BurgerFi, TASK execs discuss cooking up customer loyalty with digital innovation

At the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Miami hosted by Networld Media Group, industry thought leaders shared strategies for success and growth in changing times in a series of miniature lectures sponsored by TASK. These two speakers pivoted focus to technology.

Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This is part two of a two-part series; read part one here.

At the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Miami hosted by Networld Media Group, industry thought leaders shared strategies for success and growth in changing times in a series of miniature lectures sponsored by TASK. The first two presenters shared the methods they have discovered to build powerful business growth at scale while contributing to social good and helping people — all while navigating the unique challenges of the economy, job market and other challenges — before the next two speakers pivoted to focus on the technology used to reach these goals.

The Digital Dance: Sustaining Digital Innovation

John Laporte shares lessons from years of restaurant and technology experience. Image credit: Willie Lawless.

“Digital innovation is really the process of adding digital value, and address which addresses new technology and customer demand,” John Laporte, President at TASK, said. “It’s really data-enriched solutions that provide a deeply personal experience.” These definitions guide the mission and strategy for Laporte and his team at TASK, a firm which for over a decade has specialized in providing a full-stack, cloud-based point of sale and operates in 67 countries, supporting an array of food, including full service fine dining and fast casual.

Highlighting the theme of what business experts have called “the human side of digital transformation,” LaPorte said effective digital innovation is a highly iterative process that requires involving and having a relationship with your customers and learning to listen to them. “It requires testing continuously, so that you can either adopt or fail fast,” he added. “The process never ends.”

As businesses must become ever more agile in making data-based changes that work flawlessly across systems, the need for what LaPorte and his team have dubbed the “digital backbone” or “operational backbone” of your business — the underlying digital infrastructure or “skeleton” which can sturdily support all the moving parts of your operations without breaking down. “And essentially, the key tenants of it are that it’s an end-to-end transaction processing that is seamless, a single source of truth,” Laporte said.

The problem of fragmentation and silos within companies and restaurants that don’t integrate and communicate well is a major pain point in digital transformation and innovation, Laporte said, and making sure your restaurant integrates its processes and data across the organization is vital to success in the changing marketplace. Gathering reliable data is vital (which allows you to know and understand your customers), along with automating everywhere possible for efficiency — but he stressed that being agile and capable of pivoting quickly is the secret to success; entire new companies have emerged from a small division that started doing something innovative that caught on with the marketplace, from hotels and hospitality to other sectors.

Still, according to LaPorte, the leading principle for success, no matter how much things in food and technology change, comes back to the people being served. “You still have to sell food, and it’s still about people — it’s still about your customer.”

In this excerpt, John Laporte shares insights from his own restaurant experience with designing digital innovation strategy. Video credit: Daniel Brown.

Why NFTs, Why now?

Steve Lieber, VP at BurgerFi, explains NFTs and how they can be used in restaurant operations and strategy. Image credit: Willie Lawless.

Pivoting to innovative technologies that are changing the way restaurants do business, Steve Lieber, VP of franchise business development at BurgerFi, gave an introduction to NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) and the ways they are transforming the industry.

It starts with understanding the new era of the Internet that we live, work and play in, according to Lieber, who described Web 1.0 as being about eCommerce (Amazon, eBay), while Web 2.0 was more concerned with social media (Facebook, Twitter, followed by current popular types like Discord). We have now entered the era of Web 3.0, Lieber said: “Web 3.0 is about blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs.”

It’s vital for people to understand that this is not a far-future thing, Lieber cautioned, citing examples like the Flyfishing Club, a members-only restaurant now being built in New York City from the funds raised when members bought virtual tokens to be part of it. As another example, Lieber said another NFT he has purchased entitles him to free food delivery in four cities, along with about $10 per month in cryptocurrency.

Lieber explained his own initiation into the world of NFTs in part thanks to attending V-Con, a convention for members of a community called V-Friends, founded by entrepreneur and media personality Gary Vaynerchuk around concepts in the book “12½.”

“12½ is a book about gratitude and self-awareness, accountability, optimism, empathy, kindness, tenacity, curiosity, patience, conviction, humility, ambition and kind candor,” Lieber explained. “These are the characteristics that Gary has taught the community to … believe in to inspire so when you went to V-Con, you could feel the energy, you could feel the intelligence you could feel the creativity, you could feel that everyone was looking out for each other. The kindness, the intelligence, the optimism — it was amazing.”

