Brendan Sweeney is the CEO and co-founder of Popmenu, a leading innovator in digital marketing, ordering and on-premises technology that works with over 6,000 independent restaurants and hospitality groups. With a strong background in product development, user experience and marketing for high-growth SaaS businesses, Sweeney leads efforts to deliver technology that solves problems and opens the door to new revenue opportunities for customers. restaurants. He can be found on the global speaking circuit, industry podcasts and news sites. Prior to launching Popmenu, Sweeney held senior product leadership positions for Commissions Inc. and CareerBuilder EMEA.
The pandemic has created a brutal environment for restaurants, especially independent operators. OWhat factors do you think influence the ability of restaurants to adapt and survive during COVID?
A restaurant’s appetite for change is one of the main determinants of agility and performance. During the early lockdowns, it felt like ten years of accelerating technology adoption happened in ten weeks. Those that already offered off-site services quickly moved to an online model. Others had to completely reorganize their operations overnight.
In an era of fluctuating consumer confidence, supply chain disruptions and significant talent gaps, we have consistently found that restaurateurs who have leaned into technology have performed better and, in some cases, have even flourished. For example, our B&B client Butchers & Restaurant hosted online ordering events around holidays and special occasions. They sold $43,000 worth of online orders of prime rib, Yorkshire pudding and pecan pie in just two days.
Nearly half (48%) of restaurant owners and operators said automating online and on-site operations increased sales, while others pointed to greater efficiency and a better customer experience. It’s hard to find a silver lining when it comes to COVID, but I think it’s helped restaurants recognize that technology can help them do more with less and it’s not as hard to add new elements to the tech stack than they might have expected.
What prompted you to launch Popmenu five years ago?
The initial idea came while I was organizing an event in Paris for a former employer. I was comparing three world-class restaurants and they were all using text-only PDF menus. This begged the question, “Why would such a sensual company, focused on taste, smell, sight and atmosphere, only use text to convey their product?” Additionally, PDFs are difficult to use on mobile devices and useless for search engine optimization. The online menu is the most important and underused marketing tool for restaurants, and we wanted to help them maximize the usefulness of their menu.
Popmenu started by transforming static online menus into dynamic and interactive menus that present all the decision criteria that consumers are used to when making any purchase: photos, reviews, ratings, social validation, etc. Each dish is a unique, indexed page. for search engines like Google, any update automatically alerts them that there is new information to read. This increases traffic to the restaurant’s website and the interactive experience results in higher customer conversions. This SEO-based approach helped Winking Lizard Tavern nearly double its homepage traffic to over 200,000, add over 400 reviews, and capture contact details for over 1,800 guests in three months.
We essentially treat the menu as a modern electronic communication funnel with multiple calls to action. We capture customer preferences and contact information so restaurants can automatically remarket to them instead of entrusting that information to a third-party site. This is at the heart of our product line.
Popmenu has just launched a new offer, called Popmenu Max, which provides both online and on-site solutions. What are the benefits?
Restaurants didn’t get into the business to become tech savvy. It is above all a question of hospitality and we want to allow them to concentrate on that. Popmenu Max is an all-in-one digital customer platform designed specifically for restaurants. It includes our core offerings – interactive menu, website design and hosting, online ordering and delivery, digital remarketing, Google Business Profile integration – as well as new features such as digital waiting list, phone based answering on AI and third-party delivery aggregation.
I’ll start with order aggregation first. One of the biggest headaches for restaurants is juggling orders from various third-party delivery sites across multiple tablets. This is inefficient and leads to order errors and delivery delays. With our acquisition of OrderNerd, we enable restaurants to manage all orders from a single device, send those orders to a single printer, and consolidate reporting for the back office.
Another major headache, which elicits a visceral reaction from restaurateurs when you mention it, is answering the phone in the midst of a labor shortage. Every missed call is a missed opportunity. Our AI technology can answer all the most common questions and send a link to the caller if they want to place an order or make a reservation. It also saves voicemails via SMS so you can quickly see which calls you need to answer first. Over the past 30 days, Dracut House of Pizza & Seafood has used this technology to answer nearly 1,800 calls.
With our waitlist offer, customers can use a QR code or the restaurant’s website to add themselves to a waitlist. When they do, they automatically receive a link to the menu to start thinking about their order, and after the meal they’re prompted to submit a review and follow your restaurant for continued engagement opportunities. We’ve seen single-location catering operations use three to five team members during peak hours to accomplish what our solution can handle with near zero load on the team.
Over the next few quarters, we’ll be releasing booking features and then features such as loyalty and membership programs within our Max offering. We’re really excited about what unifying the consumer view in one tool across all of these features can do to energize and automate the way restaurants interact with their customer base.
Why do you think the restaurant industry has been hesitant or slower to adopt new technologies?
First, managing a restaurant is one of the toughest jobs in the world and finding the time to implement new technologies and/or operational processes is a unique challenge in this space. Two, I think a lot restaurants have been burned by technology. Historically, there have not been good tools for indoor operations, especially outside the physical walls of the restaurant. You see many restaurants whipping up ten different point solutions. That means ten connections, ten bills, ten support paths, ten data sources – in other words, expensive, inefficient and with a less than desirable consumer experience.
We sincerely sympathize with restaurants. We get angry on behalf of restaurants that have been abused by technologists and platforms whose interests do not align with those of restaurants. For so long, they were presented with so many tools that made them feel technology had to be complex and expensive, and we very intentionally built our solutions alongside operators to change that dynamic. We always receive feedback from our customers: tell us about your day, your month, your struggles, your challenges, your hopes. Our job is to create simple, usable technology that fits into the restaurant world, not the other way around. We know technology isn’t an all-in or all-out situation and we help you find where you’re comfortable.
What do you think the future holds for restaurant technology?
When the pandemic is behind us and the pressures on labor and supply have eased, the difference between surviving it and crushing it will be: “how well do you know your customer? Everything about service and marketing improves as you know your customer. In Popmenu’s platform, we have all the customer profile data in one place (what the customer liked, ordered, commented on, etc.) and we use this data to convert traffic into orders and seats. And every day this is happening more and more through the use of AI. For us, it’s about improving hospitality through innovation and rich data.
We are at the tipping point of a once-in-a-lifetime reformation of a giant industry and everything will accelerate from there. You’ll see more personalized drinking experiences, from online ordering tailored to each individual, to your favorite drink and appetizer waiting for you when you walk through the door. You’ll see restaurants take a retail approach to how they manage their digital storefront and re-engage customers. You’ll see more predictive technologies to help guide everything from marketing to inventory management. And you’ll see restaurants move away from multi-point solutions to reduce cost and complexity and increase revenue and profitability.