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Using Oracle MICROS Simphony integrated with key mobile apps, the Australian restaurant group can better serve customers and keep costs under control.
By Margaret Lindquist | April 2021
Steak isn’t the first dish that comes to mind when you think of takeout, but steak is what Outback Steakhouse Australia prides itself on. So when Australia shut down in-house restaurant dining in April 2020, the Outback Steakhouse test kitchen team went to work on crafting a perfectly prepared filet, T-Bone, or ribeye to go.
“We were bringing in steaks every 10 minutes and opening them up at various times and saying, ‘Okay, this is a five-minute delivery window. How’s it looking?’ ‘This is a 10-minute delivery window. How’s it looking?’” says Mike Palmer, operating partner at Outback Steakhouse Australia. “If we’re looking for medium when it gets to the customer, we’re cooking at medium rare and by the time the lid is closed on the box and it’s resting, it’s where it needs to be when it gets there.”
This attention to detail has always been part of the Outback Steakhouse Australia way. They trim steaks in the restaurants, buy produce from local markets, and make their sauces and dressings from scratch. Palmer has even taken his team to Tasmania to see the fish farm where their seafood is raised. The franchise opened its first restaurant in Sydney in 2001 and now runs six restaurants in New South Wales and two in Queensland.
In January 2020, Outback Steakhouse Australia leaders held their annual meeting to finalize strategic plans for the coming year, and COVID-19 wasn’t yet on many businesses’ radar. But one initiative that topped their priority list would soon become very important: automating more of their processes, especially around takeout and delivery, initially with the goal of allowing staff to spend more time on the restaurant floor.
“We tell our managers that it’s a sin to not know who you’re talking to. This has ramped up the hospitality in our restaurants. We’re seeing people more regularly, and we’re more in touch with who they are and why they're coming.”
Prior to the start of the pandemic, about 10% of Outback Steakhouse’s business was takeout. That number went quickly to 100%. The fact that Outback Steakhouse leaders had already started putting in place a robust, integrated online ordering system was ultimately the key to staying open. They installed kitchen display systems specifically for takeout, so they could track how quickly takeout items were making it out of the kitchen. They focused even more on delivery, including integrating third-party apps that connect with the Oracle MICROS Simphony POS. Those include OpenTable Pro for reservation management, Order Up! for online ordering, Givex for gift cards, and Doshii, which connects Order Up! orders into the Simphony system.
“We were already ahead of the curve,” Palmer says. “And there were things that we accelerated through COVID. We already had a good delivery business, but we were able to ramp it up and take it to the next level.”
Now that dine-in is back in Australia—with spacing restrictions—Outback Steakhouse leaders are putting technology to a different use. They’ve reengineered their service model, dividing front-of-the-house staff into two groups: captains and service assistants. Captains have tablets that they use to walk patrons through menu options and specials. Captains can place orders through the tablet, or diners can use their own mobile devices to order and pay. The tablet-based system also allows Outback Steakhouse to track the entire experience of a diner, from reservation to ordering to closing out the check. Service assistants meanwhile, are largely responsible for setting up and clearing tables and delivering food and drinks to patrons.
With about 150,000 customers in its database, the restaurant group knows how often a customer has visited and what they’ve ordered in the past. “We tell our managers that it’s a sin to not know who you’re talking to,” Palmer says. “This has ramped up the hospitality in our restaurants. We’re seeing people more regularly, and we’re more in touch with who they are and why they’re coming.”
Servers can attach notes so that diners can be greeted personally on arrival and will record food preferences, such as steak temperature, and information about milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. “With that data, they’re better able to trigger personal offers and really take that slow hospitality/fast service approach,” says Simon de Montfort Walker, senior vice president and general manager of Oracle Food and Beverage.
With access to better data, restaurants get the flexibility they need to dial up or down in-person dining, takeout, and pickup services as demand fluctuates. Outback Steakhouse Australia’s new, integrated reservation system is helping the restaurant group deliver better care of guests, resulting in a higher average spend-per-table. The Oracle MICROS Simphony system delivers inventory information to the Oracle MICROS Restaurant Inventory Management system, so restaurant managers can see food consumption data in real time, which simplifies the order process with suppliers. Most important, says Palmer, restaurant leaders are getting a better sense of what customers want and can quickly shift to meet changing needs.
These kind of technology platforms also make it easier for restaurant groups to expand and diversify, whether that means additional locations or ghost kitchens that leverage the assets of an existing restaurant.
“Outback Steakhouse has the infrastructure, the people, and the process management to expand however it makes the most sense for them financially,” says de Montfort Walker. “They really can diversify and grow with no limitations.”
The eight Outback Steakhouses in Australia aren’t in tourist areas. They’re local restaurants for their communities, participating in and donating to local activities and bringing jobs to area residents. That proved important at a time when almost all tourist travel ceased. “We were embedded in the community, and I think the community wanted to give back to us,” Palmer says.
But technology was another huge contributor to Outback Steakhouse’s survival during 2020. Palmer believes the industry’s technology advances over the past five years have made it easier to run a restaurant—and are becoming indispensable.
“If you embrace the systems, it pays dividends,” says Palmer. “If you’re not open to innovation and change, then I think you're slowly dying.”
Photography: Outback Steakhouse Australia