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Welcome to the remote-controlled restaurant

Lachlan Colquhoun
Technology Journalist

Lachlan Colquhoun has had a 30 year career in the media, working for some of the world's best known mastheads both in Australia and overseas

Lachlan Colquhoun
Technology Journalist

Lachlan Colquhoun has had a 30 year career in the media, working for some of the world's best known mastheads both in Australia and overseas

Highlights
  • Smartphone technology improvements mean you can manage your business from anywhere there is a reliable mobile/internet connection.

Smartphone technology means a Sydney harbourside eatery can be successfully managed from a beach in Broome. Now that’s bi-coastal!

The customers at the Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, only metres from Sydney’s iconic Opera House, could hardly guess the restaurant has been managed for more than eight years from a home office in Broome, in Western Australia’s far north.

As smartphone applications have developed and improved, the Oyster Bar is just as likely to be managed from a beach in Broome or from the sidelines of a children’s sporting event, or from wherever it is that restaurant proprietor Philip Thompson’s life happens to take him.

man sitting in cafe with electronic devices

“As mobile communications have improved it has become so much easier,” says Thompson, who moved with his wife and two children to Broome “for lifestyle and family reasons”.

“It used to be that I was connected to the computer, so I had to be in the home office or on the laptop in the lounge.” These days, Thompson can work from wherever there is a reliable mobile/internet connection.

The Broome move was a reaction against the “daily grind” of endless days working the floor of the restaurant, and missing precious moments of his children’s young lives.

When Thompson did an audit of his responsibilities at the restaurant, he realised most of it was administration, and that it could be done just as easily online, away from the restaurant. He started by doing the admin remotely on a computer, but now he does it on a smartphone.

“The phone is the first thing I look at when I wake up and is the last thing I see at night. If I wake up in the middle of the night I might check it then, too,” he says.

“Sure, that’s a downside, but it gives me the freedom to live in Broome for five out of six weeks, and only spend one week in Sydney in the restaurant.”

Beating the daily commute

Although Broome is on the other side of the continent to the restaurant, Thompson says he now spends less time getting to and from work.

When he lived in Sydney his commute was at least 30 minutes each way, and most weeks he worked six days. Over a six-week period, that meant at least 36 hours travelling.

From Broome, it is a four-hour direct flight to Sydney. Even allowing for half an hour’s transit at either end, that makes 10 hours there and back every six weeks, meaning Thompson is around a full 26 hours ahead on commuting time over the period, even though he lives more than 5000 kilometres away.

Smartphone meister

Using his smartphone, Thompson manages the Oyster Bar’s social media campaigns through Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Staff send him photographs from the restaurant, which he uploads, and he also responds to customers who tag the restaurant in their own posts.

Thompson has full visibility of the restaurant’s reservation system through his smartphone, and uses it to make decisions around staffing and provisioning. He also has real-time access to the Oyster Bar’s point-of-sale system, so can see how the day’s takings are tracking, and how many items have been sold at any point.

Cash payments, which once accounted for 75 per cent of the takings, are now down to 25 per cent, as people embrace paying by card. The switch to digital means Thompson is better able to manage the restaurant’s cash flow, and understand its financial position.

Video apps allow him to troubleshoot problems literally from the other side of Australia, releasing him from the need to jump on the plane and deal with issues on-site.“

We’ve had situations where someone has been able to show me things which are going on in the restaurant through their phone, and I’ve been able to help fix things for customers, and also for maintenance,” he explains.

The final piece of the tech equation is the CCTV cameras. They were put in largely for security purposes, but they let Thompson see what is happening in the restaurant at any given time.

Although he is an ongoing “virtual presence” in the Oyster Bar every day it’s open, Thompson still spends one week out of six in Sydney working on-site.“

I need to satisfy myself that the service is good, that the morale is good, that the place is being kept clean and, most importantly, that the food and wine are still up to standard,” he says.“

You still need to keep people on their toes. They need to see that you care, and the staff and customers need to see your face. But for me, this is a great balance between efficiency, work travel and lifestyle.

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