Hot Tips & Takes: How Independent Pizza Restaurants Are Using Tech to Take on Big Chains in 2023

How are pizza restaurant operators adapting to new technology and taking their businesses to new heights? Ask Steve Green. 

If you haven’t seen this year’s Pizza Power Report, you’re in for a surprise. Independent pizza restaurants experienced explosive growth, outpacing their big-chain competitors. We sat down with Steve Green, founder and publisher of PMQ magazine, to talk about the reasons behind independents’ success last year — and how they’ll continue to take off in 2023 with the help of new tech. 

Can you define an independent pizza brand and how they differ from a larger chain?

People always ask that and I used to be somewhat uncomfortable with the answer until I just went along with the crowd. According to the companies that do a lot of this research, independent pizza restaurants mean you have fewer than 10 locations. Once you hit 10 stores in a restaurant group, you can define that as a chain.

What kind of challenges are pizza restaurants facing? And how are independents addressing them differently than larger chains?

Labor is the biggest challenge, and of course, adopting technology is a challenge. But there are great solutions coming up, like the evolution of local RDS companies popping up — think: local DoorDash or GrubHub. One way to address the labor problem is by outsourcing delivery to these services. 

I’m a former Domino’s franchisee, and it was pretty easy to just follow the program. But problem-solving as an independent is a really tough job. The thing is, 60% of all pizzerias in the US are owned by an independent, so that’s where most of the people are. Independents have been doing things out of an instinct to survive, so that’s where you see most of the creativity and action. 

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“…Problem-solving as an independent is a really tough job.”

There’s no question about it — things have really changed. Domino’s said they were a technology company eight years ago, and they’ve made it so competitive that our whole industry has become a technology business. I’m pretty optimistic about the independents’ chances, though. I’m surprised by how adaptable they’ve been, and they’ve benefited from the army of technology companies like Kickfin that are helping solve problems. It‘s a great time to be an independent.

Do you believe independents are using tech more creatively than the bigger chains?

Yes, definitely. We’ve been following Andrew Simmons, owner of Mama Ramona’s in Ramona California, and I just love this guy. In the last three months, he’s made a commitment to showing the pizza industry how technology can really make a difference. He decided not to hire any more staff than his current 18 employees, and yet he’s on his way to doubling sales.  

He’s introducing robotics, including robotic vacuum cleaners and a Picnic robotic pizza maker. He also switched from a legacy POS system to something that allows more online ordering and automation. He’s tearing down walls, remodeling his kitchen, and ordering a new Hot Rocks pizza oven. And of course, he’s outsourcing labor. His whole idea is that he can reduce the cost of making pizza and let his customers know that they’re getting real value and more pizza for their money. He’s going for the gold, living the dream.

How else can independents keep up with rising food and labor costs without alienating their customers? 

I’ve seen a lot of people reminding their customers that they’re an independent pizza restaurant. They care about pizza as more than just a commodity but a part of their community. Independents have an obligation to play the personality card, use showmanship and authenticity that a chain can’t offer in their communications and social media. They need to remind customers that they aren’t choosing to raise the price but that prices are rising from the roots.

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“I’ve heard more positive stories than negative ones about customers accepting price increases for pizza that they feel is above average and special.”


How can independents stay competitive in the labor market? 

I know that a lot of independents already pay more than a bigger chain would, but how do they do it? It takes a bit of creativity. 

When I had a Domino’s franchise in Marin County California – the richest county in California during the ‘80s – it was hard to find drivers (and when you did some of them would be driving BMWs). After we were up and running, I ended up spending my marketing dollars on hiring efforts instead of, you know, telling people about how great Domino’s was. I cut radio ads, I did box topping, I did door hanging, and if I was still in it today, I would be using social media. 

My message was that we’re a fun place to work and could use some help. Then I’d introduce you to a driver to tell you what she likes about working at this Domino’s — that she likes to drive and listen to the radio and that it’s about more than the money. This strategy might be something that independents can get away with more so than a chain could these days. 

In spite of rising costs and labor shortages, how did independent pizza restaurants manage to grow so much in 2022? Do you expect the trend to continue in 2023?

Yeah, it’s interesting. Most of the time it’s the chains that have the muscle to keep growing. The pizza industry is a mature industry in that there’s always growth. 

One theory is that the number of new businesses that opened in 2022 outpaced the number of businesses that went under, giving the appearance that independents grew much more. It could be regrowth from the destruction we saw in the past three years of business. But I’ve also heard a number of people say that maybe the independents weren’t necessarily growing extra fast but that the chains are looking at the risky environment and opting not to grow as aggressively. 

On the other hand, you always have new people who want to get into the pizza business who bring new enthusiasm to the industry. It’s like a volcano, always bubbling up with hot, new ideas. And you end up with a steady stream of people coming in to make better pizza and offer a better pizza experience. 

Are there any specific trends we should expect this year from both independent and chain pizza restaurants? 

That’s always the big question. It’s probably going to be working with less on the labor side and leaning into automation. But it’ll also be creating an experience that seems like it’s not automation — keeping the humanity while also becoming more efficient. 

On the consumer side, great pizza at a fair price will just never get old. When you look at the bottom line, that’s always what’s driven the industry. 

Do you have any advice for pizza restaurant owners?

