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Boqueria.jpg Photo courtesy of Boqueria
Boqueria now includes 10 locations across five states and another slated to open later this year in Atlanta.

How Boqueria keeps its tech stack lean through growth

Emma Blecker, chief of staff and director of business systems, said it’s important to eliminate two tech solutions each time a new one is implemented.

Emma Blecker serves as chief of staff and director of business systems at Boqueria, a New York-based Spanish tapas bar and restaurant. One of her main priorities in those roles is to find tech solutions that are both cost efficient and cost saving.

Such decisions can be a challenge as the company grows, however; there are now 10 locations across five states and another slated to open later this year in Atlanta. Blecker started seven years ago when there were just four locations.

“When a restaurant is scaling, let’s say you’re at two locations and you want to become 20, you cannot afford the tech that you need at 20, but you can’t stay on the tech you have at two, so creating those stepping stones and fixing things before they break is my job,” she said during a recent interview.

One of her first projects when she came on board was to simplify Boqueria’s phone system, for instance. Previously, there were eight phone systems for eight different locations. They didn’t connect to each other, managers had their own extensions, event sales managers had their own numbers, and it was complicated.

“It’s a very basic thing but changing a phone system for an eight-restaurant group is a big endeavor – you have training, you have implementation, you have to vet different contracts and negotiate,” she said. “We are taking a small, independent group and getting it to function as a whole breathing business that actually interacts.”

Compounding her initial challenges is the fact that much of Boqueria’s growth came throughout the past several years in which the industry navigated several unprecedented challenges. Blecker said that meant the company had to operate with leaner margins and more nimbleness.

“Things are ebbing back and forth and we’re still not really sure what’s happening at any given time,” she said. “Pre-pandemic, we could estimate pretty accurately what was going to happen. Now it’s a bit more up in the air, so cost management is important and doing it in a way that’s strategic.”

From her perspective, “strategic” means cutting through the noise of a crowded tech landscape that presents more solutions than ever. Blecker said smaller companies especially need to be critical and discerning when vetting their needs.

“Me just gathering this tech and this tech and this tech is me doing my job terribly,” she said.

Her “hacks,” as she calls them, include adding solutions that solve a problem you’re already aware of and that your teams are experiencing, not something that “might be” a problem. Boqueria, for instance, used to use spreadsheets to outline each shift, equating to 14 tabs a week for its system. Payroll processing took two days and if there was an issue, the company had to manually trace back every step to find it. Boqueria’s managers told Blecker this was a major pain point, so she prioritized a solution (which she found through SpotOn’s Teamwork. Blecker said the implementation saved nearly 3,000 hours of management labor, which is the equivalent of $100,000.

“Now, that’s not $100,000 back into the PnL. You’re not going to see that, back. But that time can be added to higher value things. And then there’s the actual cost savings you do see in the PnL, like restricting early clock-ins,” she said. When Boqueria turned on early clock-in restrictions from its new solution, it yielded $10,000 of annualized savings per year, per location. That is higher value and more savings simply from understanding frontline workers’ pain points.

“Do not live in a bubble and assume what (managers’) problems are. Your job is to fix their problems, not your own,” she said. “Once you do that, you realize where all the stops are and that’s when the a-ha moment comes in.”

Another recommendation Blecker has is to make sure when you’re bringing on a new tech solution, it eliminates two that already exist.

“You want to be net negative. You want to keep your tech stacks slim and efficient and not bloat it when something new comes into the fold,” she said.

Hacks aside, Blecker acknowledges it can be hard just to get started on implementing a tech stack. Her advice? Start small, adding only key systems first – labor management, inventory management, reservations, and a point-of-sale system.

“What are your biggest problems? Are your (cost of goods) too high? Is your labor too high? Answer that question and then lean in there,” she said. “I have this big thing that just because we can doesn’t mean we should. You have to have boundaries and not go after every shiny new toy.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected].

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