GrowthSeptember 27, 2022

Connected, by mParticle Episode 9: Hospitality & Tech with Phil Crawford of CKE Restaurants

On this episode of Connected, I sit down with Phil Crawford, Chief Technology Officer of CKE Restaurants to discuss all things customer experience in the Hospitality space.

On this episode of Connected, I sit down with Phil Crawford, Chief Technology Officer of CKE Restaurants to discuss all things customer experience in the Hospitality space. Phil shares his perspective on what the future of loyalty looks like in QSR and how he tackles the age old build-versus-buy conundrum.

To learn more on how Carl’s Jr.® and Hardee's® deliver old school hospitality with new school tools (like mParticle), check out our customer story.

Visit our Connected by mParticle hub to listen to all previous episodes and subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice.


Abhi: [00:00:00] Phil, I, you know, again, I can't thank you enough for making the, making the time to,  to chat with me.

Phil: Yeah, look, it's my pleasure. I always love doing these things and talking all things, hospitality, but more importantly talking all things tech within hospitality, because. That's what I believe day and 

Abhi: day up a hundred percent. And,  yeah, I, I guess that,  has that saying go, you know, it's,  every company's a tech company, I don't know if that's quite true, but there's some true to that.

  so Phil, before we nowadays, for sure. Hundred percent. And, and I was gonna say before I, I put the cart before the horse would you mind giving the audience a quick introduction about yourself and, and what you do?

Phil: Sure. Yeah.  obviously the name Phil Crawford, I kind of was a give first giveaway. I'm currently the CTO at CKE restaurant. Which is,  the parent holding company for a couple brands Carl's junior and Hardy's that both have rich heritage and rich history inside of the American, you know, burger industry per se and [00:01:00] sandwich industry.

  we also have two sister concepts,  which is red burrito and GRE Brito, which are inside those two individual restaurant chains that are found around the nation. But also they're also found, you know, internationally as. And the great part about what we're doing at Carl junior and Hardy is, is we're kind of reinventing the brand, right.

We're taking a technology first approach. So you mentioned earlier about technology kinda leading and how we're re reevaluating. Our brands from a digital first capacity, especially as a consumer sentiment has changed.  I've had the blessings to be, you know, brought to this company about two years ago.

And prior to that, I've had some amazing career opportunities to work with brands called Yardhouse, which was a, a bar and grill concept out of Southern California that eventually got acquired by Darden.  after that I had a, an amazing one was shake shack, ironically, another burger concept that a New York.

  as their head of technology, CIO, and kind of built the tech stack that was there that, you know, and kind of help was paramount in the launching of that brand. As we know it today and also the public company, it [00:02:00] was. And then another amazing opportunity to take a,  a cheap technology information roll with good IVA.

We all love chocolate and handle that worldwide technology operation. So I gotta see the world and then it ended up in Nashville. So look, I mean, I it's always been in some way, somehow hospitality and technology and. You know, it's in my blood. I think, like I said earlier, it's it's, this has never been a job for me.

This is always just a passion and I'm so blessed to work in the its industry and, and the technology side of the industry, and really get a play,  in the playground, Dan. And that's why I love it. 

Abhi: Wow. Wow. Wow. I mean starting with your, your, you know, what you're currently doing, Phil, and then just going back down the list of, of sort of where you come from, every time you mention one of those brands, you put me in a place in time, right.

  whether that was me driving through,  Florida on my way,  in high school, it's like orchestra practice, right. And swinging into a Carl's Jr. For a burger or, you know, I I'm based in Jersey city. So. Many [00:03:00] many times commuting back from the office,  you know, taking up a shake, shack burger.


Phil: I can relate. Look, I'll be honest with you. Like my first stint in this industry and I was 16 and this is gonna like come full circle. My first restaurant job was at Carls Jr. Wow. Okay. So now you come full circle and you write on the executive level of the same brand, but yeah, right.

You know, I grew up in Southern California. There's these iconic brands that, you know, are now staples across the nation. You kind of know where they grew out of their infancy to where the maturity is. And where're all identified by a sense, you know, taste, smell, sight sound, and we all have these memories based off of food and hospitality and that.

A hundred percent, the passion that we have, and then the similarity of our feelings tied to an event, which is we're surrounded by food, which is awesome. Like it's like an old song right back. Then you bring up the old song. Oh, I hated that song. Cause my girlfriend, I loved it back then. I hated my girlfriend [00:04:00] back then.

That was my wedding song now. Oh, I love it. So you have these affinities with different kind of things throughout your life. And I'm glad that the concept I've worked for have such a brand, you know, recognition and people just are so passionate about '

Abhi: em and just. The intersection of brand and technology is interesting and I, I, there's a question down in this conversation that we are absolutely gonna get into, but, you mentioned something important, right?

