Episode 10: Derek Stangle, Squadle

Episode 10: Derek Stangle

Squadle Vice President of Marketing Derek Stangle talks about an important topic for restaurants — food safety. He discusses the benefits of digitizing checklists and how technology can improve food safety within an organization. Derek believes food safety has become more important than ever given the negative press several restaurants have gotten after food poisoning incidents.

Episode transcription 

James: Thanks for joining us today, Derek.

Derek: Thanks so much, James. Great to be here.

James: So you’ve been in the restaurant technology business for quite a while. Talk a little bit about your background and your work and school model.

Derek: Sure, happy to do so. So I’ve been in tech for most of my career and the last seven-plus years. I’ve been in the food and restaurant tech space specifically. It’s an interesting space because really it’s an underserved market as it relates to some of the technology needs. And so it’s been a really interesting time to be on the tech side. So as I mentioned seven and a half years ago, I joined Toast as an early-stage company. And at that point in time, really that the conversation and the point of sale space was kind of this discussion around legacy versus cloud-based providers. Most of the market was on an on-premise point of sale solution, and we were in the market trying to convince folks to switch over to the cloud. And, you know, what you’ve seen in the past seven and a half years is really kind of that shift in mentality to people really embracing cloud-based technology and digital technology. Two and a half years ago I joined Squadle and we saw a lot of the same things in our space. In terms of your question of, you know, what it is that we do here at Squirtle. You know, we saw folks doing shift-based work and tasks on pen and paper. And what we’ve been trying to do is convert them over to our cloud-based digital technology. And so that’s really what we do here at Squadle. We simplify complex operations, and we streamline food safety compliance for food retailers.

James: Could you maybe give an example of like how someone might use a platform like Squadle? 

Derek: So an example of using Squadle would be in the restaurant space. You know, people have tasks that they are responsible for on a day-to-day basis and you want those tasks to be consistent within each shift. And so what Squaddle does is helps to streamline all those activities that you’re doing in the store. And we do it through a lot of different pieces of technology. We have digital food safety, we have a shift management technology and we have remote temperature monitoring, all which help to kind of streamline those day to day operations within a restaurant.

James: Now, how would you define food safety and its role in a restaurant’s operation? I mean, I know that keeping people safe and not getting people sick is a big part of running a good restaurant operation, for sure.

Derek: Yeah. So I would define food safety in a couple of different ways. So first, you know, within the food component of food safety, obviously you’ve got to have the food side of it. It’s really about kind of the proper preparation. And so what that comes down to is there’s standards that we have here within the United States and that brands have specifically around how you prepare and cook food. And so that’s one piece of it is kind of the actual art of cooking food. The other part is really kind of labor based safety or employee safety. And so that comes down to proper storage of food, that comes down to kind of the surfaces and the areas and where you’re cooking and preparing food in kind of the standards that you hold your employees to. And so when I think about defining food safety, it’s really those two components. It’s the actual food itself, but it’s also the employees who are handling or are with the food. So that’s how I would define it in terms of kind of how it fits in to restaurant operations. You know, when you think about restaurants that are successful, it’s really because they provide a great guest experience. And when you think about brands that have multiple locations, you want a consistent guest experience across all of those locations. And so that’s really where food safety becomes paramount. So if you have multiple locations and you’ve got high standards for your brand and for the products that you’re serving to your guests, you’re going to really want to have a food safety process in place where you can make sure that you’re delivering a quality product and a consistent product across all of your locations. And so what that might look like in application is if you based here in Boston and I’m going into a brand that I know and love, I want that same experience in terms of how that food. It is prepared and how I’m consuming that food, whether in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, wherever that brand may be. And so that’s really critical to thinking about kind of your food safety process and how it kind of impacts the restaurant operations. It really comes down to making sure you’re having a great experience for your guests when they’re coming into your store.

James: Yeah. And like you said, the consistency across different restaurants. I know recently there was a certain Mexican restaurant that had some problems with food safety. If you have problems with people getting sick, that’s just bad publicity and a bad experience, right?