OK — so what’s an NFT?

Lieber explained that NFTs are a versatile technology; NFTs can be gifts (the most common type use case, according to Lieber), or they can be used to authenticate high-priced merchandise like bottles of wine or luxury brand sneakers (including Gucci). Other NFTs grant access to events or to meet celebrities; other types include “pay to play,” various business-class NFTs and intellectual property NFTs, along with NFT series made famous in popular culture and memes such as the “Bored Ape Club” collection.

Lieber says that the new generation of 12 and under (Generation Alpha) is perfectly positioned to adopt NFT technology en masse. “All they know is the iPhone,” Lieber explained. “They don’t know rotary phones, they don’t know touch-tone phones, they don’t know TV, they only know streaming and YouTube and Disney streaming and all that. So their mindset is totally different. And they’re very, very into business. They’re very entrepreneurial. My 11 year old already has a business going. My 13year olds have had a business for two years already.”

NFTs are becoming serious business for many across generations, Lieber said, telling the story of friends who purchased three NFTs for about $400,000 all-told; other examples can go for millions, like the V Series 1. “Gary Vaynerchuk drew most of them with a Sharpie pen,” Lieber said. “I think they originally sold for $57 million. The beauty of that NFTs, if you don’t know, is that every time you resell it, and you’re an original owner, you get 10% of that next sale and the next sale … in perpetuity.” While criticisms sometimes arise about the quality of NFT drawings, Lieber said, it’s important to consider actual sales and purchases, pointing to the example of four NFTs that Sotheby’s auctioned for around $1.2 billion.

Celebrities are showing interest too, according to Lieber, citing remarks by Snoop Dogg and the example of Taylor Swift selling one of her songs via NFT, along with major business entities like Starbucks (with the Odyssey line of digital collectibles) and, according to alleged leaks and rumors anyway, Amazon as well (though, Lieber said, Amazon has neither confirmed nor denied these rumors).

What can NFTs do for your restaurant?

Customer loyalty programs, such as loyalty clubs, are huge beneficiaries of NFT technology, Lieber said, mentioning that he has about 350,000 loyalty members (with 90,000 being active). Pointing back to the example of the Flyfishing Club being funded with proceeds from access NFT’s, he argued that NFTs can offer a competitive ROI compared to other investments. “I think it’s $25,000 a year to smoke cigars at the Havana Club,” Lieber said. “So, this (Flyfishing Club NFT program) is $11,000 for a lifetime membership of this restaurant, and the membership you can resell, so you might make more money.”

Another example involves offering special service and discounts for NFT holders at your restaurants, Lieber said. “So what we’re doing at BurgerFi is anybody who is in our loyalty group and gets that NFT, they’re going to get to try the new burger special before it comes out to the public. So, they’re able to walk into a restaurant and get an item that everybody else isn’t available to have. And that’s very popular right now.”

Still, Lieber stresses that he does a lot of research and due diligence, employing caution as he explores NFTs as an investment opportunity for himself, seeking to balance a desire not to miss out on a major web-based innovation with careful practices. “Web 1.0: I didn’t invest in Amazon, my mistake. Web 2.0: I didn’t invest in Facebook or Twitter. I missed it. Web 3.0: I’m investing a little bit in NFTs — in smart ones. I’m looking at the artists. I make sure I like the artwork. I make sure I like the access, I make sure of the road plan — it’s called the ‘roadmap,’ what they’re going to do in the future with the money that they raised with the NFT — and make sure that the NFT people are legit, and that they have other projects.”

Lieber closed by sharing his contact information with the audience, contending that it has become clear that NFTs are real and they’re here to stay, especially with the Starbucks example and the Amazon rumors cited.
Networld Media Group will host several other food-service summits this year, including the Pizza Leadership Virtual Summit July 26, 2023, the Fast Casual Executive Summit Oct. 8-10, 2023, and #QSRNext Nov. 9, 2023.

Steve Lieber discussing NFTs and the example of the Flyfish Club. Video credit: Daniel Brown.

Daniel Brown is the editor of Digital Signage Today. He is an accomplished technology writer whose experience includes creating knowledge base content for a major university’s computing services department. His previous experience also includes IT project management, technical support and education. He can usually be found in a coffee shop near a large pile of books.

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