All that was old is new again, or so the saying goes. Built and opened in 1914, the Lyric Theatre was once one of the most revered Vaudeville houses in the South East. Like all good things do, Vaudeville came to an end and the Lyric Theatre fell on hard times. It was left neglected, haphazardly boarded up, and nearly forgotten until a group of concerned citizens formed the Birmingham Landmark Trust and came to its rescue in the 1990s.
After undergoing a huge restoration and renovation, the curtains lifted once again and the show went on. The first live performance at the Lyric Theatre was January 14th, 2016, 102 years after it first opened its doors.
While the building was restored with the aim of keeping its early 20th century charm, Gary Jones, the concessions manager at the Lyric Theatre, wanted to keep the old vaudeville magic, but employ cutting edge technology. He wanted to create an atmosphere that would give theatregoers a sleek, sexy ordering experience, in the midst of the antique charm of turn of the century design. And he wanted to do this while ensuring that every one of the 700 patrons were fed and watered before the show, as well as during tight intermission time limits.
We checked in with Gary after the grand re-opening to better understand why he chose TouchBistro, how the implementation process went, and his plans for the future.
With the POS selection process still fresh in his mind, Gary reminisced about the logistics leading up to opening, including the POS implementation: “We must have reviewed around 30 POS systems. Most of the time, the demo would begin, we’d see the opening screen and then look at each other, ‘Nope this is not the one.’ It might be good for a ballpark with a 12,000 seat auditorium, but we needed something a little more sleek.”
When asked what deterred him from choosing these systems, Gary said that many POS systems contained pre-populated items and categories that weren’t suited to his needs. “With the Lyric Theatre, the doors open and we have an hour to serve 750 people. We don’t have time to maneuver amongst unnecessary categories to get to where we need to be. We don’t sell French fries, so I don’t want there to be an option to sell French fries. Other vendors would say, ‘Oh well, you just ignore those things.’ And I really didn’t want to ignore them. I didn’t want them to be there.”
The selection process was onerous, and on a tight opening schedule, The Lyric Theatre was running out of time. “The selection process was really wearing us down. We were getting so disheartened.”
When Gary found TouchBistro everything changed. “Within the first minute of the TouchBistro demo, we looked at each other and said, this is the one.”
What made TouchBistro stand out against the rest? First, the ability to custom design categories and input menu items without any lag. “It was exactly what we were looking for. It was sleek, it was fast, it was unencumbered by any unnecessary perimeters, and complete with all the necessary things. With TouchBistro, you start with an empty palette. We built the menu that we wanted and configured reports that show us what we’re selling, how fast we’re selling and what isn’t selling. Plus, it literally takes less than two minutes to add a menu item.”
Second, it was the ease-of-use. “When I have a new hire, they get all jittery about learning a new system. The rest of the staff and I just look at them and laugh. We’re like, ‘What training? This is so intuitive, you’re not going to need the training.’ The last new hire we brought in was a bundle of nerves. Five minutes after she clocked into the system, she said, ‘Ya’ll back up, I got this.’”
This simplicity was imperative for Gary. With a looming grand opening, the training schedule was tight. “The training time on TouchBistro isn’t even minimal – it’s non-existent. New staff are able to jump in with very few instructions. Once they’re in, the system is so logically laid out that it only takes a couple transactions for them to run with it.”
And it’s not just the staff that are loving it. Once the doors opened, Gary noticed that the customers were enjoying the system too. “We flip the iPad around and the customer is able to use their finger to sign and generate the tip. They feel like they have control and it’s fun for them, especially with older folks who are new to the technology. It’s great to watch their faces light up.”
Like any grand opening, no process is without its kinks and panicked moments, especially when the problem is so entirely out of your control. Gary explained one such incident: “The one time I had to call TouchBistro’s tech support was because we had a very serious hardware issue. On this day we were so busy setting up, we only turned the iPads on about 20 minutes before we opened the doors. But the Ethernet port had disappeared. So I frantically got on the phone with tech support. They told me that Apple had done an update, which disabled the Ethernet port and that Apple was going to fix that in another update that evening. Before I could even say, ‘That’s not going to do me any good tonight, I need this thing up and running in 20 minutes!’ The customer service representative said, ‘we’ve already done a workaround patch. We’re going to send you the link. All you have to do is download it and you’ll be back up and running and I’m going to stay on the line as you do it to make sure everything is ok.’” And that was that – problem solved!
Gary is so happy with the performance at TouchBistro that he’s implementing it at the Lyric Theatre’s sister venue, the Alabama Theatre, a larger theatre across the street. Where the Lyric Theatre is an intimate venue, with a single bar and four iPads, the Alabama Theatre has six full bars, one express bar, merchandise, and a main auditorium that hosts everything from live shows, graduations, concerts, movies, to weddings. “Having the TouchBistro system there to drive everything is going to give us the opportunity to incorporate some products easier than we could if we were running it the old way. One of the biggest reasons we’re to switching the Alabama over to TouchBistro is so we can use the seamless credit and debit experience.”
The times are a changin’ but by creating a union of old aesthetics and new technology, what is old isn’t lost; it’s preserved longer and re-appreciated by staff and theatre goers alike. It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to the POS with a system that’s directly catered to your needs.
Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.