Stay on top of new technology. We’re definitely following this closely in our PMQ Think Tank, which is our online community where people in the pizza industry can ask each other questions. We’ve got 15 years of wisdom and information from our users, and it’s a great place to go when you’re just getting started in the industry.

Also, subscribe to PMQ magazine. It’s not written by us as experts but by our readers who are really connected to the industry. We spy on them through our Think Tank, we talk to them, and we do stories about them. And of course, our editor inserts some wisdom from his interviews with people in the industry. We put a lot of effort into it to show what’s really going on in pizza.

Guide to California Tipping Laws

We’re obviously pro-tipping around here — but even more so, we’re pro-tip-regulation-compliance. With each state having their own unique laws regarding tip pools and minimum wages, it can get confusing. 

For our California restaurant owners, we took a deep dive into your specific tipping regulations that you might not know about. Take a look at how California tip pooling laws differ from federal regulations and how you can stay on the up-and-up. 

What is Tip Pooling?

Tip pooling is when employees who receive tips collect and share their tips with other members of their team. For example, servers can put their tips into a collective “pool” and then divide them among cooks, dishwashers, bussers, bartenders, etc. This practice promotes team spirit and collaboration among staff, as they all rely upon each other for success.

California Tip Pooling Laws Explained

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows employers to require non-exempt employees (i.e., those eligible for overtime pay) to participate in tip pools, provided that employers follow strict regulations. 

California takes it a step further to protect employees’ earnings. Here are a few key differences to pay attention to:

Tip Pooling for FOH Staff Only 

Tips must only be shared among front-of-house staff such as servers, bartenders, bussers, and hosts. Back-of-house staff like cooks and dishwashers cannot be included in the pool unless they provide direct table service (so your expo can still earn their share of tips).

Making Tip Pools Fair 

While California does not ban mandatory tip pools, the law requires that pooled tips be distributed in a “fair and reasonable” manner. You must set a formula to determine tip distribution — and it’s up to the California DOL Standards Enforcement to determine what’s fair on a case-by-case basis. 

Say Goodbye to the Tip Credit

Whether you pool tips or not, this is one to pay attention to. California’s legislation no longer makes a distinction between tipped and non-tipped workers — so there is also no tipped minimum wage. Restaurant owners cannot claim a “tip credit” and must pay their servers the full minimum wage of $15.50

California Allows “Double Tipping” 

In California, mandatory service charges do not count as tips, but they can count as wages. The employer has a right to keep service charges and distribute them as they see fit — so they can distribute them to servers if they choose. Often called “double tipping,” this allows the server to earn money from both a mandatory service charge and any tips that customers leave voluntarily.   

In this case, the service fees paid to employees can count toward minimum wage and overtime pay, but employers are required to withhold payroll taxes when distributing service charges to employees. 

What’s at Stake?

California’s DOL Standards Enforcement takes wage theft and illegal tip pooling seriously. Penalties for breaking any state tipping regulations include fines of up to $1,000, paying full restitution to harmed employees, and even 60 days in jail. 

Knowing both state and federal tipping laws protects you and your employees from improper tip pooling practices and potential lawsuits. As always, consult with a lawyer to ensure that you’re in compliance with all federal, state, and local ordinances.

Looking for a partner that will help you comply with California’s tipping regulations? Kickfin’s digital tipping platform puts up guardrails to prevent improper tipping practices — and our digital tipping software is pretty cool, too. Request a demo of Kickfin today.

How to Comply with Tipping Laws in Texas

Like many other Texas restaurant owners, you were probably shocked when a Dallas barbecue joint was ordered to pay their employees nearly $900,000 in stolen tips and overtime. It may have even sparked a bit of anxiety about your own tipping policies and practices.

Illegal and unethical tipping practices not only decimate your restaurant financially, but can also tank your reputation. Avoid losing your business and the community’s trust by freshening up on Texas tipping laws

Who Can Participate in Tip Pools? 

In Texas, mandatory tip pools are perfectly legal, so long as you follow the guidelines laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

For one, only employees who “customarily and regularly receive tips”— namely servers, bartenders, hosts, and expos — can participate in a tip pool, and back-of-house employees cannot. 

Owners, managers and supervisors are also barred from participating in tip pools. Tips belong expressly to the tipped employee, so an owner cannot take a cut of the tip pool, and neither can their agents in the form of managers. If you’re caught distributing tips to owners or managers, it will be considered wage theft, and you will be ordered to pay back the tips and subject to hefty fines by the DOL. 

Learn to Properly Calculate the Tip Credit

The tip credit allows employers to pay tipped employees a lower hourly wage, with the idea that the server will earn at least minimum wage or more in tips. In Texas, employers can take up to $5.12 per hour in tip credit. But if used incorrectly, you could end up owing your employees back pay. 

In order to take the tip credit, your employee’s hourly wages must be greater than or equal to the minimum wage for their hours worked — at least $7.25 per hour in Texas. Employees also must earn more than $30 per month in tips for the tip credit to apply. 

And head’s up — the tip credit can still apply when your employees are earning overtime. Ensure that you’re properly compensating employees when their work hours exceed 40 per week. 

Using the tip credit requires a good bit of math (especially when overtime is involved), and there’s room for human error in your calculations. Check out our primer on calculating the tip credit and then go double-check your math. 

