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Science on Call wasn't always the one-size-fits-all solution for restaurant tech needs. Initially offering support for independent retailers at large, Science realized restaurants needed them the most. So they pivoted, and have thrived since, especially with the pandemic driving so much restaurant business online.
The company helps restaurants with "pretty much everything that plugs into the wall — or the cloud," in the words of Luisa Castellanos, the company's co-founder and COO. No problem is too big or too small for her team, she adds. For busy restaurants, that couldn't be more valuable.
Back of House spoke with Luisa Castellanos about what drew Science On Call to the restaurant space, how the pandemic has shaped restaurants' needs, and how internet connectivity is truly essential for restaurants.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Back of House: Tell us who you are and what you do for Science On Call.
Luisa Castellanos: I'm the co-founder and COO of Science On Call. We actually started Science On Call back in 2014 as an IT consulting company. And then, over the years, we found that restaurants needed us the most — that there wasn't really a standardized company out there focused on small businesses, providing the level of support of an IT director or an IT outsourced company. And so we pivoted and created our subscription model at the end of 2019.
Early 2020 is when we launched ScienceOn Call an IT help desk for restaurants. Our team is available 24/7. We answer calls from our customers, we specifically support restaurants, and we basically are replacing the traditional outsourced IT company. A lot of times, those companies don't work nights and weekends, they don't focus on the restaurant industry, and they're out of the budget of most restaurants. We provide them with one number to call or text, 24/7, for $179 a month, for unlimited remote tech support.
BOH: What are the types of things restaurant operators could call Science on Call about?
LC: We deal with everything from WiFi on the patio, online ordering integrations, setting up backup internet — which is really important right now because all of your orders are online orders. If you don't have a stable internet connection, you might as well be closed. So, we provide that peace of mind, that backup and zero downtime, reliable technology system. We also deal with phone systems, with websites, with printers, pretty much everything that plugs into the wall — or the cloud, I guess.
BOH: Do you focus on a specific segment of the restaurant marketplace, or is it sort of across the spectrum?
LC: Everything from single owner operator locations to a chain of 10 or 15. Usually it's a business that has reached that level where they're deciding whether or not to hire internal IT companies or internal IT teams. We typically don't work with larger chains.
BOH: When you onboard a new restaurant operator to be a customer for Science On Call, how do you get a sense for their needs? What's the onboarding process like?
LC: It's definitely customized based on the business, so it depends on what systems they have in place already. We do a full onboarding assessment — typically, there's an on-site component to that, as well as maybe a phone call or an email of just compiling all that information. We compile their logins, any key information that we would need, like an internet service provider, and document the hardware that they have in place. And then if there are underlying issues, we will come in and make a recommendation on new hardware and new systems to implement. We'll do the installation and then we will support it ongoing.
BOH: Is it limited to Chicago at this point? Are you in other markets?
LC: We are based in Chicago. Our primary team is located in Chicago, but we do have boots on the ground in Los Angeles. We have about a dozen customers in L.A. right now. And then we are expanding to New York and a few other key target markets in the U.S.
BOH: What has the pandemic done to reshape your business?
LC: Before the pandemic, we were solving about 70% of issues remotely and the other 30% on-site. Now, we're solving about 90% to 95% of those issues remotely. We don't have to go on-site as often because we've built some remote monitoring capability. We have visibility into their network, and we can reboot their systems remotely. Before the pandemic, our number one support request was related to the music going out on a Friday night. During and post-COVID, [it will] probably will still be related to internet outages. But in this case, the internet outage is causing them to lose sales — they're not receiving any online orders, their printers aren't printing tickets, they're not seeing the requests from customers, maybe their phone lines are down.
Everything revolves around the internet, and that's why we've launched a new product called Science Online, which is a backup redundant internet connection. We send out the hardware, and the hardware is all configured with the backup data connection. So, once the internet goes down, it fails over and then it uses data, 4G, LTE data as a backup.
BOH: Does Science On Call troubleshoot at the level of software that restaurants use itself, or are you more focused on the network and systems that connect those pieces of software?
