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Food Service Case Studies

CEO Expects ‘Good Things’ for Restaurant Technologies Inc. Thanks to Customer and Employee Focus

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Restaurant Technologies provides cooking oil management and back-of-house exhaust cleaning solutions to 30,000 foodservice clients across the country.
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Story Highlights

  • The coronavirus drastically upset the plans and expectations of most businesses.
  • Restaurant Technologies Inc. was no exception, but under its CEO the company quickly assessed the status of its customer sectors.
  • By focusing on foodservice customers — and emphasizing the importance of people — its business now is “coming back nicely.”

Like businesses everywhere, Restaurant Technologies Inc. was taken by surprise when the coronavirus shut down much of the economy. But the real test came in the following months as everyone adjusted to the new reality.

For Restaurant Technologies, the pandemic interrupted a promising second quarter. “We were adding a bunch of customers, we were meeting our revenue plan,” CEO Jeffrey R. Kiesel recalls. “Everything was cruising, and then it hit. And all of a sudden, within about a week, all the announcements of closures came through.”

Minnesota-based Restaurant Technologies provides cooking-oil management and back-of-house exhaust cleaning solutions to 30,000 foodservice clients across the country. Segments of its customer base, including foodservice operations at colleges and hotels, literally shut their doors. But Kiesel had led Restaurant Technologies through the Great Recession and, in the process, he and his team learned some things they could apply to this new disruption.

“Dealing with 2008 and that recession and how quickly that hit, the first thing we did was to have a guiding principle, as we worked through our scenario plan, that we win as one,” he says. “And so the flip side of that is, we’re going to pay an equal sacrifice as a team, and that sets the tone.”

‘Coming Back Nicely’

One of the company’s first actions was to game out how tough things might get for it and the users of its solutions. Many customers were reeling, but one sector was adjusting relatively quickly to the pandemic.

“We looked at it by segment and the strength of who we are was that most of our customers are either grocery stores or quick-service restaurants,” Kiesel says. Those particular clients did not take the extreme hit that other sectors did, and in fact, their business with Restaurant Technologies has grown by 10% this year.

To better serve disrupted clients, Restaurant Technologies increased its remote support capabilities and changed its approach to sales calls. It’s been an adjustment, but it worked well enough that the company is already back in growth mode and targeting new accounts. “We’re typically double-digit growth,” Kiesel says. “We’re not at that level, but we are coming back nicely.”

To reach new customers, “We’re using inside sales much more effectively than we had in the past,” Kiesel reports. “We’re also using digital selling tools [such as] WebEx and Zoom.” Even if people are not yet ready to buy, Kiesel credits his sales team for keeping prospects “warmed up to when they feel more comfortable investing. We expect good things from that into 2021.”

The company learned to be more flexible on the service side, too. “We typically have our drivers go in and look at the equipment, make sure everything is operating fine,” Kiesel says. “Of course, we mask up, we have the gloves. [But] some of our customers just say, ‘You know what? Let’s not do that. I’ll call you if we have an issue.’ And we are able to adapt to that.”

That adaptability is partly thanks to Restaurant Technologies’ Total Oil Management system. Its dashboards give restaurant managers remote visibility into each location’s oil usage and compliance with standard operating procedures. It also alerts Restaurant Technologies if there is an issue at a location.

With our system, we only go in to service them when they need it,” Kiesel explains. “There’s a lot of service that we can do that is not face to face.”

‘Exactly How We Live’

Supporting customers is critical. But, as Kiesel noted, another high priority in 2020 is to make sure that Restaurant Technologies continues to work as a team.

As revenue dropped in the spring, Kiesel knew it would take an “all hands on deck” to weather the storm. Executives took pay cuts, hours were reduced for some of the workforce and various furloughs were initiated. The team was committed to getting hours and roles back as soon as the recovery became more apparent.

In addition, Kiesel expects the company to be transparent with the workforce about issues such as its financial performance and progress made on its initiatives.

That’s a best practice learned during the Great Recession. Only, “This time, it’s different because it’s as much of a health issue as an economic issue,” Kiesel says. “So the communication has to be more frequent than it was. Then, it was weekly. Now, it’s daily.” Kiesel himself updates employees with a daily status e-mail.

“I’m just blessed to be around these people every day and that is the thing that gets me up in the morning.”

That helps Restaurant Technologies stay faithful to its “Five Cs” — principles Kiesel developed in the 2000s to represent “customer, character, commitment, courage and community.”

“They were aspirational back then,” he notes. “But I would say now it’s exactly how we live and how we treat each other and really the pillars of how we behave internally and externally. The result of all that is that everybody buys into ‘this is how we behave,’ and we do have trust and transparency, which are critical for us to be who we are.”

In a turbulent year that included calls for racial justice, Restaurant Technologies has been inspired to make its workplace more inclusive. “And it must be 100% inclusive so people will be able to come as they are and be accepted and respected and have the same career opportunities as anybody else,” Kiesel explains. “We’re making great strides, and the candor that we have and the trust that we have in our folks are allowing us to move very rapidly in that area.”

Kiesel says the company’s progress on the customer and employee sides have him optimistic about the future. Also working in Restaurant Technologies’ favor, he adds, is that “the foodservice industry is obviously very resilient. I’m hopeful that we can, as an industry, continue to work through this crazy downturn, and restaurants can stay open and the hospitality industry could come back quickly.

“To be honest, I’m just blessed to be around these people every day and that is the thing that gets me up in the morning,” Kiesel says.

Sidebar: A Safer Work Environment

Restaurant Technologies already enjoys 97% customer retention, according to CEO Jeff Kiesel. Nevertheless, it launched a marketing push in 2020 to reach new customers.

Kiesel says popular products include Grease Lock disposable hood filters and AutoMist, its automated commercial restaurant hood cleaning system that reduces the risk of fires at restaurants.

All of Restaurant Technologies’ products and services help create “a safer environment inside the restaurant,” Kiesel says. “We’re taking some concerns off [managers] about what they’re trying to do day to day.” 

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