Derek: Exactly right. It’s you bring up a really great point in that it’s not just creating that great experience. It’s also the downside risk that you’re protecting against. You know, having a product that’s well prepared is going to limit some of those risks that you encounter in a brand, which can often be quite detrimental when it relates to, you know, news and publicity that you’re getting at the brand.

James: Yeah. Now, how do you think food safety has changed? Do you think it’s becoming more or less of a problem or concern for restaurant owners

Derek: Things have changed quite a bit as it relates to consumer expectations over the last couple of years, and food safety is no different there. So when you think about the things that have changed over the last couple of years, you know, there’s actually a really good study in Deloitte recently I think they published annually. It’s called the The Restaurant of the Future Report and it captured a lot of the trends that we know about, which is kind of the rapid shift to digital and mobile based applications, you know, the rapid adoption of technology in restaurants. But it was interesting because they called out safety as the number one concern from consumers. And, you know, that’s not a surprise coming out of a pandemic. Obviously, you’re going to see safety be forefront of consumers. And part of that is they want to make sure, you know, if you’re going into a restaurant, that that restaurant cares about safety and that that’s evident. And there could be evidence for a lot of different ways. Right. It could be evident through how clean their stories. It could be evident through how their staff is presented. But it also is evident through the food in which they’re preparing, which they’re delivering to the consumer. So, yes, so there has been a pretty dramatic change over the last couple of years in terms of how folks think about food safety and how it’s really changed in the marketplace. And what we’ve seen on our end is really, you know, some of the largest brands in the world are really leading the way as they think about implementing some of these standards in their brands and in their operations and kind of realizing that it’s not only important for them, as you mentioned earlier, around some of the risks that they’re mitigating. But it’s also important because consumers are demanding it. They want to feel safe when they’re going into the store and you want to know they’re eating a product that’s safe for them to consume.

James: Yeah. Now, do you think, you know, people with more specialty foods and more kind of, you know, people, consumers interest in dietary restrictions. What kind of role do you think that plays in food safety right now?

Derek: Dietary restrictions is a really it’s a complicated space for brands and for restaurant owner operators. The role of an operator in the restaurant is extremely difficult. I was actually talking to an operator last night, been in the business for 15 plus years, and when they first got started, they got started with their two siblings and was interesting because their siblings actually dropped out of the business almost immediately and left this operator on his own. And I think the reason for that is because as consumers, you often look at this business and kind of see all the great aspects of it. You see the social aspect, the great food, the ambiance, kind of all the good things that go into being a kind of a guest. And you don’t realize all the challenges that go into kind of the operational side of managing a business. And so, you know, the reason I bring that up is because, you know, as relates to, you know, some of these new trends and some of the kind of dietary restrictions, it’s just another thing for operators to think about, but it is extremely important. And so when we look at some of the things that we’re trying to solve for in increasing food safety and operations, you know, one of the things that’s actually one of the top reasons for failing an inspection at your restaurant is because of cross-contamination. And so that could be for a lot of different reasons, whether it’s your store, your food, or where you’re preparing your food or just not consistent expectations at the chef level. And so that’s a huge reason for failing inspections. And it’s something that when we’ve seen on our end, when we implement squad all a brand framework, implementing a food safety protocol, you know, we actually have seen a 30% reduction in inspection failures. And so. Again, while it kind of comes down to some of these increasing complexities at the operational level of managing all of these dietary trends and restrictions that folks have, it’s extremely important for operators to really be strict in terms of the guidelines they have in place, and that’s both back in the house, but also guest facing. Right. They want to make sure that you’re really clear about what product is touching, what other food product, and you’re explaining that to the guests before they consume it so that they can be aware of where there might be risk. So it’s not just the inspection side, it’s the kind of guest side as well. And making sure you’re doing a great job at kind of explaining where some of the risks might come into play.

James: You know, for multi-unit franchises, how challenging can it be to maintain food safety across, you know, a 20, 30, 40 unit franchise?