We're talking about,  You know, beloved restaurants and, you know, CK restaurants,  group being no exception to this.  let's get into the influence of, of technology and, and data, now in, in sort of.  what CK restaurants does.

Could you tell us a bit more,  about how you think about data and customer experience, at CK? 

Phil: Sure. So we kind of went on this journey when I started to really put the customer in the center of the nucleus, right. When it came to. Understanding our consumer, we all had [00:05:00] Pix, right?

We did, we did some email mailers and such, but we never really got to understand the consumer. So when we designed our current ecosystem, we went out and said, let's get the CDP done. First, the customer data platform, realizing that we're gonna have this unique opportunity to capture data, guest data, sales, data, whatever you wanna call it data in a, in a nutshell, right.

And centralize it to understand our consumers and how they interact with us. What restaurant, what's their favorite items? How far are they? What kind of devices like that in and of itself is becomes the correlation that we can now create this personalized experience with our guests, rather than just being in a good, old number in a system.

We have great partners with punch and particle and Olo and our point of sale vendors, par rank and xFi, and really kind of figure out these different ways, as well as our development companies who Bo to us and halfway or Sage path or happy cause like, right, you had to really kind of corral all these people and understand that just entire ecosystem we're building is [00:06:00] about data and the data flow and how it interacts different parts throughout the journey, and then make the information real time.

And action. So we can understand if something's going wrong in the moment and make the change or going right in the moment and make the change. But look at a guest. Why haven't you been back in six months or, Hey, you had a bad experience. How do we make it right the next time? So the data journey from a consumer standpoint was extremely important and that's why I'm saying the nucleus was around it.

A lot of folks launch an app and a web and a lower the program, like, yay. We're done. Mm-hmm but you don't only understand the guest. You don't understand. The intrinsic value and what that guest brings to you, because they're gonna give you more information than you believe you'll ever get, but you gotta do something with it.

And having that proper core platform allows you to have all those unlocks and then gives the leverage from my digital marketing teams, you know, led by Jason Seally and April Fe and Mike shouter to go ahead and create these experiences that are unique and then create the brand.[00:07:00] 

Abhi: It goes back to that comment I made about, you know, every company's sort of a, a tech company now , I think the way that, you guys are approaching your strategy around customer experience I almost think of that as like you're listening to your customers through data and what I'm almost getting from this is like, you really can't listen to your customers effectively without having sort of this groundwork in place. 

Phil: Yeah, you hit it on the nose. I think the hospitality industry in and of itself has been way, way, way, way late to the game.

You look at the, the airline or travel industry. Oh my gosh. Think about the loyalty and the information you know about you think about retail, right? Hospitality was thrust into my, and I believe this in the last three years, because of the COVID pandemic, we just were always late to the game. I think that's more domestically than internationally.

I think internationally has always been ahead. You go overseas to China and Japan, and they're already doing robotics and,  data, data science, and so forth. You also look at, you know, other, other companies [00:08:00] in retail that have started up truly as a technology company. First and foremost, you look at like, you know, the stitch fixes of the world in retail that are completely,  an e-commerce eCommerce space, all about data, right?

Or you look at other, you know, big box retailers that are all about. I think the hospitality has a unique opportunity to really understand it because we have consumers that want to interact with this in a, not just a typical, you know, retail, eCommerce, but, you know, delivery, retail, eCommerce, like traditional birthdays, like all these different things that the retailers have already set up that we can almost mimic and duplicate.

In a variety of different ways. We just had to have the core systems in place and our, our late entry into the game, which I've said before in different discussions in some way can be an advantage. We can understand people have done wrong in every industry or even our own, and then make the proper adjustment and course correct as we go.

But again, the overall sentiment is data in our industry. Never really was a big thing. Let's call [00:09:00] it what it was. Data data was taken for granted, right? and call it our own egotistical mindsets of how it was, or it just wasn't important. But I think over time, we've seen the value of big tech companies. really hone the data and really do something with the data. They've multi honed it, they have a network effect, right? We talk about, you know, these, these different groups,  I don't name the names, doing amazing jobs because they understand. And the consumer at the same time has shift.

They shifted to a digital and first mindset and you better be ready for it cuz it's here 

Abhi: and that's, and that's a, an interesting point and a nice segue fell into like my next question, which is, could you talk a little bit more about. The role that technology today has like, particularly in lo  in hospitality and QSR in, in helping build and maintain a great brand and customer experience.

Phil: Yeah. Look, I think it kind of [00:10:00] goes back it's it's, it's a three-headed animal when it comes to the experience model, right? You gotta have a good product. You gotta have a good experience, but you also have to have the mechanism, find technology to, to, to aggregate all these different data sets and all these different information.

The business can make informed decisions, but more importantly, the consumer knows you're making positive decisions on their behalf. You have to have their voice allowed for the consumer to give you the good, bad, and the ugly as we call it. Good feedback is feedback. Bad feedback is good feedback and so forth.