How to Protect Your Business & Employees

You don’t want to jip your employees — nor do you want to risk your entire business. Now that you’re more familiar with Texas tipping laws, here are a few ways you can comply with them. 

Hire an Attorney 

It’s best practice to consult with a lawyer with any legal questions. An attorney can give you detailed, personalized advice about what’s best for your business and how to stay on the right side of the law.

Choose Vendors that Protect You

At Kickfin, we partner with restaurants to revolutionize everything about their gratuity management systems — including setting up guardrails to comply with tipping laws. Request a demo of Kickfin today. 

What You Need to Know About Florida Tip Laws

Filled with tourist destinations and great weather, Florida is the perfect place for restaurants to thrive — as long as they can comply with tipping regulations. Like many other states, Florida has unique state tipping laws that are often in flux.

Whether you own a seafood shack right on the beach or a fine-dining spot in a Miami hotel, you need to know the ins and outs of Florida’s tipping laws. 

Is Tip Pooling Legal in Florida?

Many restaurants implement tip pooling systems to create equitable pay for servers and foster a collaborative work environment, but laws around tip pools can get fuzzy state-by-state.

Florida restaurant owners can breathe a sigh of relief, though — Florida’s tip pooling laws align with the federal regulations laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Florida’s Minimum Wage & Tip Credit

Florida joins the majority of states in allowing employers to take the tip credit — but not quite as much as other states. Federal rules set the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour and allow employers to take up to $5.12 in tip credit. 

At the time of publication, Florida’s minimum wage is $11 per hour, significantly higher than the federal minimum wage. On top of an increased minimum wage, Florida only allows employers to take a tip credit of $3.02 per hour. With these regulations in place, Florida restaurant owners must pay tipped employees at least $7.98 per hour. 

But head’s up — the minimum wage is increasing. As of September 30, 2023, Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $12.00 per hour, and will continue increasing each year until it reaches $15.00 per hour in 2026. Looking ahead, restaurant owners can expect to pay a tipped minimum wage of $11.98 per hour.

Mandatory Service Charges Are Wages in Florida

If you’re charging a mandatory service fee for large parties or to reserve a table, you might hope that will count as a tip for your service staff. 

Mandatory service charges are not considered tips in Florida, but rather are the property of the employer. The employer may choose to distribute the service charge to an employee, but these would count as wages and would be subject to payroll tax withholdings. 

That being said, Florida has not joined other states in requiring employers to make it clear to customers that mandatory service charges are not considered tips.

Tip laws can get tricky, so always consult a lawyer when changing tip policy. 

At Kickfin, we want to help restaurants comply with tipping regulations and save you time and energy. We put up guardrails that prevent improper tipping practices and make it easy to instantly tip out your staff. Request a demo to see for yourself. 

How to Enable Tipping at Quick Service Restaurants Without Alienating Your Customers

Unless you’ve completely sworn off social media at the moment — and if that’s the case, no one would blame you! — you’ve probably heard some chatter around the new tipping model at Starbucks.

Long story short: Everyone has an opinion. 

Some customers (and employees) feel that they’re being put in an awkward position because a tip isn’t warranted when there’s minimal guest-employee interaction. But others are grateful for the opportunity to give a small show of thanks for stretched-thin service providers. Plus, those tips can make a meaningful impact on employees’ take-home pay. 

We’d venture to guess that this little firestorm isn’t just about Starbucks, but part of a much more layered conversation about tipping practices in general: how they’ve evolved in our digital age, and especially how they’re being embraced (or not…) by quick-service restaurants.

Real talk: Here at Kickfin, it’s no secret that we’re a pro-tipping team. We believe whole-heartedly that service industry employees make the world go round, and that tipping often increases their earning potential far beyond what revenue constraints would allow their employers to pay them. And of course, tipping can benefit employers, too.

But we can’t forget about the guest experience. Ultimately, tipping is voluntary and should always, always be at the discretion of the customer. 

While QSRs are wise to keep pace with the times and digitize their tip jars: read on for a few best practices that will ensure your guests embrace the change (no pun intended…) and continue to think of tipping as an option, not a requirement.

But first: Is “Guilt Tipping” Real? 

It happens every day: You place your order at the counter, the cashier turns the iPad around, and you’ve got to choose to leave a 20, 25 or 30% tip for the staff. (It seems like those percentages just keep climbing, right?)

Does a 30-second interaction necessitate a tip? Maybe, maybe not — but you find yourself frantically hitting a button because you don’t want to be the jerk who didn’t leave a tip. 

There’s a name for that: guilt tipping. No one wants to short-change a service industry worker, and many of us even see tipping as some kind of barometer for morality. 

Since tipping has expanded into new areas, there isn’t really a set custom for the “appropriate” amount to tip. Is it 20%, like you would at an FSR? Is it less? This uncertainty often leads people to panic-click on the most reasonable option on the screen out of guilt. Whether real or imagined, feelings of guilt around tipping can lead to major backlash from customers — and displaced anger at employees. 

How to make QSR tips work for everyone

The truth is, most employees enjoy the wage boost that tips provide, and customers want to reward good service, even when they don’t have cash on hand. However, the benefits of credit card tips can be overshadowed by the awkward social customs around tipping. That’s why enabling credit card tips requires a bit of finesse. 

Here are a few suggestions for enabling tipping without offending customers. 