Derek: Yeah, it’s extremely difficult and it’s a lot different for a franchise based operation, as opposed to call it a brand that owns that many locations and kind of operates them as a single entity. Right. And so the difficulty with the franchise based model is that it’s kind of different operation standards at each one of those franchise or they can be in. So, you know, we talked about certain things that have come up in the news and that’s detrimental to brands, right? And so having things like that where you have foodborne illness coming up in the news and it’s kind of impacting you at a brand level, even though maybe it’s isolated to a certain franchisee that could be really detrimental. And so the thing that we have seen in terms of brands with a franchise based model that works really well is to kind of trends, I would say, in the marketplace. The first is brands that instill really strict guidelines and standards and enforce those at the franchise level. And so that can be done through a lot of different ways. But what it is, is the brand coming up with those guidelines on what food safety looks like and holding the franchisees accountable for implementing those. And so whether that’s pulling back the, you know, the franchise, you know, when they see infringements or or just having really great monitoring in place for kind of catching any kind of infringement there. The other big theme that I’ve seen is, you know, as you think about kind of the franchise model, there’s usually marketing and branding at kind of corporate level. And so the trend that I’ve seen and I’m sure you’ve you’ve seen as well on your end, James, is brands are really focusing with marketing on quality of the product on kind of the emphasis of preparation. And so the part of that is they’re kind of bringing to life their thoughts at a brand level around food safety and around kind of the product that they’re delivering to guests and how much they care about that at the brand level. And so, you know, really impacting that perception that the consumer level around how much they care and focus on food safety.

James: Yeah. Now what do you think the role of digital technology is right now in helping reduce food waste? I know that food costs are up and that’s something that operators are really trying to focus on. So what role do you think digital technology can play in that?

Derek: Yeah, there’s been some good strides made in the restaurant space in some different kind of important themes similar to food waste. So, you know, you look at carbon footprints of restaurants and I feel like sustainable packaging has actually been and we’ve we’ve seen that with some of the folks in the industry on really the impact there in kind of the adoption of of sustainable packaging across different brands. And it feels like on my end, I feel like that’s been an area where we’ve seen some big strides made in terms of food waste and technology. While I think there’s a huge potential there, it feels like the industry hasn’t fully embraced all that there is out there from a technology perspective at a wide level to reduce food waste. And so the two ways that I think we can reduce food waste with digital technology, to your question, you know, the first piece is on, you know, look at the fast casual and QSR space and the amount of coolers that they have within each one of those concepts. You know, if you walk into one of them, you’re going to see 12 to 20 coolers, you know, whether it’s underneath the cash register or the freezers in the back, there’s tons of equipment there. And monitoring those four failures, instilling some predictive analytics on catching when a cooler might go down or a freezer might go down can really save a ton in terms of wasted inventory within those coolers. So, you know, we’ve had we’ve had customers who saved thousands of dollars because. They caught a cooler that went off line in the middle of the night and they sent a technician to address it. And and you have things like that that become standard. And the industry will really help to reduce food waste at some of these concepts that have a high amount of of coolers and freezers in their facilities. The other big piece I see in terms of technology having an impact on food waste is more effective management of food shelf life. And so I think there’s a big opportunity here as we think about, you know, digital labeling of a product and making sure that you utilizing product in the most efficient manner possible. And and so, you know, you think about accounting principles of kind of first in first out type of protocol in the food space in terms of how do you make sure you’re maximizing the product that you purchase and you’re limiting the amount of waste there?

James: Yeah, no. I mean, I think that the coolers part I’ve heard several people talk about that that, you know, a cooler is going to most likely give out at a predictable amount of time. So if you can try and head off that and not get stuck with food overnight that just wasted and rotting by the time you get to it in the morning.

Derek: Well, that’s the big piece is is sending out those alerts. Right. And so if you have continuous monitoring and you’re able to alert a technician in the middle of the night, and you can demonstrate as opposed to coming in and having all of your products gone to waste and going out to order new one. You’re coming in the middle of the night, fix it and eliminate anyways there.

James: Yeah. So can you talk a little bit about digital checklists and how they can be advantageous versus the old school way of just writing on paper and checking items off for sure?