The technology stacks that are out there right in the field, we're always evolving. So you need to have that digital first mindset that as a consumer sediment shifts, you have to have the ecosystem in place in order to. Drive it, but more importantly, you have to have that alignment internally to ensure that the technology stacks you have are robust enough and agile enough, there's your buzzword for the day ,  to, to, to accept and go with it.

The technology stack itself is going to continue to evolve and [00:11:00] change. There's no more of the days you buy, you know, product X and it just sits there and does its job because the technology's moving so fast. But again, so is the consumer mindset and summers are so much, so is the. The consumer sediment, there's this, there's this thing in, in analytics called collisions, right?

And the collisions are when you have hit an apex and your competition is going, going to exceed that apex. You look at the old best buy, sorry, not best buy, excuse me, blockbuster and Netflix dynamic, right. There is a collision point. And in certain companies, they're in this collision point where the demand, you know, and the technology has shifted so well and the company needs to shift accordingly.

And if you Don. That collision effect one way, one way of a company gets unfortunately destroyed another company, rapidly benefits and grows. 

Abhi: I think that sums it up in a nutshell, right? It it's it's you cannot discredit, I think the rapidness of which,  [00:12:00] Consumer behavior changes,  the landscape of how a customer wants to interact with you.

Right. I could imagine even something as simple as, number of customers that actually walk into a physical,  you know, restaurant to make an order today versus drive through versus mobile, right? I mean, the, the percentages of those have shifted rapidly. I would imagine over the last couple of years,  and they have, yeah, 

Phil: look, you have, you have, you have drive through pickup curbside delivery.

Yep. Right. You have all these different things. We're talking about drones. We're talking about autonomous driving vehicles. They can drop food off. Like certain consumers never want to talk to human. They want to talk to a chat bot or they want talk to a mobile device. And all they wanna do is walk in, never see a person, grab their food and go there's some folks that wanna have a super lengthened conversation ask about the weather and you know, how do you make the burger?

Like, it just depends on. Individual, but you need to make it the most frictionless environment you can for the guests. But I think a lot of companies also don't think about the [00:13:00] employee side of it too. You need to make it extremely easy for them to do their job with the technology. Mm. Because a technology component should be a tool for success.

A tool for unlocked, a tool for efficiency, not a hindrance. So many times people put so much tech into a business. It actually. Adverse effect, it affect, it affects the efficiency of the organization negatively, which is what you don't want to do. The idea behind the technology is to be the enabler. Right.

And I think that's why, and I've said it before, not every technology is gonna be in every place. Sure. It has to make sense of what your brand is. Like. We're doing some radical stuff here at CKE that I can't imagine. My mom, a pop place down the way will ever. It just depends on where you're at in your business lifecycle, but also your technology lifecycle.

And is it, is the, is the juice worth the squeeze, as we say, right. Hundred, 

Abhi: which is always important. A hundred percent and yeah, I mean, so, wow. I, I didn't even think about sort of the other side of that, but, but I, [00:14:00] I love that because I think the message here, you know, if there's a brand listening is at the end of the day,

really the role of technology in, in any business, in whatever scale you're in is to reduce it. It's to create a frictionless road, right? It's almost to create like a highway system yeah. To easily be able to adjust and meet the needs of whatever your customers need in whatever channel they want to interact with you at any point in time.

And it's that I think more than anything, it's, it's the frictionless highway, as well as the. Sort of opportunity and ability to be flexible, right? Because if tomorrow you need to adjust and say to your point, right, maybe two years from now, drones are the next thing, right? Phil we're we're, we're never leaving our couches and a drone comes through our window and, and drops off our order.

  you know, which, I mean, maybe that's not so crazy, but,  yeah. You know, we gotta be ready for that. And I think setting up that infrastructure [00:15:00] to allow you to adjust for that, hopefully avoid. You know, you as a brand hitting that collision point, right? 

Phil: Yeah. And then also on the, you know, on the inside for the employees too, look, employees are consumers as well.

Right? Sure. They go to other brands too, and you need to make their experience as frictionless as possible, too. Onboarding offboarding payroll back off as inventory. I mean, all the things you gotta do. It's one big overall organizational mindset, but it's also an organizational culture mindset that has to be top to the top down, right?

Like if we're all putting our feet in to the pot and say, we're all going digital, and we're all going frictionless, we're all going, you know, whatever you wanna call it. If not everybody is aligned, we got a problem. Yeah. And I think that's, that's part of what CKE has been successful in this last couple of years is our technology mindset has been, it's gonna be an organizational culture and people don't like change.

It's just human nature. [00:16:00] Yeah. Right. But we have to drive the change and the continual change.  there was, I, I, I,  gosh, I forgot the name of Disney's. It was like a long time. When they were talking about the example of getting rid of the old animation and going Pixar, like, what do you do when you're taking away a bread and butter, we're going digital.

