Interview: How Urban Plates is Serving Up Better Operational Processes

Interview: How Urban Plates Is Serving up Better Operational Processes with YOOBIC

Nov 19, 2020 8:54:28 AM

Restaurants | Operations | News & Trends

Urban Plates has been serving chef-inspired meals that are made from scratch with the finest, sustainably sourced ingredients since 2011. With 19 locations across California, Washington D.C. and more coming soon, Urban Plates combines high-quality meals that are served fast with prices that won’t break the bank. 

Urban Plates uses the YOOBIC digitized task management platform to streamline restaurant operations across their entire network. 

We chatted with Joe O’Donnell, Chief Operating Officer, and Drew Michealson, Director of Operations Services, about the challenges Urban Plates faced across their rapidly growing restaurant network, adapting their service model to COVID-19, and why complete visibility into restaurant operations is a game-changer. 

   Drew and Joe-2                      

What challenges were you running into before YOOBIC that led you to look for a solution? 

Joe: We’re a brand that values systems and processes in a strong way. So, we wanted to ensure that as we grow, we have the best tools to communicate, but more importantly, ensure that our restaurants are executing to the standards that we expect. 

One way to do that is the traditional way, which is feet on the ground. Our Area Directors visit restaurants regularly. 

However, when we wanted to ensure something got done, we had to follow a trail of emails that was very difficult to reconcile. 

From a legal compliance and HR standpoint, we didn’t have a good way of getting important information, like state and federal and legal posters, to our teams. There was always a risk of getting dinged if a store was missing a poster. It’s a costly mistake, but it’s nobody’s fault and it’s unintentional. 

In a restaurant, there’s 100 different things that can go right or wrong. There’s just so many moving parts and so many cogs in the wheel, that trying to keep up with that was difficult. 


"We’re 100% from scratch. That means we have a lot of systems and processes in the kitchen."


Drew:  We are a fast-casual brand, but we’re more like fast-fine. Food is our focus. We’re 100% from scratch and so, in doing that, you have a lot of moving parts. That means we have a lot of systems and processes in the kitchen. 

We just couldn’t close the loop on those systems and processes. We could get information down to the restaurants, but there was no way to get feedback and then take action on it. 

A big challenge was also time. It becomes a daunting task when you have to sit down in front of a spreadsheet, put notes together, send emails out, etc. 

When the pandemic hit, every restaurant was siloed operationally. As a result, processes were done differently. 


YOOBIC Urban Plates Interview

Source: Urban Plates

How were you completing your audits before YOOBIC? 

Joe: Nothing was in a digitized format. We would visit and do an audit, but we’d have to keep a hard copy of it. We were expecting the GM, chef and manager to work from that hard copy and maybe submit some photos. 

When the Area Director has already moved on to the next restaurant to do an audit, trying to reconcile everything that happened afterwards is impossible. 


Drew: If you’re taking the time to do a 5-6 hour drive, you want to make sure you close the loop after an audit. You need to get enough of the information to the teams so they can take action without it being overwhelming for them. The teams would get a long list, and then they couldn’t find the email we’d sent them. There was no real follow-up.


"What’s gotten better is our processes. YOOBIC has really helped us take ownership of them."


What was it like to deploy the YOOBIC platform? 

Joe: We started off with releasing 3 types of audits. We have a hospitality audit, an Area Director/front of house audit, and a Regional Chef/back of house audit. 

We felt Matt, our Customer Success Manager, was in our corner all the way. There never seemed to be a challenge that Matt couldn’t fix or was unwilling to fix. It was a very, very good experience for us. 

After his first couple of restaurant visits, Drew said, “this could be a game changer”. 


YOOBIC Urban Plates Interview

Source: Urban Plates

Since deploying YOOBIC, what’s improved for Urban Plates? 

Drew: YOOBIC is a game changer because it closes the loop for us.

What’s gotten better is our processes. YOOBIC has really helped us take ownership of them. Our alignment has improved, whether it’s by making sure that regional chefs talk to the teams and give them an understanding of each component of a process, or by understanding what builds a KPI. 

