This is a redacted Q&A with Tinku Saini, CEO & Co-Founder of Tarka Indian Kitchen, a 9-unit and growing Indian fast casual restaurant concept based in Austin with locations in Austin, San Antonio & Houston.
Q: What’s the role you play in evaluating and choosing Tarka’s techstack?
A: As a founder-run company, I wear a lot of hats including that of the CMO & CTO. As a result, I’m spear-heading the techstack that we have.
My philosophy is to consider players big and small and not necessarily go with whoever is considered “best in class” at the time. We have to be mindful of our budget, and also feel that oftentimes, smaller, up and coming companies are better to work with because we have the ears of their higher ups and can help shape the development of their platforms to suit our needs and their other clients. We’ve always leaned into technology and while I wouldn’t call us early adopters, we are ‘fast followers’
Q: Specifically when it comes to your guest feedback solution provider, what are you looking for?
A: The biggest thing is integration—the solution we bring on must be able to integrate with all our other tech platforms, such as POS, loyalty, ordering etc. Secondly, there’s automation. For example, Tattle sends out automated surveys and templated emails to simplify our guest response process. I still respond to a lot of guest surveys myself as part of my morning routine, so automated processes are a huge time saver.
And then I also care a lot about statistical significance. What I mean by that is that we need enough feedback in order to look for patterns in the data rather than obsessing over individual reviews. Especially moving from mystery shops to Tattle, we used to get just a couple of very expensive surveys a month. Now with Tattle, on average we get 25-35 responses per day or 3-4 per location daily. We have a 98% completion rate despite long surveys. This allows us to reach the volume of feedback we need to achieve statistical significance. All of this allows me to focus on recurring issues that really matter, and that we can use to improve our operations for a better guest experience.
In terms of reputation management, I love that Tattle allows me to mitigate negative social media reviews and encourage positive reviews on Google and Yelp. Giving guests a sounding board right after their experience allows them to feel heard without needing to post on public forums. Tattle can also automatically respond to 5-star reviews, encouraging guests to post great things about us online, which helps with our online presence as well.
Lastly, I’m really excited about Tattle’s upcoming menu item level feedback feature. Now we can spend less time looking for orders in other parts of our ecosystem to see what guests weren’t happy about. Although it wasn’t part of our original wishlist of features, I believe it will be very useful for us to implement operational improvements specific to each menu item, and plan our promotional strategies accordingly.
Q: Why did you say that “best-in-class” solutions aren’t necessarily the best?
A: We started working with Tattle in late 2020. Prior to that, we were doing secret shoppers, which were expensive, infrequent, and the backend was just not there in terms of actionable intelligence. Again, we looked at all of the major players in the space and decided that Tattle was the right partner not only due to their feature set, but because they very early on made us feel part of their development process and that has definitely proven to be the case.
For example, just this week, the Tattle team fixed an issue I had brought up regarding something simple like selecting and copying an email address more easily so that I can look up guests in our rewards system. They were able to get it done in a very short time span.
Q: What are some surprises or added benefits of using a feedback / CX platform?
A: One is how we could leverage the metrics on Tattle to our bonus metrics. Because of the high volume of feedback, we’re now comfortable adding Cleanliness, Hospitality and Food Quality scores to our bonus metrics. And we know that these scores aren’t based on just individual, sporadic anecdotes.
Also, being able to turn a negative guest experience into a positive one by making sure they give us another try and letting them know we care, has been invaluable. It’s more difficult now than ever to run a restaurant and things don’t always go right. When that happens, guests just want an apology and something to make it right, and we can now do that very effectively using Tattle.
I was really surprised by the number of people who replied to my responses to their feedback, saying they never thought they would hear back from anyone. That gives us an advantage in winning guests back or converting them into regulars. Proper follow-up to a negative experience can turn a lost guest into a loyal one.
I was also really surprised that so many people are taking the time to fill out our extensive surveys. They have a 98% completion rate. I expected less and we were planning on cutting it down if needed, but with the engagement rate and the very detailed info we get, we are no longer considering that.
In addition, Tattle provides us with competitor benchmarking analysis on a quarterly basis, which allows us to see how we stack up against our direct peers, who we get to select from the other restaurants using Tattle. I was surprised how well we ranked against other much larger companies.
Q: What advice would you give to restaurant executives looking to find the right tech stack for their operations?
A: Take the time to find the right partner and make sure the integration is seamless with other parts of the tech stack. Don’t just go for the “best-in-class” companies. We have specifically chosen companies that aren’t behemoths yet, because we have the ear of key decision makers as they develop their product.
Also, don’t chase after every shiny object just because others are doing it. One of the reasons we have been successful in many cases has been our willingness to be still in the face of chaos. We like to be fast followers rather than early adopters, to allow others to beta test systems for us.
Q: What are some exciting developments about Tarka Indian Kitchen you’re looking forward to in 2023?
A: We’re ramping up our expansion after nearly 3 years in hibernation when we opened just two stores. We’ll also be upgrading our online ordering system, and considering a virtual AI order taker for phone orders, which are our least favorite ordering channel—according to feedback on Tattle.
We also want to implement a full-fledged LMS platform for employee onboarding/training. And in January, we just implemented PTO for tenured hourly employees. Previously that was just for salaried team members. We have a super exciting 2023 ahead of us, and it’s only the start of the year!
You can check out the full case study with Tarka Indian Kitchen here.