Like it's an all in mindset. The, the benefit will be on the other end. It's the same thing with hospitality and technology. Yep. Yep. Yeah. It's not what princess is and frogs. 

Abhi: Yes. Same, same difference. But no, I, I, I get what you mean. I get what you mean. Let's move to a bit of a tangential topic I wanted to hone in on,  loyalty, and, and what that means to you, I think we can all agree, right? , Loyalty is critical to any brand's customer success or customer strategy.

  mm-hmm but can you speak a bit,  about how you think of driving customer loyalty from a tech and data lens? And making you be sort of,  fortune teller here, you [00:17:00] know, do, do you have any sort of,  insights on maybe what the, the future of loyalty could, could be in, in QSR?

Phil: Yeah, look, I, I, I think loyalty at this point is table stakes. Every major brand has a loyalty platform in some way, a reward system. There are some that don't right. I mean, we won't name their name to know who they are, but it's okay. Like they have a business model that doesn't require it. But I think in certain points, loyalty has become the way again, because the restaurant and hospitality industry is coming late to this game.

And you see this in regards and you.  retail and you see it an airline where loyalty is the play, right? But more importantly, on the loyalty thing, the consumer itself wants to be rewarded for being a patron. There's a movie called up in the air under, seen it with,  George Cooney and is about a guy that goes around the wor a nation and travels and 7 million miles.

And. At the end, you know, he gets his gold or [00:18:00] metallic seventh club thing. 

Abhi: Right. The captain, I think, comes down from the airplane. And I remember that scene. 

Phil: Yep, exactly. But if you imagine how much data they have on him, where he is been, how he is gone, the logs, it's the same thing on the restaurant side of it.

Right. I have. Multiple points of data entry on an individual, how they interact with us, where they interact with us. I alluded to it earlier, what they buy, what they don't buy, what they're surfing, so on and so forth. And the beauty of that is then we can then take that information and help drive some of the product modifications we can drive consumer sediment.

Now there's things we're gonna do in the future is while we're, you know, we tie it back to. You know, oat scores with, with efficiencies and restaurants, yada yada, yada. But when it comes down to the tech side of the loyalty data itself, it's paramount in order for us to understand the habits of our consumer, it's paramount for us in how we design our systems and solutions.

So we all get the email that says, Hey, [00:19:00] Free chicken sandwich. Right? Do you have a vegetarian? Why are you sending me a chicken sandwich, email? Like, what are you doing? Right. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't correlate. If I can understand who you are. And I can personalize that contextual thing and says, Hey, Tryer, impossible burger.

It is vegetarian. You might go, dude. They do know me because they know what I've bought. I've given him preferences. Right. Even take it to the next level. We've talked about the futuristic here. Yeah. Like what if, what if screens changed? When they're contextual, when you, when you open the app, it's not the same loading screen that shows you every at it shows just what you had and you just see the veggie burgers.

Mm. Right. And you just see these options or vice versa. When you walk into a restaurant, it identifies who you are. And it says welcome back. And it's small things like that. It field bartender analogy back in the day, I'd walk to the bartender I've known for by 10 years. Hey Phil. Welcome back. Here's your kettle one martini up with two olive on the bar.

When you sit down in your favorite seat, that just needs to be digitalized. Right. And that's where the data [00:20:00] from loyalty gets us to, right. Our preferences, our likes, our dislikes. So again, we now have this one to one relationship with our, with our consumer and the consumer knows it. And then, and as a result, they're gonna come back to us because they know you're not just a number in the cog.

You actually are a human to them and you are, you are appreciated for their patronage. 

Abhi: The point about like personalizing sort of,  a screen or right. I, I might open an app one day and if I'm a vegetarian, I don't even see any menu items that aren't,  Aren't vegetarian, right?

Like my whole yeah. Layout and the colors and the menu items I'm looking at, or, or, you know, you could apply the same thing to maybe an allergy. Right. And mm-hmm, ,  it's funny because, little things like that would absolutely, I think, change the game for people, and, when I'm, I'm hearing a consistent trend here, right. Which is regardless of, if it's another component of your, of, of your customer experience, strategy, loyalty, just [00:21:00] being one of them, it still all comes back to, you know, understanding who your customer is because to your point, about the offering a chicken sandwich to a vegetarian, you might be thinking you're doing a good thing. Like you're giving somebody a discount, but you actually have the opposite effect, right? Like you are actually potentially turning customers off because you don't understand what they care.

Phil: Yeah. And you know, and a lot of those systems, if you design these correctly, and again, we'll kind of go Uber geek care. If we build machine learning into our systems or artificial intelligence, as we all keep talking about. Yeah. And we write the proper algorithms and we write the proper rule sets. You can take the human element out of it when it comes to that decision matrix and you let the AR machine learning, use the data, mine the data, and act upon the data in order to have.