LC: Yes. We do work with the systems that they have in place, so if they have a POS system, we have access basically as an admin user. We can go in, and if we know how to solve the issue, we will solve it. Otherwise, we will call the provider on their behalf, so a lot of times we're actually the ones calling Toast [or any of the other systems]. When you're a chef behind the grill, you don't have time to sit on hold with the POS company for half an hour and then try and go into your computer and make those changes. All they have to do is text us the issue, and then we’ll take care of the rest.
BOH: It sounds like you’re also acting as operational support and tech support for the systems themselves.
LC: We really like to say there's no question too big or too small. With our basic $179 a month plan, they can text us that they need a new point of sale system, or they're opening a new location. We do sometimes have specific project rates. We’ve opened dozens of locations as the IT team for some of our customers, but it can be as simple as just updating a menu. It's really across the board. If we don't know how to solve a problem, we will find a way to get it solved for them, because we know that in running a restaurant, no two days are the same. We have to make sure that our team understands that and is willing to take a stab at whatever comes across their plate.
BOH: What do you think Science On Call can offer an operator who thinks they've got it all under control?
LC: We actually get that all the time. I would say the biggest thing is that, as a restaurant operator, you only have so much time in a day. You should really be focusing on your customers, on your menu, and strategic planning. You shouldn't be spending all day updating your menu or plugging in and unplugging printers. We take that time off of their plate so that they can focus on their guests. That's our biggest value proposition that we really want restaurant operators to understand. They need to be focusing on their sanitation or maybe they're opening a new location, or maybe they're sending out new marketing campaigns. We take that off their plate, and it's in a price range that any restaurant operator can afford and justify. Even just the internet connectivity alone — if your Internet's out for an hour, think about how many lost sales you have, not to mention customers being upset and never ordering again or telling their friends about it. The cost of that is in the hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars, whereas with Science On Call, you're spending $179 a month for that insurance and that peace of mind.
BOH: How do you think about the difference in value proposition between onboarding a staffer versus contracting with Science On Call? What's the value from your perspective to going with your service?
LC: With hiring an IT person in-house, that’s a salary of somewhere around $100,000 a year, plus benefits, and you lose them three weeks out of the year for vacation and sick days. They can't be in more than one place at once, and they might not know all of the trends in the restaurant space because they're only working in that one business. Maybe they've had past jobs in the industry, but our team is dealing with these issues, all day, every day for 50 other restaurants, so we know the answers. We know what solutions are out there. We can make those recommendations and we can solve [problems] quicker than an IT person could who's probably dealing with bigger IT strategies. We do actually have some customers who have an IT person that's in leadership, and then we kind of supplement those smaller issues that come up. It's scalable — we're $179 a month per location, for every location they add, it's just another $179. If you're a growing group and you're planning on opening another five locations, that single IT person — you're stretching them pretty thin at that point.
BOH: What are some of the big obstacles that Science On Call is facing and trying to meet creatively?
LC: I would say the biggest thing is understanding that operators do not have the budget for any ongoing services right now, but we really want people to understand that technology is very key to their survival. The future of restaurants relies on technology, whether it's online ordering or reservation systems or meal kits, you name it. They need to be prepared, and they need to be up to speed on the latest trends. Unfortunately, some of the restaurants that don't implement these new technologies, there's a pretty high chance they won't make it. It’s heartbreaking to me — seeing customers temporarily close breaks my heart. We have been growing our team, and are really trying to stay on top of what [restaurants are] feeling so that we can help them make it through the winter.
BOH: What's the message that you would like to get out there to operators who are interested in this service but are maybe not sure if it's for them? What’s important for them to take away from this interview?
LC: We would love to meet them. We're a very personable team. We really like to get to know the owners. We want to be part of their team, and we want to really understand what their needs are. Related to that, we are offering free consultations and free appointments with us. It can be a tech evaluation, just to see what they have in place and make some recommendations, and then if they do need help actually implementing something, then we would recommend that they sign up with us. Typically, we like to have that stronger engagement of a subscription partnership with them, because then we can have full visibility into their systems. But of course, even if it's just a small project, like setting up online ordering or a question about their point of sale, we're always happy to hop on the phone.