Even before opening his own restaurants more than 20 years ago, Jessi Singh grew up in the dining industry. The owner of Sydney’s self-described “unauthentic Indian” destination Don’t Tell Aunty – as well as Daughter in Law in Melbourne and now Adelaide, plus Mrs Singh, Mr Brownie and other restaurants in New York and California too – has witnessed seismic shifts behind the scenes over those two decades, many of them hastened by new technology.
We asked Singh to reflect on some of the ways restaurants and tech have transformed and aided the daily workings of his venues, from the start of the day, long before diners arrive, to plating up an Instagram-worthy dish.
Before a restaurant opens its doors to the public, bookings need to be gathered so an efficient floor plan can be made. In the old days, this involved going through phone messages and calling back individual customers to manually confirm bookings before 5pm. “That took a lot of work between one or two people,” says Singh.
Now, though, online bookings and streamlined technology mean everything is done much more quickly and with far less chance of human error. The floor plan itself can be made in 15 minutes, and the rest falls into place from there.
Anyone who’s seen Masterchef knows the pain of running low on an ingredient during the middle of service. Inventory has always been crucial to running a restaurant, but it used to be a time-consuming toil that involved a lot of manual checking and double-checking. These days deliveries are scanned in digitally, meaning inventories are automatically updated and orders can be made far in advance – with no risk of shortage.
“That information can be shared around instantly,” says Singh, so that the kitchen and accounting are always on the same page. POS (point of sale) systems such as Square now also include ingredient tracking, which safeguards the whole process.
In the Kitchen
New tech now encompasses the hustle and bustle of the kitchen itself, where kitchen display systems mean that chefs can see orders clearly on shared screens rather than ducking back and forth to squint at paper dockets. Singh says that not all chefs are tech-savvy, so he does allow for personal preferences on that count. The exact system in a given kitchen also depends on the cuisine, but he does find screens are better for bigger orders – and ideal for multitasking.
Instagram and other social media has drastically transformed people’s expectations for eating out. Not only do guests expect photo-perfect dishes, they expect it to look exactly like the images they’ve seen online.
“People already have an idea of what a dish will look like,” says Singh. “And if you don’t create that exact same dish again and again, people will be disappointed. They’ll even show you on their phone.”
Current tech allows for organised reference material – like the “food bible” for staff at Singh’s restaurants, a resource that offers not just notes on a dish but the definitive image of it.
From customer payments on the restaurant floor to in-depth table mapping, streamlined POS systems like Square for Restaurants have made things easier for restaurants in this era of high staff turnover.
“It’s very simple, so it’s easy for staff to go through and understand,” says Singh. “You pick up the hardware and start right away.”
Rather than get bogged down with complicated manual systems, Singh prefers this immediate approach. He also says technology is much more affordable than in the past (and no longer comes with onerous multi-year contracts), which makes it that much cheaper to start a small business in the first place.
“Everything has to be quick” when you’re running a restaurant, he says. These days that means beyond chefs and staff, all you need is an internet connection and basic hardware – rather than the expensive wiring jobs and masses of cable of previous eras. “It’s just plug and play,” he says.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Square.