From Labor Shortages to Customer Behavior: How One BBQ Restaurant Uses Technology to Adapt

Tejano BBQ Burrito was founded in 2015 to combine delicious barbecue recipes with healthier options. This Texas-style-barbecue-meets-Mexican-barbacoa puts quality and authenticity at the forefront of every burrito, bowl or salad, honoring slow-cooking traditions and prioritizing fresh ingredients. 

From a single location, it has grown to three well-known Montreal restaurants. And while they haven’t been immune to the recent ebbs and flows of the hospitality industry, they’ve been able to successfully use the tools at their disposal to adapt and find creative solutions to modern-day problems. 

To find out more about Tejano Barbecue Burrito’s use of technology in meeting the challenges facing the hospitality sector, we spoke to Ryan Bloom, Founder and Sophie Ruprecht, Director of Communications.

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Tell me how Tejano BBQ burrito was created. What’s the concept about? 

Ryan:Tejano was established in 2015. It opened on the St. Henri location. The original idea came from Dylan Keir. Urban Bonfire had been founded by me, so we were a grill and barbecue retailer and not food sellers. We became friends and business colleagues and he basically said to me one day, “I come back from these barbecue competitions and I can’t have another plate of pulled pork and BBQ. I can’t eat any more, it’s just too much.” How it started is basically we took these beautiful smoked meats, brisket, pork, chicken, things like that, and turned them into burritos and salads and bowls, which are lighter and fresher and a different sort of style than going in and ordering a pound of brisket. That’s how it got started. It was fusing together barbecue products or meats in a lighter, smaller portion that’s fresher and in healthier format.

It started as a grassroots venture. In 2016, our second store opened in Old Montreal, on William street. A few years later we opened the third one on St. Viateur at Mile End.

Was there a reason for the expansion? Did it come from customer demand? Was it always part the strategy?

Ryan: Each product is made as you order it, whether it’s a salad, a bowl or a burrito and there’s a lot of fresh ingredients in it. There are twelve freshly made toppings that go into different things, meaning the number of permutations is almost infinite, but it’s not a food that travels particularly well. Burritos are susceptible to becoming soggy. We realized that more locations were necessary to serve our customers. It’s not designed to be an all-delivery model. We received positive feedback from our customers and wanted to expand into new locations.

Let’s fast forward to the present day. Is your business affected by the changes in the industry?

Ryan: I believe that consumers are the key to transforming their behavior. This is in addition to the industry-wide problems like hiring and retaining employees, supply chain, and dramatic increases in product packaging costs. It is now possible to order products through third-party apps, such as Uber, DoorDash, or CHK PLZ. This consumer behavior seems to be here to stay. I believe people will now pay more for convenience and pay a delivery charge. I don’t think this is as a result necessarily of COVID. I mean, I saw people well before COVID, where the ease of ordering a Starbucks latte for six bucks and paying a two ninety nine delivery fee and your latte just landed at your desk at 12 dollars, but they don’t have to get up to get it. It’s the immediate gratification, whether it’s the Amazon model or “I’ll have it tomorrow”. And that’s here to stay for sure.

This model is not sustainable. At an economic level it’s not sustainable. For example, the Uber app in 2018 represented less than 20% of all our sales. And when it’s that way, when it’s incremental, it’s an incredibly profitable additive. If it exceeds 50% or more during pandemics, this is an economically unsustainable model. 

Therefore, I feel that restaurants should be open to all types of cuisines and concepts. Small Biz Sense Restaurant as their engine are looking at, “What are the creative ways that I can compete and get the direct consumer sale?” For example, we have integrated the Order Ahead add-on and it’s a big difference when you look at it, it’s a huge difference. 

The big picture is the [business owners]Whoever wins will be the ones who can think creatively and use strategies to directly reach consumers and remove any third-party apps. And if you’re giving up 30%, you’re really flipping for quarters for a dollar. At best, you’re losing. 

While third-party applications can be costly, their purpose is to increase brand awareness. Which role do you see them playing? 

The third-party app is great for customer acquisition. However, I believe that 30% delivery fees are too high for restaurants. This is my view. In reality, delivery is part of this process but customer acquisition is also included. 