The output you want. And it's part of, you know, a Harvard analytics thing that I'm doing right now in, in school as [00:22:00] well is,  is how do you look at the, what if and your, what outcome you're looking for? Like, what are you trying to accomplish and work back into it, utilizing artificial intelligence. And a lot of companies are data rich, right?

But they're quality poor, or a lot of companies are data rich, but they're actionable. I think that is where. This next generation of loyalty goes to is truly conversational, truly personalization, right in the future where it is not you and me answering every single preference and going into a portal and creating a campaign and launching the campaign and then doing a report afterwards, like it literally is a autonomous the systems do it.

And all we're getting is the. And the reward and then they can make the human element to it because I mean, you don't want, you know, Terminator two to happen. Sure. You want a little bit of a, a human oversight, but at least you get the output you're looking for. And then you could add the human decision matrix within there was, [00:23:00] was this campaign, right?

Was this campaign wrong? Was this personalist and tactic, right. Was it wrong? Like you need to have that mindset of how data can work for you, but you also have to have a little bit of the gut to try it and learn. 

Abhi: Yeah. I mean, well, it sounds like such a simple concept of like, you know, tell me the desired outcome, right?

Like what are you trying to accomplish? And let technology, you know, in, in the form of AI and ML help you do that. And I think so many people sort of, sort of almost get that backwards. Right. It's almost, Hey, I don't really know what I'm trying to accomplish, but I, I know I want to build, you know, a campaign, this.

Right. And, and it's sort of, we, we gotta flip that thinking, which is, yeah. What is the outcome we wanna accomplish and then sort of what is the best, you know, technology set that's available to us,  to do that. So,  yeah, I mean, listen, there's, there's nothing. I think what I'm [00:24:00] excited about more than I think Phil is, is, you know, some of this stuff coming to market and being more available,  you know, across more brands in the, in the near future, because I think the, what I've learned so far, and I, I think we're, you know, we're, we're, we're halfway into our conversation is that,  there's just a ton of potential here.

Like there is just a lot of things that brands. Wherever they are, right. Whatever their strengths are, whether that's loyalty, whether that's in the data. There, there's a lot of opportunities that I think technology,  provides right. To, to contributing to the bottom line,  of your business. And,  to your point, maybe, maybe one of the big components of that is yeah.

Eventually having someone,  like yourself come in and, and, you know, have the guts as well to, to try things.  But, okay. So I'll sorry that, that was a bit of a trailing thought that that went nowhere, but,  you know, I wanna you're you're on. Okay. All right. All right. [00:25:00] Yeah, please. I like, if, if there's something I'm saying, that's, you know, I'm off my rock, right.

I, I, I want know it, but,  

Phil: oh, you're not off your rocker. Nothing. Nothing's off the rocker. Right? That's what makes all this stuff cool. There are no bad ideas and thoughts, right. When it comes to, when you're trying to design the next legacy, it's about. Right, right. In making the changes and, and, and fail fast and learn quicker.

Right. That's what you have to do, which is why I think there's a certain part of our segment of the restaurant industry and hospitality industry. That's trying things. And some people are seeing massive successes because they are the risk takers. They're the leading edge and other companies will follow, like Starbucks is talking about doing web 0.30 and redesigning their loyalty programs off of NFP.

Wow. Yeah. Amazing. Yeah, but that's cool. Like they're way ahead of, I am right now, which is great. Let them learn and let them see how it goes to market. And maybe we're a fast follower. They are the things that we're doing, right. That we might try different from a loyalty standpoint. But at the same time, as [00:26:00] we talked about initially, like I know my customer, I know what I can and can't do what my customer will, will not accept given our, our, our infancy in our digital journey.

We're not as mature. So we we're we're, we can't take the risk in particular, in that thing. But the other thing is we will do, because we're understanding what the consumer insight are telling us. 

Abhi: Okay. So this brings us to, I think, a question, Phil, that as a CTO, I just, I couldn't help myself. I, I had to ask it's, it's sort of sure.

Maybe as cliche as they come, but this ties back into sort of that age old build versus.  conundrum.  I would love to hear your perspective in terms of, you know, when you're looking for a technology partner, or a consulting partner, an agency partner. What's your decision making criteria on Hey, like, is.

A part of the strategy or the technology that we should build ourselves and own and maintain, or is this something we should outsource and, and, and [00:27:00] buy? 

Phil: So I I've, I've lived both worlds. I've built some amazing, cool technology right from the ground up. And it's done the business well during that time period.

Right. And there's certain things that are still in place today and certain old companies to work for that we're all custom built internally. And you have to risk through the risk risks award, the long term ROI internally to have developers on staff, right. And code bases and whatever, be credit card and PCI and CCPA and P I D like, you need to weigh out those options internally.