1. Change tip amounts 

Rather than prompting customers to tip based on percentage, think of your credit card tips as a digital tip jar. Make the tip suggestions similar to what people would toss into a tip jar — like 75 cents, a dollar, or even just rounding up to the next dollar. Customers won’t feel the whiplash of their coffee order suddenly costing $3 more than it used to, but they still get the option to reward baristas for good service. 

2. Avoid verbal tipping prompts

Nothing is more awkward – for employees and customers alike – than asking for a tip out loud. Employees don’t want to pressure their customers into leaving a tip, and no one wants to confidently say “no” in front of a line of people. Some customers may also feel uncomfortable stating how much they’d like to leave — as if they’re announcing how “good” of a person they are.

Instead, keep the tip prompts as private as possible. Include the prompts on the POS or credit card reader so your customers can silently decide on their tip amount. 

3. Make it clear that tipping is optional 

In the United States, most customers at FSRs are aware that servers rely on tips to supplement their take-home pay — and that they should tip appropriately for their service. But at a QSR, the lines get a little blurry. Is leaving a tip now an expectation (or even a requirement) for counter service? 

Take the pressure off the customer, and leave no questions unanswered. Make it apparent that employees are paid hourly and that tips are just an optional bonus to their income, not their bread and butter. 

You can also include language in your tip prompts that explicitly reminds customers that tips are optional. That way when the iPad swivels around to the customer, they know it’s not a moral question but rather just an extra thank-you to their regular barista. 

Take digital tipping to the next level 

Of course, now that you’re accepting more credit card tips, you’ll need an easy way to distribute them to staff. And we’ve got a few ideas. With Kickfin, you can instantly transfer tips straight to your employees’ bank accounts — meaning no cash runs and more financial freedom for employees. Request a demo of Kickfin today to learn more.

What’s Driving Hotel Technology Trends? Key Insights from HT-Next

Kickfin recently sponsored and attended HT-Next, a premiere hotel technology conference. Over four days in Miami, Kickfin co-founders Justin Roberts and Brian Hassan met with hospitality industry leaders, tech innovators, and top hotel operators to learn about key goals and concerns for 2023. Here are some of the key takeaways from the event.

Renewed Focus on Sustainability 

Grant Romundt, co-founder of Ocean Builders, spoke to an industry trend that’s been building for a while (and isn’t slowing down): sustainability. Now more than ever, guests want to patronize businesses that share their core values and beliefs. Specifically, they’re choosing hotels based on how much those brands are doing to protect the environment, especially in beautiful, tropical locations.

Ocean Builders is aiming to do just that by building high-tech eco-restorative floating homes that provide guests with a one-of-a-kind experience while also preserving the ecosystem to serve guests for generations to come. 

Expanding the Guest Experience

The hospitality experience you create isn’t limited to the four walls of your hotel. Instead, it extends to every aspect of your guest’s stay, including the activities they do while they’re away from the hotel. With that in mind, HT-Next partnered with Mobi to explore the possibilities of hyper-personalized guest experiences built by AI.

AI now offers you the opportunity to build the perfect trip for each individual guest. Using guest data and your knowledge of the area around your hotel, you can build AIs that will plan a personalized suggested itinerary for your guests, taking hospitality to the next level. 

Bouncing Back from Covid 

Most of us might feel like things are “back to normal,” but some hotels are still feeling the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic. And they’re turning to tech to bring them back to life. 

A panel of Miami hotel general managers shared how they stayed afloat during the height of the pandemic, how the travel and hospitality industries are bouncing back, and how tech has quickly become a huge part of their daily operations. 

Solving Labor Shortage Concerns

Labor continues to be a point of contention in hospitality. Questions about how to attract new hires and how to retain the employees you have continue to vex hoteliers in this tight labor market. The answer isn’t as simple as raising wages (although that doesn’t hurt). Instead, industry leaders are looking to technology to help create better work environments and more streamlined processes to get things done, even at sub-optimal staffing levels. 

At Kickfin, our goal is to provide hotel staff with more opportunities to earn tips through digital tipping software — allowing for guests to tip more often in an increasingly cashless society. We also simplify the tip payment process so employees have access to their earnings faster (a major selling point for potential hires). 

Our main takeaway: Hotel technology isn’t going anywhere. Expect to see more automated hotel operations, better uses of guest data, and sky-high guest experience expectations.

Hotel Trends: 5 Reasons Why Cashless Tipping is the “Next Big Thing”



These days, hotels are leveraging technology across almost every aspect of their operations. 

But when it comes to gratuity management, many hospitality teams continue to rely on the same-old analog (and arduous) tip payment processes they’ve used in decades past. 

In an increasingly digital world, sticking with a status-quo, cash-based tipping program is a missed opportunity to increase tip volumes, delight your guests, and weed out operational inefficiencies. That’s why the most innovative, forward-thinking hospitality brands are digitizing their tipping programs from end-to-end — that is, from tip acceptance to tip payout — for both their hotel staff and their food and beverage employees.

If enabling instant, cashless tip payments isn’t already on your radar for 2023: here are 5 reasons why it should be — plus, what to look for when selecting a digital tipping solution.