Derek: Yeah. Every operation in the food service space uses checklists today in some form or fashion. So whether it’s opening or closing checklists, you know, if you’ve ever been to a grocery store, you’ve seen a manager walking around with a clipboard, checking off, you know, inventory or temperatures and coolers. And so there is it’s in place checklist in some form or fashion in every single food service operation today. And so, you know, because it is happening, like I mentioned at the onset, a lot of it traditionally has been done in pen and paper. And so I think there’s really three big reasons that I see on my end for why you would want to convert to digital. The first one is for these multi-location operators and providing brands with visibility into performance at a location basis without having to be on site gives you a ton of leverage and scale at the management and operational level. And so that’s the first piece is converting to a digital checklist really gives you and gives multi-unit operators that visibility across all of their locations, which is priceless. The second piece, first and second reason I would give for why you would convert to digital checklists would be employee accountability. So as we think about, you know, paper based checklist and the thing that’s term that’s in the industry is called pencil whipping, which is when at the end of a shift, an employee would come through and just check off all the tasks that they were supposed to do throughout the shift. And it’s a pretty widespread technique that we’ve seen over the years. And so as you think about digital checklists, you know, we have timestamps and we have corrective actions to address things that happen throughout the shift. You know, that might need a manager sign off or you might need proof of the action that you’ve actually gone through and address some of the problems that you’re facing throughout your shift. And so, again, it really gives you that great accountability at the employee level that you might not get if your managers are not site. And then the third reason I would give in terms of why convert to digital is just the ease of use and the ROI you get with the product. You know, we’ve seen folks that have converted from paper to digital saving anywhere from a half hour to an hour per shift. And so when you think about kind of the labor shortage environment that we’re in and the challenges in terms of rising costs with labor and just the scarcity of labor for a lot of these brands and organizations out there, it’s a huge benefit to have something that can potentially reduce the amount of time that you would need on a shift to shift basis.

James: That makes a lot of sense. So finally, why don’t you talk a little bit about how brands balance food safety against other competing priorities?

Derek: Sure. It’s obviously, you know, we’ve talked about a lot of the benefits here today in terms of kind of where food safety can can really benefit to different organizations. But really what it comes down to is kind of, you know, how does that balance against other initiatives going on? And, you know, when I think about the rise of food safety, I think about kind of two big themes that I’d kind of characterize why an investment should be made in this area. So the first thing is around improving operations. And so, you know, we’ve hit on some of the benefits, but with a a digital. All Food Safety and digital checklist product. What you can get in your operations is you’re able to save time and you’re able to save on costs within time. You get staff that’s more efficient. Like I mentioned, you’re saving anywhere from a half hour to an hour per shift, which could be huge. And then we’re reducing costs as well as you think about kind of some of the food safety principles, monitoring coolers, reducing some of the waste and loss that you see there. There’s a big benefit there from a cost saving perspective. So there’s a decent amount of improvement from an operational perspective. The second big themes on how you can think about kind of balancing food safety with other priorities is around brand insurance. So using food safety as a tactic to prevent against brand catastrophe. So, you know, you don’t want your brand showing up on the news for foodborne illness or other things. And using food safety to help prevent that is a really big insurance for your brand, which you invest a lot in. And then the other big piece around the brand side is, as you see, broader adoption in food safety and some of the principles there, you’re going to start to see a higher level of trust in your brand, and you can reinforce that through some of the brand messaging and marketing. But also people will start to organically really understand that your brand cares about the quality of the product and the experience for guests when they’re implementing these best practices. And so it really helps in terms of promoting the brand and kind of giving insurance to the brand as you think about what’s most important for them is creating a great guest experience. And so, you know, food safety really helps to do that.

James: I mean, I know like when I go into a location and it’s dirty or, you know, it just doesn’t seem very cleanly. I mean, that’s just a bad experience, right? Like you want to be able to feel comfortable in a location and know that you’re being taken care of, right?

Derek: That’s exactly right

James: I’d like to thank you so much for your time for joining me today.

Derek: Thanks so much, James. It was great to be on and great chatting with you today. Thanks for having me.