What we decided to do at, at CKA was really go the opposite side, right? Where. We're doing the best of breed approach. We've built our tech stack. That's interchangeable parts. It's the old, like Henry Ford model of manufacturing. I know it's fucking cars and hamburgers, two different things, but the idea here is for us to buy.

So if we have an integration API layer, Right that we can then plug into the tech [00:28:00] stack, whatever solution it would be, where a software is a service where a product is a service or a platform is a service like, and we can inject it into our system. It's a lot quicker to market. And what we're doing to that is that it allows us to partner with the partners that that was redundant partner with the partners that allow us to utilize their expertise in their individual segment and plugs into our ecosystem rather than building it out directly key.

If I wanted to go out and build a geolocation services, myself, go hire developers, spend a ton of money on learning and how it works, all the different mechanisms. Sure. There's open source and so forth versus the speed to market where I could go have a partnership with somebody plug in the API and it's there and that's all they're developing on and they already have a team that of resources.

It makes more sense. It's also, you know, there's some, there's some accounting and financial applications of build versus buy as well and write offs and so on and so forth. And we won't get in all that. I can't even bounce my own checkbook, [00:29:00] CapEx and optics, but okay. In our world, it works best for us to do the buy option.

And there it also then with regards specifically, when we build out our business requirement documents, when we talk about partnerships, there are very specific things we need to have with regards to integrations. And that is our key to our success is going to be the integrations and. Your partnerships are there, the integrations are there that doesn't mean we're never, never not gonna do something internally on our own.

I mean, it just depends on where you're at in your, in your development life cycle as a company. And if you have the resources internally and we all know the labor constraints we have right now in finding, you know, qualified talent, it's, it's tough out there. No question about it.  but again, our strategy out of the, out of the gate was to put the game, put the best band together.

We. Best best, best lead singer, best bass, best guitarist, best drummer, best keyboardist, like, and build that plan. And that plan is, is serving us well right now, could it change in five years? Absolutely. But at least we [00:30:00] build it. So it's, it's interchange when simple enough, we either break certain parts out or we have a bad experience with this partner.

We just plug that we plug a different partner in, it sounds easier and so than done, but you know what I mean, rather than having to rewrite the entire architecture, 

Abhi: I do Phil and, and, you know like there is no silver bullet. There's not like one variable you can evaluate. I, I think in, in knowing whether you should, you know, build something today or buy something and, you know, that's fluid as well, to your point, that could change in in five years. But I think. Even just you talking about philosophically, how you guys, you know, think about this at CKE.

What I heard there in best of breed. Also, I think the other side of that best of breed point is flexibility, right? Because the, the fact that you guys don't have all your eggs sort of in one basket, right.  you know, your ability to say, you know what, this particular component of our tech. Isn't serving the needs of the business [00:31:00] anymore.

Right? It did really well the last four years, but it just isn't for where we want to go.  of course like there's, I think there's always a switching cost,  when you do things, but that's a whole lot less painful and, and quicker to do, you know, you go on one extreme and you build everything, right?

Like if you, if you build this Frankenstein,  tech stack where you built your own email provider and your own geolocation service and everything, it, it sort of becomes a nightmare to swap out new technologies.  right. Yeah. And you're building a lot of breaking points and tech. But on the other hand, I think going all in on, you know, and I'm not advocating for this or against it. It may make sense for certain organizations, but going with one provider for just everything. I think you also run that risk of, well, geez, if that provider's not, if the pros don't outweigh the cons on that single partner or tech provider, It becomes really painful, right. To then to then move and do something else. Agreed. [00:32:00] 

Phil: Yeah. Agreed like, yeah, but you gotta have that. You gotta have that, that decision matrix inside your organization that supports it. Right. There's been some amazing restaurant companies that have built everything from scratch. Right. And it served them very well, but that was their ethos moving in.

Like we're going to do this. It's never been. There is note, there is nothing to buy. I have to build it period. Right. Other ethos have said, I'm going to buy something and mold it around what I want and, and, and be able to give a little bit here again a little bit. There just depends on where they're at.

Right. It's also comes to speed to market, which I think is a very big component that people who have often overlooked, like there's a, there's a point to be patient, and there's a point you can no longer be patient. It could be in. What do you wanna get to the market? And what, what other factors are driving that decision?

Right. If I had an infinite amount of money and an infinite amount of time sure. Might have a [00:33:00] different might have be giving you a different. But I don't have, I don't have $4 billion to spend them on technology for a restaurant saying, I wish I did. I just don't 

Abhi: one day, one day. Phil never say never. Yeah, exactly.