  1. Cashless tipping increases take-home pay for employees.

Fewer consumers are carrying cash today than ever before. That’s a major problem for guest-facing hotel employees, whose tips frequently make up a significant portion of their take-home pay. Without an alternative way to accept tips, your bellhops, valet drivers and concierges might find themselves empty-handed even after providing excellent service — simply because consumers no longer have cash in their wallets.

Making it possible for guests to send instant, cashless tips right from their phones ensures that your employees are consistently rewarded for a job well done, whether or not your guests are carrying cash. 

What’s more: A robust digital tipping solution will allow you to automatically calculate, pool and distribute tips, giving more of your employees the opportunity to become tip eligible and increase their earning potential.

       2. Guests want a better tipping experience.

Employees aren’t the only ones who get frustrated when they miss out on tips. Most hotel guests have, at one point or another, experienced that moment of panic when they’re face-to-face with a more-than-deserving service provider…but they’re not carrying the right bills (or any bills at all).

Giving guests the ability to send instant, cashless tips directly from their phone is just the kind of intentional, elevated touch that takes hotels to the next level.

Ideally, a digital tipping solution will go “beyond a QR code;” while QR codes are a fast and easy way to launch a digital tipping program, guest adoption can be low. Consider seeking out a digital tipping solution that offers automated, on-brand text “prompts;” at a high level, this technology sends a branded, personalized text message to guests after a service is completed — e.g., housekeeping — and gives guests the option to simply click a link and instantly send a tip from their phone.

       3. You’ll have a single “source of truth” for hotel and F&B employees.

Tracking and reporting tip payments when you’re managing both hotel and F&B employees is complicated at best. Digital tipping software can give you the power to manage all tip payments, for all types of employees — in one unified platform. 

Think of it as your tip payment command center. When you integrate your digital tipping software with your POS, PMS and payroll systems, you get complete visibility into every tip payment — whether it came in through your restaurant POS, or it was a mobile tip sent from your guests to your hotel staff. You can also ensure that every tip is distributed accurately, efficiently, and in compliance with ever-changing tipping regulations.

Plus, you can track every tip payment by individual employee, by shift, by location, or by payroll period, which makes for easy, error-free reporting.

       4. Employees are demanding more control over how they’re paid.

In a competitive labor market, hospitality employers are feeling the pressure to constantly increase wages or offer gimmicks — e.g., hiring bonuses — to recruit workers. 

But for the modern hospitality workforce, it’s not just how much they’re earning that matters — it’s also how they’re getting paid. 

Digital tipping solutions give operators the flexibility to offer multi-channel tip payouts, meaning you can give your employees options as to where and when they will receive their tip earnings.

For example: While many F&B employees might choose to have their tips paid out instantly and directly to their existing bank account, unbanked employees might prefer to receive tips on payroll or even a paycard. A digital tipping solution makes it possible to let your employees choose, without making the process more complicated for you.

       5. Going digital can keep you compliant.

Rules and regulations around tipping are complex, to put it lightly. They often vary from one state or even city to the next, and it seems they’re constantly in flux. An increasing number of hospitality employers have been caught in costly legal battles because they (sometimes unknowingly) violated labor and employment laws related to tipping.

Digitizing the tipping process can help you adhere to those laws consistently across your organization, even if your locations span multiple cities or states. Plus, you’ll have an accurate, detailed history of all tip payments, which can prevent tip disputes and trust issues with your team before they escalate into something more problematic.

Cashless tipping: the final frontier

Hotel operators have long understood the operational benefits of digitizing and automating what they can. Until recently, digital tipping wasn’t on the table — but new technology has changed the game. Now, it isn’t a matter of if, but when, hotels will make the switch.

For operators who are exploring solutions, be sure to seek out a software that is:

  • Truly end-to-end, from tip acceptance to calculation to payout.
  • Highly scalable across your organization.
  • Fully integrated with your existing tech stack for automated user management and tax compliance.
  • Easy to implement.

There’s never been a better time to hit the reset button on your tipping program. The right solution will allow you to create an exceptional tipping experience for your guests and your employees, while delivering measurable results to your business.

To learn more about digital tipping for hotels, contact

[Video] How Industry Partners are Using Technology to Make Brewery Owners’ Lives Easier w/ CBP

The craft brewing industry is tight-knit, and the community relies on each other for best practices, vendor recommendations, and camaraderie—especially on social media. Thanks to groups like Craft Brew Professionals (CBP), brewery owners can connect to share successes, rant, or ask honest questions about how to better run their businesses.

CBP also opens the dialogue for suppliers, tech companies and other industry leaders to discuss important topics facing breweries. Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined the Craft Brew Professionals Panel to get into all things tech—and why the craft brew industry is still quite analog. The panel included CBP Host Andrew Copolon, PK Agriwal of Beer30, Dan Hornbrook of BrewLogix, Ian Purcell of BarTrack, and Ian McHarg of Country Malt Group

Brewery visitors are seeking new experiences and digital capabilities. 

Much like other service-oriented businesses, brewery owners are noticing that customers want a lot more out of their visit than an extra-hoppy IPA. Dan’s work with BrewLogix gives him lots of insight into brewery customers’ expectations.

According to Dan, “People are looking for more than just products; they’re looking for experiences.” He went on to explain how his website, BreweryDB, helps beer consumers find the right brewery for every occasion. “If you’re searching for a date night with live music or you want to make sure they have a kid-friendly menu, you can look that up and use filters to take a dive deep into the breweries before visiting.”

