Dallas-based Which Wich tackles restaurant labor issue with virtual cashier platform

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Step inside the newly reopened Which Wich sandwich shop in downtown Dallas and you’ll be greeted by an ordering kiosk with a bank of screens where there once was a wall of brown sandwich bags and red Sharpies. The new ordering system abandons the old checkbox-like method for a Zoom-like interaction.

It’s a new technology platform that Which Wich CEO (or director of vibes, as he likes to call himself) Jeff Sinelli and his team have deployed to address labor shortages. in the restaurant industry and changing the face of customer service. The new ordering system, along with menu changes and restaurant redesign, are part of a pandemic-driven push to bring the business into the digital age and address labor shortages.

YellowLAB, a virtual customer service platform, was born out of Sinelli’s idea of ​​merging the gig economy and the restaurant industry, or really any customer-facing industry. He figured that giving people the chance to work in customer service jobs from the comfort of their homes and during the hours of their choosing would help brick-and-mortar businesses like his fight labor shortages. . This is how he and his team developed YellowLAB, which they rolled out to downtown Which Wich (now renamed Wich!) when it reopened in April 2022 after being closed for a year.

“I think we had to do that as a company that wants to scale,” Sinelli said. “After 18 years of bags and Sharpies, we’ve really moved on to full technology. But when digitally transforming brands, human interaction has been lacking, and we wanted to bring it back.

With the YellowLAB ordering system, sensors ping available remote cashiers when a customer approaches the screen. Think of Uber’s ride-sharing model, where a ride request pings available drivers in the area. A virtual cashier who has been trained on the menu comes on screen to greet the customer, answer their questions and take their order. This order is then sent to the kitchen and the customer collects their food from the pickup counter when it is ready.

The ordering platform gives cashiers more flexibility and autonomy over their schedules while reducing challenges for employers to find and retain talent, Sinelli said.

“We built this model to reduce labor,” he said. “We used to have six to eight people working in a store at a time, and now we’ve cut that number in half.”

Sinelli said he sees applications for YellowLAB in just about any customer-facing industry, and talks are underway to have the technology in airports, pharmacies and other restaurants. For now, however, YellowLAB is only available at the company-owned Which Wich location in downtown Dallas, but it may soon be available at some of the brand’s more than 400 franchises.

“During COVID a lot of people pulled back, but we created,” Sinelli said. “And we’ve had the luxury of really taking our time during COVID to really do it and do it right.”

That creativity has also extended to the Which Wich menu which now includes a build-your-own meatball sub-kit, surprise cookies in the folds of each sandwich wrapper, dog treats and a handful of sandwiches entirely herbal.

Sinelli’s goal is for the menu to be 20% plant-based within five years. So he started with the most complicated sandwich, the Wicked. With five different meats and three cheeses in the sandwich, finding plant-based alternatives was difficult, but Sinelli was determined to do it.

“It was truly a Herculean effort,” he said. “But we want to appeal to the general public, which means offering lots of plant-based options.”

Many restaurants have invested in technology during the pandemic as they face ongoing labor issues, whether with robotic servers, self-serve ordering kiosks, or even “automated” meals. Dallas-based Chili’s just announced it will expand robot servers to more restaurants, and other local spots like La Duni have invested in robots and even named them – Alexcita, Panchita and Coqueta. The robots are trained to do jobs “that nobody wants to do,” owner Taco Borga told Sarah Blaskovich in 2021.

Who! is located at 1410 Main Street, Dallas. whatwich.com.

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