Yeah. No wrong kinda apple. You know what I mean? Yeah. Of, of course, exactly. Wouldn't wouldn't that be nice, but,  tell me about it. Geez. Okay. I mean, this is, you know, it's sort of bringing me to, we we've talked a lot about data and technology and its, and its sort of applications, but,  Phil, I guess one question I wanted to ask you,  you know, taking a step away from the tech component of this is, like I imagine that in order to do anything meaningful,  at a brand, as large as CKE is it probably takes a vast network of people in cross functional roles coming together to, to sort of contribute and make it happen. But could you talk a little bit about the [00:34:00] people element,  you know, sort of in your role as CTO.

When you guys decide on a new business initiative or, you know, launching something,  who do you typically work with in, in the business to like drive something like that?

Phil: It's a great question. And I think a lot of times people think that there's some mad scientists in the back room that makes a decision.

They say, I'll go, go and have fun and conquer. 

Abhi: Believe me, I did. I did for a 

Phil: long time. I thought that's how the world. Yeah. It people know everything just, just don't listen to anything we say, but do everything we don't say anyways. Right.  we, we actually have a great leadership team that really is collaborative because we have our own areas of expertise and discipl.

But when we have these radical ideas, we have these different things we want to go do or different initiatives. It really kinda starts at the top. Right? What I mean by that is that's the decision brain trust that might have an idea. But equally, and even sometimes more importantly is we really [00:35:00] value the, the input from our teams, especially in the technology teams.

Like I want the team to think outside the box, I want the team to be radical thinkers and entrepreneurs and think of things that we haven't thought of. Of course it has to funnel up and it has to be funding and approval and so forth. But I think that's the good dichotomy organization needs to have.

Right. It needs to come with the people that are in the ground or in the field and doing these things. It's the challenge of trying different things and give people a voice to express a desire for a new initiative or a new strategy or a new technology stack. The leadership part of it is also the point to debate it right at the top of it let's debate.

Does it make financial sense? Right? Does it fit into our, our, our ecosystem? Is it a bold strike? Meaning is it going to be a revolutionary thing that changes our brand? So there's different, different levers that people get from poll, but I. You know, the most specific thing when it comes to let's just say a digital first, it has to be led from the top down.

Meaning if the leadership board and the VPs are on board, [00:36:00] directed are board. Everybody has to be stroking in the same direction, like in a canoe, right? Mm. If they're not, you're gonna spin in circles. Everybody's gotta be in the same stroke stroke. And everybody has to have the same belief, right. And the same, the same desire to get the same outcome.

And that really starts from the top. It doesn't matter where the source comes from, but that's kind of. The the, the overall, you know, input that we have is we have to be aligned and we have to have the same strategy. Then wouldn't even tell about the strategy and talk to their strategy and talk to priorities all the way down.

Otherwise you go in circles and nothing ever gets done, 

Abhi: I work in, in, you know, customer and in, in client success.

And you know, one of the things I'll say over the years,  this is not industry specific or brand specific, or even company size specific, the number one, I think criteria that I've seen play out over and over, like,  you know, when I work with a client is it's, it's not about whether you have.

The [00:37:00] best technology or the most money to spend, or any of that. I mean, you could have the Ferrari of, of a tech stack right. But to your point about if the people at every level, and I think that's key as well,  are not aligned. Like if, if, if marketing and product are not aligned in terms of.

Understanding, Hey, like are the products that we're building or developing the experience is going to contribute to the goals and KPIs that marketing's being held to,  are the engineers and developers that are actually coding the,  the individual, you know, names of, of different,  screens in an app, right?

Are they talking across experiences so that, you know, screen view one in on a website is the same screen view one on a, on an iOS application.  If those teams aren't in lockstep, like I don't care what technology you have. Like to me, we'll figure out the technology space [00:38:00] or how to compensate for the fact that we don't have budget to do something.

Give me a, a team who truly is collaborating across, across functions and talking to each other and,  is on the same page. you know, that to me is a single biggest indicator if, we're gonna succeed in the long run.

Phil:  that exactly correct. Right. And you gotta communicate it and you gotta continue communicate it and communicate it through your, you can never be done communicating.

I think there's no, there's never a, a message that can't go out that doesn't have a uniformity, you know, ethos behind it. Right. What I mean by that is if you guys are having this bold strategy of a bold strike or something else that's different in order to change the culture of the company or change the in.

Right. The best part about that entire thing is again, you gotta continue your message and talk about it and be open about it. Right. And allow for feedback to happen as well, because that's how things evolve and things mature. Right? You just can't, you just can't build it and develop it and put it away [00:39:00] and say, okay, go on, grow on your own.

Doesn't happen. It's gotta be continual messaging and interaction and collabo. Yeah. Yeah. 

Abhi: Okay. Awesome. Well, all right, Phil, we're, we're getting towards,  the tail end of this.  I, I just had a couple more questions and, you know, I mean, the next one is, like what's next for you and CK restaurants. 

Yeah. So 

Phil: I think, you know, first and foremost, really, really taking a deep dive into in artificial intelligence.

