1,102 words | 4 minutes
When App8 was launched, the company was filling a void in the foodservice industry and helping restaurants save money and clientele by offering diners a quick way to settle their bill and leave. App8 allowed people to get their bill and pay it without having to wait for the server to drop it off and then return with the payment machine. That meant diners could wind down their evening faster, people waiting for their table would get it sooner and servers could avoid diner frustration. It was a win-win-win.
“We were doing the digital dining experience before it was cool and became necessary,” says Elias Hage, CEO of App8. “The problem we were originally solving was around the guest experience. Say you’ve just finished a wonderful meal and you’re waiting forever for the bill. The last step, which is administrative and transactional, turns an experience from a good one to a bad one. Being frustrated and waiting is the last thing you remember.”
Hage says the reality is that restaurants lose a lot of money when that scenario occurs because some customers are annoyed they can’t leave when they’re done, and because people waiting at the door may give up waiting and go elsewhere.
“Then you’ve got your service staff that spends 16 per cent of their time just doing the payment — delivering the bill, getting the machine,” Hage says. “That’s an extra $50,000 in the restaurant’s pocket just by digitizing the payment process.”
Things were moving along nicely with App8 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced many restaurants to offer takeout and online ordering to stay in business during lockdowns. Hage immediately saw new opportunities for his technology. The company, which launched in 2018, revisited its product in 2020 and then relaunched, with several more offerings at the beginning of 2021.
“What we do now at App8 is provide an omnichannel, restaurant-branded ordering solution to mid-market and enterprise restaurant brands,” Hage says. “We offer digital dine-in ordering, takeout ordering and a data portal seamlessly integrated with the restaurant point-of-sale system.”
App8’s first customers included Fathers and Sons Restaurant and Al’s Diner in Ottawa. Then, when COVID hit, everything accelerated.
“At the time, there were a lot of other companies that wanted to automate everything, but the reality is that in the dining space in North America, there is a human interaction,” he says. “That was one of the challenges that killed other companies that started to do this. When we started on this journey, we knew we couldn’t just automate everything. You have to make it work for restaurant operators, guests and staff.”
Before COVID, App8 predicted a five-to-10-year timeline before consumers would be ready for a fully automated experience, but COVID shortened that ramp to one year as restaurant diners started to demand an ordering experience that was contactless, convenient and safe.
“Customers are ready for digital menus and to do their own ordering on and off premises,” he says. “And food service establishments can no longer sustain selling their products only using high commission services. They need to take ownership of their own solutions for on and off premise digital dining.”
As such, Hage and his “lean team” have been working on providing for all of those needs and also anticipating “where the needle will land” in a post-COVID world. They consulted restaurants and then they expanded their product line to address the needs they identified.
Along the way, the Ottawa company attracted the attention of Boston Pizza’s Canadian-based chain and Bowlero — the worldwide leader in bowling entertainment, with about 300 locations in the U.S.
“A lot of food service brands are adopting digital dining as part of their own portfolio,” Hage says. “The future of digital is omnichannel — dine-in, pickup and delivery and you can choose to automate and internally manage as many of these as you want. We focus on building the best possible omnichannel digital experience for mid-market and enterprise establishments. Today we’re working with some of the largest brands out there.”
Hage has used the services of Invest Ottawa to great effect so far. Soon after he had the idea for App8, he made an appointment to discuss it with an advisor at Invest Ottawa.
“I was pretty green at the time and I had a 90-minute meeting,” he says. “I went into that meeting expecting to talk about the strategy and the business plan. But the advisor spent most of the time talking about whether I should launch. There are a lot of things that are Googleable, but you need advisors to help you hone in on the details. And there are a lot of things that aren’t as tangible — you learn that you’ll have to sacrifice. The advisor asked if I was ready to do what it takes. Without that early conversation, I don’t think this business would have happened. It was one of the most valuable conversations I had.”
Soon, he was connected to an entrepreneur-in-residence who helped him work his way through his first pitches in the early days. Through that advice, he learned to keep his elevator pitch simple.
Hage is now applying to use Invest Ottawa’s 5G test bed because of 5G’s speeding in sending and receiving data.
“5G is going to augment the foodservice industry’s ability to manage rich content — content between consumers, establishments and across the network,” Hage says. “Today, one of the key criteria for multilocation brands is to have effective and efficient content-management — the menus, photos, pricing and syncing that across a network of locations. We plug right into content management for a multilocation site. They can manage their content centrally and it can talk to their other systems, such as point of sale, rewards and loyalty. Bringing all that together is important and 5G will increase the richness of the content that can be transmitted and communicated across this entire network. It will create a huge opportunities for food and beverage establishments to leverage their digital ecosystem to grow and reach more consumers.”
Some of the success App8 has experienced that Hage credits back to Invest Ottawa’s sound advice includes growing the company’s customer base from an Ottawa footprint of 20 clients to working with some of the largest national brands, representing more than 600 locations across the U.S. and Canada.
As a result of the team’s focus on guest experience and restaurant feedback, end-user engagement with App8’s products has grown by 20 times since the start of 2021 and is expected to continue its growth trajectory.
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