not what we're about. We're about working with the independent restaurant and helping them grow, connect with their guests, and create that elevated guest experience. If we're selling data, we're really not helping the guest experience at all, so it's just not our focus. 

BOH: What can operators do with this data? How does RezPlus help empower them to actually leverage that data now that they're taking ownership of it?

RR: For a client of ours, a restaurant who moves forward with all the different pieces of RezPlus services, reservations, e-gift, e-marketing, online ordering, we're going to collect that information. [That way] the restaurant’s going to have a really full picture — not just of who reserves, not just who buys e-gifts, not just who does online ordering. I actually don't know any company other than RezPlus that does all of those different services. So, the restaurateur is going to get the full guest picture from one database — how often they reserved or how often they online ordered, or how often they've purchased e-gift. It's all going to be together, so you can really start figuring out who your most supportive patrons are. Maybe we want to reward them with the customer loyalty program. Maybe we want to give them some sort of special. We can look at the guest database and drill down and see, “Well, maybe I should run this kind of promotion or that kind of promotion,” or we can go look in the back end of the website and see right down to the analytics. What age group is coming to my restaurant most? Maybe I find out it's predominantly the 60-plus crew, so maybe I need to change my menu a little bit to bring in a younger or different crowd, or maybe I want to market to that.

By trade, I'm not in marketing, but with the way that RezPlus serves up these analytics and reports, it's really user-friendly. You can quickly look at it and go, “Oh, okay. I've got all this segment — maybe I want to target this group of people.” We actually do account reviews with all of our clients, talk through their data and analytics, and help them get comfortable with it, like a true partner.

BOH: Restaurant operators often get the knock of being unwilling to do things other than the way they've already figured out how to do them, and data can be daunting for restaurant operators who are not necessarily tech-savvy. Has the conversation shifted for RezPlus as you're going out and talking to restaurant operators? Are you seeing more of an appetite towards leveraging data and new ways to take business online? Can you characterize the tone of the conversation that you're finding with your customers?

RR: Working in hospitality over the years, I've heard that tone among technology companies in hospitality saying restaurateurs aren't tech-forward or don't want to adopt new technology. I absolutely disagree. I tip my hat to the restaurateur, because [for example, after] changing out their POS system, now they've got to do integrated payments, now they've got to do integrated pay at the table, now they've got to do digital menu boards, they've got to do loyalty, they've got to do gift cards. The amount of technology that's come down the pipeline — online reservations, just all of this technology that I've seen in my short time over the last seven years — I see these restaurateurs adapt to it and embrace it. It's unbelievable the amount of technology that a restaurant or an owner operator implements. I'm blown away by restaurants and how adaptive they are. And then the pandemic hit, and you see the passion they have for the business. They embrace technology even more because they're going to do what they love, which is serve people great food and give them a great experience.

So now in this crazy environment, how do they do it? My goodness. They make curated menus. High-end restaurants that have never done takeout orders are figuring out, “How do we do this? How do we do it in an elevated way?” We've got clients creating playlists that you can download of their restaurant music along with delivery meals. I'm just constantly wowed by restaurants and how adaptive they are. Especially here in Canada, there's a tremendous amount of lockdowns. Restaurants are embracing it. They're saying, “Let's get the right web presence. Let's get the online ordering going. Let's get our e-gifts [together]. How do I sell that gift certificate if someone can't come to my restaurant? How do I tell my guests how I'm going to keep them safe?” I think restaurants have always embraced technology, but I think they've done it at a pace that most businesses couldn't even imagine in the last eight months. That's me on a soapbox, but I'm really passionate about that.

We tip our hats to restaurateurs. We hope to alleviate some of the noise so they can just focus on the guests. We can make it easier and look after it for them, almost like a little outsourced IT department.

BOH: Yeah, which I'm sure comes in handy for these restaurant operators because they're so busy these days, and all the time.

RR: Yeah, busy changing and growing and figuring out how to look after their clients, for sure.

BOH: Are there any other things that you think operators should know about RezPlus? 

RR: For the last 15 years, RezPlus has built out all the applications that we have and the different services that we have by listening to our independent restaurants — listening to what they care about, listening to the technology that they want, and following their lead to build out those pieces. I would want anybody interested in RezPlus to know that we focus exclusively on the independent restaurant space, and our product is built out exclusively in collaboration with independent restaurant owner operators. When you start working with RezPlus, you have a real voice here, and a real partner.