Part of the brewery experience is also talking to knowledgeable bartenders. Believe it or not, tech can improve your bartenders’ performance and average check size. Justin noted, “One unique evolution that we’ve seen around digital tipping is that it’s finally putting valuable data in the hands of the operator to then empower staff. They’re all there to make money and have fun, but why not show those employees the true reward of giving great service through tip transparency?” 

Andrew added, “One of my favorite metrics is tip percentage because if Dan’s behind the bar and he’s consistently getting tipped 16% but Justin’s getting 26%, Justin’s obviously engaging at a higher level.”

“Customers are looking for a higher pace of knowledge at a brewery compared to a craft beer bar, so how can breweries leverage that?” asked Andrew. “It’s about educating staff on the product so they can talk about it more effectively. In the end, hopefully they’re getting more tips and ringing in more beers. Technology really can give staff a bigger arsenal to get more tips and add more money to their pockets.”

Customers are mainly paying with cards or digitally these days and will soon expect digital capabilities with nearly every service experience, including at breweries. CBP’s Andrew Copolan asked Justin if he expects cash to be phased out in the near future.

“There will always be people that literally want to remain unbanked and pay in cash,” said Justin. “However, more people are on Zelle than ever before, and most younger people are paying digitally. People aren’t even writing checks to pay their bills anymore. As we inch toward over 98% of transactions being cashless in the next five years, I would assume that basically everything would be digital.“

Breweries are behind the learning curve. 

Beer is one of the oldest industries in the world. For centuries, brewers have been refining their crafts and inventing new processes and types of beer. In such an old-world industry, it may not be surprising that technological innovation is lacking. 

“I noticed when I went to breweries that used popular software systems, they would still have a binder full of paper logs, whiteboards, and spreadsheets,” said PK. “I quickly realized that there wasn’t an industry standard when it came to brewery data tracking.”

Dan agreed, “People are still shaking kegs to find out what’s inside of them, which is pretty wild that that’s still the standard practice to know how much beer is left in a keg. We have a great product that helps solve that and saw the opportunity to get some real-time data to people’s hands.”

To drive home the point, Ian from CMG added, “People put bulk malt into silos, and to check the levels, they knock on the silo with a rock or a stick. We thought, why not put automatic sensors in there to tell us when it’s time to place a new order. Or, what if we created an app where customers get prompted to order the same product they ordered last year. Again, we just want to make people’s lives easier.”

Customer feedback is a goldmine.

The panelists all shared their appreciation for customer feedback and how it shapes their business decisions. PK said, “I always tell our clients not to worry about hurting my feelings, I need to know what they hate the most about what we’re doing because that feedback is actually gold to us. It allows us to grow as a company and identify where we can improve ourselves.”

Feedback also empowers them to take a closer look at which services and features really wow their customers so they can improve even further. Dan explained, “It’s really cool to have those moments of realignment and choose to put more time and effort into building out a feature that customers really want. As leaders of our organizations, we have to be humble enough to do things not because we think it’s right but because it’s what the customer wants. It’s not easy, but ultimately, that will guide you in the right direction.”

Of course, tech-minded companies are using social media to get real, honest feedback from their consumers, which they can turn into improved products and features. “Thanks to groups like CBP, everybody can be very vocal about what’s causing them headaches,” said Ian (CMG). “Social media, for all of its challenges, has offered a platform where we can hear what the most people need and why, and that allows folks like us to try and meet those needs. It’s fantastic just to follow the pulse of the industry based on people’s comments, questions, and sometimes even rants in CBP because you learn so much.”

Measuring success.

What does success look like for brewery-tech companies? For most of the panelists, success is becoming a real partner with their customers and providing valuable data. As Andrew put it, “You’re there to be an engaged partner, holding their hand through it. You don’t want to just dump a bunch of data on them; you want to teach them to use that data and really help implement data-informed decision making.”

Dan also hoped for data to drive growth, adding, “Our goal is to deliver data in a way that helps make a business decision that will help them grow. We want it to be data customers can trust, and data that they can use to better prepare staff. Really, we want to empower them to grow their business, so if we see our partners growing, then we’re doing our job right.” 

For Justin, success comes in many forms. Not only does he aim to quickly convince operators of Kickfin’s value, he also hopes to better the lives of the tipped employees. “We are always focused on a 24-hour ROI,” he said. “If we can’t show that digitizing the cash tip-out process is going to save you time, money, and a whole bunch of accounting nightmares within 24 hours, then we’ve lost our seat at the table … Kickfin offers employees a way to live more financially-sound lives by sending that digital money to their bank of choice as soon as their shifts end.”

We were honored to connect with other service-industry leaders who want to help breweries harness the power of tech and data to ultimately strengthen their businesses. To watch the full conversation, click here.

Hot Tips & Takes: How Emerging Restaurants Can Survive and Thrive in 2023

How can a young, growing restaurant brand succeed in today’s climate? Ask Sam Oches.

As editor of Nation’s Restaurant News and host of The Takeaway podcast, Sam Oches has a lot of insight into the competitive restaurant industry. His experience with owners and industry leaders makes him a goldmine of information for emerging restaurant brands. 

We sat down with Sam to talk about how the pandemic affected emerging chains, what a recession could mean for these restaurants, and how to succeed no matter the climate. According to Sam, it’s all about authenticity, patience, creative problem solving, and building a strong community to lean on. Read on for the full interview!