We’ve found tremendous success within our chef visits. We are 95% culinary so we do a lot in the kitchen, and I think that’s where we’ve seen the most impact so far. 

YOOBIC is very impactful and easy to use to gather photos and other one-off things for the HR or facilities departments. 

Another improvement is that our restaurant teams have started talking to each other again. They can ask each other things like, “How’s your restaurant doing? How are you doing the audits? Where are you struggling? What did you do really well?” 

YOOBIC has helped us understand what’s going on in the restaurants, and what’s important. We’re seeing a lot of traction with regards to following up.


"To get high adoption rates, a platform has to be user-friendly. YOOBIC is very user-friendly."


Each restaurant has an individual KPI goal they need to work on, and we’ll see more results as we go into 2021. Food costs got better for some restaurants, labor costs improved for some restaurants, and some restaurants got cleaner. 

Our hospitality is also getting better. YOOBIC is helping us understand the best way to do specific sequences - whether it’s our greeter position or food running, how the cashiers interact with the guests or how the food comes out of the window - it all really makes a big difference. 

Going into YOOBIC for our mystery shopping program has really helped us improve here as well. 

We rolled out our new service model to 13 restaurants within a 6 week period. With YOOBIC, we had something to come back to and ask, how are we doing? 


Joe: I have no doubt that our hospitality is improving. Our big focus here is training, training, training. With YOOBIC, restaurant teams can take pictures of the dish of the day and then send it to us so we can see, remotely, that yes that salad looks perfect, etc. 

From a legal compliance and HR standpoint, things have also improved. 


How has COVID-19 impacted the way your restaurants operate? 

Joe: As a result of the pandemic, we’ve had to completely change our service model. 

Before, 30% of our business was to-go and 70% was dine-in. For a while it was 100% to-go. Now, it’s 30% dine-in and 70% to-go.

In the past you used to come in and walk the line, stop at the stations and work directly with the person behind the counter. 

Now we have food runners who bring out the food, and we have a greeter when you show up at the restaurant to explain how our system works. We’re rolling out an app where you can order your food and drinks while you’re sitting at the table and we’ll bring it to you directly. 

There was certainly a lot of stress and anxiety in the air and thankfully, we’ve come back with all the hard work everybody has done. Our business has come back to 95% of what it was the prior year. We’re feeling really good about that.


YOOBIC Urban Plates Interview

Source: Urban Plates


What are your favorite things about YOOBIC? 

Joe: We think of ourselves as pretty organized. One thing we love about the YOOBIC platform is the fact that it really gets us uber-organized. 

For me, the most compelling part is that in order to get high adoption rates, a platform has to be user-friendly. YOOBIC is very user-friendly.

It’s easy to navigate. Not everyone on our team is tech-savvy, but everyone adopted YOOBIC quickly because it's easy to use. That’s a big deal. When a platform is user-friendly, it will be adopted quickly. 


Drew: Having all our data, like sales, mystery shopper, and audit data under one roof really simplifies everything for the Area Director and for the team. It’s really easy to reference, instead of us sitting down and going through it and having to pull up data. 

You don’t have to go to multiple places to find everything. That makes it easier, and it keeps the conversations flowing.

With YOOBIC, everything is visible in real-time. You can take action right away with things that need to happen at that moment, and it gives visibility from the top of the organization all the way down to the bottom.

We have a compelling scoreboard of what’s going on in restaurants.  We have our dashboard that we can look at to see how things are going, and slice and dice the data. 


"Having all our data under one roof really simplifies everything."


What’s next for Urban Plates? 

Joe: Our guests get excited about our high-end restaurant food quality, the affordability of it, and the high-touch hospitality experience. So if we can be consistent with that, we can truly be trailblazers.

We’re also going to open our first ghost kitchen, in partnership with DoorDash. We’re exploring this because, if we can make this work, we can really accelerate our growth.


Drew:  Our teams have embraced YOOBIC, and they want more. Even team members who are usually resistant to change are really embracing it. We’re really excited about continuing to use it, continuing to grow and not losing traction. 


YOOBIC's frontline digital workplace is helping restaurants like Urban Plates, BurgerFi and BCHEF streamline operations, connect frontline employees and improve site performance.

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