“72 Hours in NYC” – never has a headline for a hospitality study tour lived up to its billing. At first glance it could be the title for a Big Apple movie blockbuster rather than a really hectic three-day flying visit to one of the busiest cities in the world.
My mission to find out not only what makes successful hospitality operators and retailers tick but how they embrace technology.
This is my first time in New York. On the transfer to the airport I am thinking to myself when do we get to the nice parts of the city? Although this is New York, the Big Apple, the city of eight million stories, all I can see is graffiti and dilapidation everywhere I look.
Our base is Brooklyn. A decade and half ago – according to our energetic and informative tour guide Lawrence Weibman aka NYCFoodGuy (see pic above) – the borough was synonymous with drugs.
Nowadays, they’ve cleaned up the area although the one of the benefits of the narcotics legacy includes cheaper rents which ensures Brooklyn is the perfect environment to test and refine new hospitality concepts without having to break the bank. Indeed, we saw many concepts that were clearly created on a minimal spend.
In the UK, an ‘old, thrown together’ look does not come cheap. But in New York many of the sites we saw did appear to have literally been cobbled together using bits of ply wood. The Caracas Venezuelan Arepas Bar is the classic example. See the picture above. Yet this concept actually works and does not look out of place because the passion and the focus is invested in getting the food offering spot on.
The one lesson for all UK operators starting out, and looking to expand, is you need passion to success. We visited lots of different places, over 30 in total during our 72 hours in NYC and sampled a truly diverse range of food. Donuts, Venezuelan, Mexican, pizza, BBQ, burger & lobster, pastrami sandwiches. Concepts dealing with just one product. At each one, what really stood out was the passion involved in the delivery and their products. They wanted to be best at what they did.
Operators would go to incredible lengths to get things done. One venue specialised in fried chicken with a spicy sauce and honey butter on a biscuit. It was eye-catching and extremely filling and possibly too sweet. But like Marmite you either loved it or hated it. Mine was the latter but more than enough people were queuing up to buy, proving you don’t have to please all the people all the time!
The two dozen or so UK operators are equally passionate about their own businesses back home and were inspired by many of the ideas highlighted by Lawrence.
A glass coffee filtering set (above left) impressed Living Ventures’ managing director Paul Moran who said he could see this working a treat at his Alchemist brand.
Likewise, Lyndon Higginson and Ross Mackenzie were impressed with the smoked meat in the Hill Country Barbecue in Manhattan.
I can see one or two ideas possibly being adopted in the Black Dog Ballroom and at the Liars Club.
The attention to detail was amazing, including only smoking the brisket with wood from the Lone Star state of Texas, the original home of barbecue cooking (see above right). That might prove expensive importing wood from the USA mind.
Two other venues that caught the eye and are ready for expansion were the MeatBall Shop specialising in, you’ve guessed it, meatballs and Burger and Lobster, where the founder Misha Zelman gave us a fascinating insight into the passion behind the B&L concept.
From a professional technological point of view, I was surprised (or was I) at the number of venues that were using Samsung tablets and Apple iPads in the Big Apple for taking orders and processing payments.
A lot of the smaller, less well-funded venues, especially the start ups, were using tablet technology with lots of extras tacked on to add functionality for online orders and scanning as there are obvious integration issues with other software and hardware.
iPads and other tablets haven’t been designed for the hospitality sector and although we supply them for mobile ordering we also recommend they are used in conjunction with traditional robust and resilient EPOS terminals. I noticed (as you expect) that the more mature concepts with capital behind them had better technology.
Almost everyone offering a takeaway or pre-booking service offered online order rather than placing orders by telephone, which is clearly old hat in NYC.
Even the smallest and simplest concepts were using technology. Home and business delivery was supported by the extensive use of loyalty and credit cards. In the USA they expect this as a minimum level of service.
People often think the USA is way ahead of the game compared to the UK. But that’s not strictly true. We’re ahead with it comes to chip’n’pin as the USA has yet to adopt the system in the UK. However, that does mean they have a more flexible and innovative attitude to other payment solutions.
Payment apps are going to take off over the next 24 months and you can rest assured that GS will be looking to partner with market leaders to ensure our customers can take advantage of proven cutting edge technology. Watch this space.
Niels attended the “72 Hours in NYC 2015” study tour, which was organised jointly by Restaurant Magazine and the M&C Report.