What are the biggest concerns and challenges that emerging restaurants face today?

Like most every other restaurant, it’s definitely challenging to find labor and employees to staff their restaurants. And of course, emerging brands also are dealing with supply chain issues.

When your goal is to expand, you need real estate. The restaurant industry is so competitive and on top of that, the real estate market is insane. Major chains are much better prepared with massive systems and teams to navigate around these challenges, like helping them sign leases or finding potential employees.

When you’re up against those chains as an emerging brand, it’s harder to rise above all of that noise. It’s harder to get that lease, hire that person, find that supply if everybody else is doing it, and there are bigger chains that you’re competing with to do so.

How are emerging chains tackling these challenges?

Emerging brands tend to be led by entrepreneurs, so if you have a small-scale restaurant company that has multiple locations and a desire to grow, typically the more ambitious and entrepreneurial founders are still in charge. Because of that, a lot of these emerging chains have the ability to get very creative around problem solving.

Forced creativity has been a theme ever since the start of the pandemic, and I certainly hear it these days, too. When you have limited resources at your disposal and you’re forced into making certain decisions, you’re forced into thinking more creatively to get around these challenges. Larger brands can just say “Here’s some money to throw at this and fix it,” and that leads to less diversity of thought and creativity.

Emerging brands are also unique in that they usually still have attachment to their original ethos and image—which can come across as much more authentic than a lot of these major chains. This is often an advantage, particularly in recruiting people or even getting the attention of a landlord, that these emerging restaurant chains are able to act creatively and purposefully to create an image and mission that might appeal to somebody a little bit more subjectively than a major chain.

What are some of the big tech trends that you’re seeing?

Tech reaches all corners of our industry, especially in the past few years. We now expect to see digital ordering and kiosk ordering, but restaurants are exploring automation, like developing AI to automate the ordering experience or in the kitchen.

For an emerging restaurant chain, of course, it’s much harder to be able to afford a lot of these tech gadgets. Some tech used to be very specifically targeted to the major chains because they’re the only ones that are going to be able to afford it.

The pandemic was sort of this great democratization of technology where more tech vendors opened up their services and tools for emerging restaurant chains because suddenly everybody needed technology to survive. It was kind of a nice moment when tech companies really stepped up to the table.

What are some common mistakes that emerging brands should avoid?

I think a big mistake would be to get stars in your eyes. It’s easy to say, “I want to have 500 locations in five years,” and get intoxicated by the idea of getting big. I can’t tell you how many restaurant companies aren’t around anymore because they got too distracted by that big number.

That’s not to say 500 locations in five years is impossible, but growth is something that has to happen more organically. It’s exciting when people want to write you a check, own part of your company, invest in your company again, or maybe franchise, but not all of those things will be good for your company. You have to be more discerning—especially early on. 

Another one is growing into another market too early. I’ve known people who open in one city originally, and then another city far away has an opportunity for them and they just take it. If you haven’t scaled your team yet, you’re living in an airplane, having to manage those two markets.

From what I’ve seen over the years that I’ve covered this industry, you’ve got to scale at a more intentional pace, and that includes scaling your team and scaling your systems, so by the time you are ready to jump into another market, you can then appropriately scale into that with people in place to be able to handle that for you.

How has the pandemic affected these emerging brands? 

In the early days of the pandemic, we thought that all the emerging chains were going to close because they didn’t have the resources. But that wasn’t true, partly because everybody kind of supported them and gave them the solutions to get through the crisis. Also, again, the technology that allowed them to facilitate an off-premises experience really bolstered a lot of restaurants.

The pandemic certainly strengthened the resolve of emerging restaurant chains. With such a strong economy before the pandemic, the industry was robust and full of opportunity, so the pandemic was their first really big challenge to test their concept. If they got to the other side of the pandemic, which most of them did, they came out stronger than before because of their own personal resiliency. They were able to prove that they work even in crisis.

Also, the pandemic completely changed the consumer mindset. We were already heading in that direction of digital experiences, and it made that change happen rapidly—which is a very good thing for restaurant brands. For one, digital ordering allows them to collect a treasure trove of data. It also allows them to create a faster experience, build out loyalty programs, and better communicate with their customers. Emerging restaurant concepts tend to be more tech-forward anyway, because if you’re starting a restaurant company today and you’re not using tech, what are you doing?

The pandemic, in many strange ways, has been good for emerging restaurant chains because it expedited the American consumer’s digital restaurant experience and expectations in ways that these emerging chains can very perfectly meet. Of course, the challenges were the same ones that everybody else went through, but I think the resolve they’ve developed will benefit them long term.

What’s next for brands that survived the pandemic?

We do have to caution because we’re going into a recession. The last recession was actually very good for QSR and fast casual because of the trade-down from casual dining. When more Americans seek a value option, they’re going to seek a value option from a lot of the emerging restaurant chains in the fast casual category. Also, a recession could really lighten up the labor woes that are going on right now, and they won’t have such a hard time recruiting and building their workforce. For now, we just have to wait and see what the recession does for this category. 

Still, if I look into the future, I would say an emerging restaurant chain with an exciting product, a great brand, and well-established systems and teams can really shoot for the moon. I mean like go national, and strategically scale your concept to every corner in every community if you do it the right way. 