So we are experimenting it in about a dozen restaurants right now, AI, through the drive through we're actually talking to. Machine and essence, and it transposes that into the point of sale system. So we're freeing up the, our, our most invaluable assets, our employees from doing the mundane task of taking orders and other, just executing on the hospitality and making of the, of the product.

That's number one. The other big initiative we have going on to,  internally is obviously on the back end of the machine learning for data analytics. Mm. [00:40:00] Those are going to be some change sets for us that are revolutionary for our. Right. We're kind of doing some things and partnerships with strategic companies that,  will help us be better as a company and help us better position our consumer experience through the loyalty and leveraging all the different things we talked about earlier, because now we can start really honing the information to make quantified decisions.

  it's not so much, I guess you can say front facing. But it will be when you start getting some more of the contextual experiences you're gonna get with regards to our loyalty programs and overall consumer ordering experiences, whether it be in store or,  through digital 

Abhi: device. 

I'm very curious and interested to see how that plays out, but I think the best way to experience that is,  you know, is continuing to check out what CK is doing. You know, both in store and digitally, right as a consumer.   but okay. 

Phil: The Nashville I got, I've got some, I've got some restaurants here in Nashville doing it now.

You and there's signs and it's messaging. And I, I went to the drive three [00:41:00] yesterday, and I could look at all the metrics after the fact and how efficient it was. And I got my order. Right. And I got my loyalty points then in the back and I can see the data flow, like yeah. It's, it's, it's like watching the child, you know, be born and then growing up and maturing eventually going to college and getting married, like early infancy.

Right. But there's a lot of potential there and there's a lot of internal excitement to say, wow, this really has some teeth. Yep. Right? Like this could, this could work well for us in certain market in certain segments. And we'll see 

Abhi: where it. Listen, if I'm ever driving,  that's what I'm saying, not too distant future.

I'm driving back down us 27,  you know, back in Florida visiting my hometown and you know, I roll into a, a Carl's junior. This is gonna be,  yeah, I'm, I'm looking forward to that, but,  right on. 

All right, Phil, I,  last couple of questions. These are fun these are really, I, I want to take. So, you know,  I'll be the, the, the customer success guy and, and fill the CTO out of this.

And, [00:42:00] and, and just say, you know, as a, as a consumer,  I, I gotta ask what's, what's one of your favorite brands or experiences and why? 

Phil: Ooh, you're gonna go deep on this one. Like, I I'll be honest. I'm a Chick-fil-A fanatic. My youngest daughter works at Chick-fil-A. Okay. She's in the industry, which I love just their experience.

Their, their technology is simple and clean, but their hospitality is, is unparallel. And I think that really is a big thing for the QSR segment.  R really, I mean, you can't, you can't go wrong. And I, and I kind of idolize what they've done and some of the, the core values they've instilled all the way down to their hourly employees.

They're, they're an amazing, they're an amazing brand and amazing company and great leader. 

Abhi: Amazing amazing. Say no more. And,  you're not getting, you're not getting any disagreements from me on there.  alright, so. So last set of questions, they're five rapid fire questions. So these are mostly ,  the first [00:43:00] four, really? Yes or no, or, or sort of bullying questions and then the last one. Okay.  I gotta ask just because I am a huge foodie, so,  let's, let's get through these,  alright. 

Pineapple on pizza. Yes or no? Yes. Oh, wow. Okay. All right.

Oh yeah. Awesome. 

  winter or summer sports 

Phil: summer. All day. 

Abhi: that's all right.  you know, I'm with you, I'm with you on that one. 

  okay. I, I should have asked you this in, in our prep before we did it. I, I don't know if you're you're you're a big NBA guy. You follow follow basketball, but,  LeBron or Michael Jordan.

Phil: Jordan. Yeah. Without a doubt. 

Abhi: Yeah. 

  frozen yogurt or ice cream 

Phil: ice cream. All right. Homemade ice cream at that too. 

Abhi: [00:44:00] Amazing. 

And then Phil,  I gotta ask and let's keep it local, right? Let's keep it to Nashville.  I wanna get your favorite restaurant in, in Nashville.

Phil: Great question. I'm in Nashville, the home of hot chicken. It's gotta be Hatty bees. Hatty bees is amazing. The Nashville, hot chicken and the, the product quality they've got there and their black IPS. I mean, you cannot go wrong. It's a it's, it's a go to. 

Abhi: All right. Shout out to Hattie bees and,  Phil with, with that, this is a wrap.

  geez. I, I can't thank you enough for,  for taking the time to,  to jump on the podcast today. 

Phil: Absolutely. My pleasure. I, I, I truly enjoy this. This was an absolute blast.  These are always fun and exciting, especially when you can just kind of talk, talk, shop and talk tech and talk hospitality. So again, an absolute pleasure and I, I thank you for including

Abhi: them.

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