Which strategies did you use to combat the labor shortage in your area? Are there any innovative ways that you have found to retain or hire staff? 

Ryan: We’ve done a few things because it really is our number one challenge and the number one opportunity we’ve recently had for Tejano BBQ. We’ve developed an entire new campaign for the first time, dedicating resources on digital, social and in-store, around the idea of what is the employee experience. If I can be so blunt, when you see everybody with a post on Instagram that says “We’re hiring!” how can Tejano BBQ stand out when you’ve got restaurants like Olive and Gourmando, Joe Beef and others doing the same thing? 

We’ve taken a different approach and we’ve launched a campaign where we offer our full-time employees full medical, dental and travel insurance for them and for their families. We’re offering our employees virtual meditation and yoga. In essence, we are creating a new environment. We’re being very proactive in making sure they know that this is a respectful environment for people of any religious or ethnic background, sexual orientation, whatever it may be. Our culture promotes tolerance and openness. We don’t want to be influenced by a dictatorial chef. 

Tejano BBQ’s culture is built around growth. We have promoted from the inside. Three years ago, people who were part-time baristas are now leading our communications and content department. Our organization has as many opportunities for growth as it can. This has always been our strategy. Our new marketing campaign is made up of videos with employee testimonials, actual employees talking about what their experience is like working for this company or being part of this company, because I’m not going to compete on money. If you are a waiter at Joe Beef, for example, you’re making a lot more than you’re making it at Tejano any way you slice it. What we want is to give people a positive, supportive environment in which they can grow.

What has changed in technology’s role within the hospitality sector?

Ryan: I think that it’s evident that technology is going to continue being the engine of hospitality and almost any business, frankly. Perhaps the definition of hospitality is a bit macro. When you consider the technology used in quick-service, casual, and fast food as the engines of hospitality, it is clear that these categories are unambiguously the engine. The data produced by that engine is also incredibly, incredibly valuable.

What is the ultimate consumer experience? That’s what I think about. Technology should not be built up, but backfilled by the customer.

Which data have you used to transform the way you run your business? Which data have you used to power your business?

Ryan:This has helped our company a lot with product analysis and proper preparation. If you know that 72% of your sales are this, with this chicken and this topping, it makes it much easier to predict what you’re buying and [what]What inventory is available? This has allowed us to see the analytics of WherePeople are buying, not only for the money. What they’re purchasing. We’re also able to analyze the ROI on digital and social media in real time, which is incredibly valuable too. These things make planning very easy.

How do you choose to use Small Biz Sense Restaurants?

Sophie: Use Get in on the ActionWe loved the fact that this link could easily be integrated with our site. So we didn’t even have to change the traffic, we could just add the link to our website, making it super easy. It was just really easy to integrate with the technology that we were already using—we didn’t have to modify our operations to make it fit. It’s something that we can easily add on to things like our bio on Instagram. It’s also known that they use the POS system in store for orders taken by walk-in customers. 

Order Ahead is the biggest one that we use, and I think it’s also allowed us to reinforce the idea of supporting your local restaurants, encouraging small businesses and neighborhood businesses. I think that that’s actually a campaign that we ran last year and it was really just focused around thanking customers for supporting local restaurants. You can also find these other articles. [Order Ahead]It was the primary vehicle that allowed us to carry out this campaign. 

I think that consumers are aware of these apps and they’re aware of what it means and what the percentages are and just thinking of myself as a consumer, if there is the option to support small businesses with tools like that, then I want to be able to use them. We were able run that campaign with great success.


Innovative solutions to modern challenges

Whether it’s using data to power decisions, or finding alternatives to third-party service providers with Order onlineTejano BBQ Burrito discovered a restaurant platformPoint of Sale System that was flexible enough to adapt to their needs. 

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Cyndy Lane

Cyndy is business journalist with a focus on entrepreneurship and small business. With over a decade of experience covering the startup and small business landscape, Cyndy has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, insightful and approachable journalist. She has a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing small business owners and is able to explain them in a way that is relatable and actionable for her readers.