However, there will be losers, too. It’s sort of survival of the fittest, and big chains are growing too. This just goes to show the importance of having to really double down on your systems, your operations, your teams, your brand, and your product, to make sure they can rise above the rest.

Do you have any advice for today’s emerging brands?

It’s a very hard job to run a restaurant, and I say that as somebody who’s never run a restaurant. I would say first, check yourself. Make sure you’re ready for this journey. Be prepared to spend a lot of your life just really scraping by and hustling, grinding, doing what it takes. Everybody thinks how fun it would be to own a restaurant—but it’s not for the faint of heart.

I would also suggest getting to know others in the community. Having the support of your peers and your community will make it a lot easier. At Nation’s Restaurant News, we’re doing a lot around community building and bringing together these communities of emerging restaurant brands because not everyone understands the value of getting to know the people next door and around the corner and then working together to support their brands.

Yes, they might be your competitor, but more than anything else, they’re your peer. And so that’s my suggestion: find those resources available to you that will help you run your business better. It can be media (Hello, Nation’s Restaurant News—come subscribe!). But it also can be the person across the street or in your neighborhood or your community.

Kickfin Co-CEO Brian Hassan Featured on Forktales Podcast


Need a new restaurant podcast to binge? We’ve got a rec for you!

On the Forktales podcast, Joseph Szala seeks out industry leaders to dish on the future of the food and beverage industry. From owner-operators to branding experts, Joseph looks for insights into every aspect of the ever-changing industry from a wide variety of guests — including our very own co-CEO, Brian Hassan. Brian sat down with Joseph to tell him our story and discuss hot-button issues in the service and hospitality industries, including the future of tipping.

Read on for a recap of the interview — or watch the full episode here.

An Armored Truck Sparks an Idea

When Brian Hassan and Justin Roberts noticed an armored truck delivering cash to the San Francisco restaurant where they were eating, they started asking questions. With so many people paying with credit cards, why would the restaurant need that much cash each night? The answer — to tip out employees. 

With their entrepreneurial brains already starting to turn, they talked to the server, bartender, and manager about the need for nightly cash in order to retain employees, and the idea for Kickfin was born. Instead of requiring frequent and dangerous cash runs or deliveries, we’ve delivered instant digital tip-outs straight to service employees’ bank accounts since 2017.

Tip Reporting Insight

While many people still think of tips as untaxed and unreported, the rise of credit card tips has changed all of that. Any credit tips are recorded in the POS system and properly reported, eliminating concerns about tax issues. Also, in the wake of the pandemic, reported tips determined how much service workers received in unemployment payouts, so they’re much less likely to seek out tax loopholes and workarounds. These days, worrying about unreported tips reflects a “pre-Covid way of thinking,” according to Brian.

Cash and Crime

Joseph and Brian also talked about the importance of going cashless in the face of rising crime. For many service industry workers, their “George Costanza wallets,” as Brian called them, could pose a major threat to their safety — both personal and financial. Not only could they be targeted for a robbery and physically harmed, but they would also be unable to recoup their losses. And if the cash never makes it to the bank, workers may be unable to cover their living expenses. 

The Pandemic’s Effect on Tipping

Of course, the pandemic labor shortage came up, and Brian offered his insight into how the pandemic changed our views about service industry workers. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, service and hospitality workers showed themselves to be truly essential. During the financial uncertainty of the pandemic, average tips have actually grown higher than we’ve ever seen before. According to Brian, that’s because Americans are recognizing not only the hard work but also the risk taken on by restaurant employees in order to deliver great service and make money. 

The pandemic also altered our views of tipping culture and who “deserves” a tip. Brian and Joseph both shared their experiences with feeling “tip shamed” when asked to tip in a non-traditional setting, like at a drive-thru, and feeling it would be tacky not to leave a tip. However, this is all part of an effort to find and retain workers without raising your labor costs. With daily tip-outs on top of an hourly wage, many QSRs can offer much more of an incentive to stay, to the tune of an extra $4 an hour. And these same QSRs are now looking to Kickfin to provide tip-out solutions.

Retaining Scarce Employees

With a newfound appreciation for service and hospitality workers also comes more competition to keep your best employees. According to restaurant managers, daily payouts are one of the best retention strategies. Traditionally, this meant handling a lot of cash. Brian himself wondered why restaurants don’t get away from the cumbersome and dangerous nature of paying in cash by putting tips on payroll — but restaurant owners quickly pushed back on that. 

Most servers and bartenders like the quick payment turnaround of the service industry. Usually, they can pick up a shift in order to pay their bills the next day, so when you alter their pay schedule, your best employees are likely to look elsewhere for work. Ultimately, Kickfin seeks to meet restaurant owners’ employment needs while also reducing their reliance on cash. 

While the pandemic created a need for automation and social distance, we still seek that human connection, especially in a hospitality experience. Brian spoke about his own personal desires when it comes to dining out, saying “Will I pay more to have the privilege of dining and feeling the energy of other patrons and talking to the bartender? Absolutely. And I want to be able to reward [the server] for that personal touch.”

Listen to the full episode of Forktales to hear Brian talk more about technology in the service industry and the future of Kickfin.

Learn more about how Kickfin can help your restaurant, bar or hotel business — schedule a demo today at!