Hot Tips & Takes: Balancing Tech and Culture w/ Wil Brawley of Schedulefly

How can tech work within an employee-first restaurant culture? Ask Wil Brawley. 

As co-owner and co-founder of Schedulefly, Wil Brawley recognizes the value tech can deliver to restaurants — but he’s also realistic about its limitations. Schedulefly is a simple scheduling and communications tool for restaurants. 

Through his Restaurant Owners Uncorked podcast, Wil keeps his finger on the pulse of the restaurant industry, and he’s keenly aware of how tech can both improve and disrupt the employee experience. We sat down with Wil for some real talk on the upsides and downsides of restaurant tech and how restaurant owners can innovate without taking away from an authentic, human-centered culture. 

How important is the employee culture at a restaurant? Can it affect sales and daily operations? 

I’ve done over 450 episodes of our podcast, Restaurant Owners Uncorked, and worked on two books featuring successful restaurant owners, so I’ve probably interviewed close to a thousand restaurant owners in the past 15 years. 

If there’s one common thread across all those with long-lasting success, it’s culture. That culture might vary from place to place, but it is always centered on caring deeply about the people that work in your restaurants. The employees tend to come first, creating a culture that’s about nurturing and loving the people that work in the restaurant.

When your employees are well taken care of, they treat their customers well too, and then the investors do well, too. That’s been my observation.

How do you define a positive employee culture? What are the steps owners need to take to create that culture? 

For a long time, restaurant culture has been: “If you aren’t willing to work seven days in a row, then we don’t want you here. We want people that are going to show up and bust their ass.” And that’s changed for the better, for everybody. It’s leading to less burnout. It’s leading to less negative behavior outside of work. Substance abuse has been a big issue, and the industry is going through a conversation about mental health and substance abuse.

Yesterday, I interviewed someone for the podcast who started her first restaurant in Denver a couple of years ago. She’s worked in restaurants for 15 years and has worked in places where she actually worked 13 days in a row. Obviously that restaurant doesn’t have a great culture. You’d never have somebody work 13 days in a row if your employees came first. 

She learned from that, and now at her own restaurant, she never schedules anyone for more than four days in a week because she cares very deeply about the mental health and the well-being and the work-life balance of her employees. She knows that if she gives them what they need, then everything else is going to fall into place.

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“When you’re on day 12 of 13 days in a row, are you going to represent that restaurant and that brand well? Of course you’re not. On the flip side, an employee who feels their needs are being met and their work-life balance is respected will actually enjoy what they do and pass on that good, memorable experience to customers.”

With happy customers returning to the restaurant for reliably excellent service, the restaurant thrives and therefore so do owners and investors. 

How can tech be a positive part of your culture? And how can it cause tension? 

It’s quite a balance. There are 300+ restaurant tech companies out there right now, Schedulefly being one of them. People who use our platform tend to manage their folks and their behavior more through engagement and culture than by leaning on technology. What you’re really looking for is technology that will improve on the culture, not enforce it. 

Here’s a specific example. When you schedule someone for 10 am, they’re supposed to be there at 10 am, but you start seeing people clocking in five or 10 minutes early — which costs you money. You’ve created this schedule with a specific budget in mind, and when multiple people add just a few extra minutes a day, it runs through your budget much faster than you planned. 

You have two options to deal with the problem. One is to simply implement tech that systematically prevents people from clocking in early. The other, which I recommend, is building a culture where you can communicate openly with employees. You set the expectation, explain why it’s important, and create trust that everyone will do their part. 

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There’s nothing wrong with using tech, but it creates a different type of culture where you expect tools to influence behavior versus communication. “

You run into similar situations with Schedulefly. If someone offers up a shift and another employee wants it, the manager has to make a decision: is that the right person to pick up that shift?

If it’s not the right person, they’re not going to allow that trade, and then they’ll need to talk to the person to say, “I appreciate that you’re trying to pick up this shift. This is a prime shift and we need one of our veteran servers to pick that shift up. You aren’t quite ready to handle that yet.” It creates an opportunity for engagement. Again, that’s part of a culture of engagement and trust. 

Yeah, it’s easier to use technology than to have these interactions, but to have a robust, thriving, healthy culture, you have to communicate. We really encourage people to use technology where it helps, but it can’t replace engagement and human interaction. 

Do you find that it’s harder to build this culture in larger chain restaurants?

Communication isn’t just for smaller restaurants with only one or two locations. Some people believe that as you grow, you have to become more “corporate” and use lots of technology, but you find that the culture becomes less friendly, less human-oriented. People who loved working there when it was fun and authentic will probably leave for the place down the street that can provide that.  

Big Red F in Boulder, Colorado has 800 employees across over 16 locations, and to this day, culture is king there. They really figured out culture at scale, so it’s definitely possible. They’ve been a customer of ours for 14 of our 16 years at Schedulefly, so I’ve studied them for a long time. They certainly have one of the best cultures I’ve come across. It’s been interesting to see them grow this much without losing their truly authentic, employee-focused culture. 

What should restaurant owners take into consideration when exploring new technology options? 

Some people want a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solution that manages everything, and there’s certainly a place for that, but I think sometimes you wind up spending as much time managing the technology as you are managing your people. And that’s just a question you have to ask: Which is more important?

You definitely want to consider implementation. Is this something that takes a lot of training and focus, or is it easy-to-use, point-and-click to get started?

Support is another big one that I think may get overlooked sometimes. This tech company may have a great slick software, but do they have great support to back it up? Because your employees have questions, and you’re going to have questions.There will always be problems, like small glitches, so you should find out if the tech company you’re interested in is known for outstanding customer service. 

Finally, you need to marry the need with the priority and timing. We see people sign up for a 30-day free trial of Schedulefly, never use it, and then start the trial again six months later — only to not use it again. Eventually, they do implement and move forward. Talking to people over the years about this, I found that it’s a matter of just prioritizing. Running a restaurant, you’ve always got a long list of things you have to manage, so you have to be able to prioritize and hit the most important one first. So, be realistic about your own time management and top priorities before trying to implement new tech. 

Any final words of wisdom for restaurant owners making decisions about their tech stack? 

With 300+ restaurant tech platforms out there right now, every one of them is hoping to earn your business. It must be overwhelming to sift through all that noise to find the tools that you need.

Start with a focus on employees and trying to give them what they need and deserve to be successful — and again, you want to balance that with not bringing so many tools that there’s no engagement and management. 

As you prioritize which problems you need to resolve within your business, I always encourage people to remember good old-fashioned word of mouth. Call people you know in the industry and find out what they’re using. Ask if it’s solving their problems and if it’s backed by phenomenal customer service. 

And if you’re talking to a salesperson, ask them for a list of their customers in your area and start talking to them. That’s probably one of the most efficient ways to figure out what if a tool will be useful and will contribute to your success in the long run.

Learn more about Schedulefly or catch the latest episode of ROU.

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We know how important same-day payments are for veterans of the service industry who are accustomed to quick cash — and we’re now seeing that same demand expand into other industries as well. 

Kickfin co-founder Justin Roberts joined MasterCard’s InConversation Webinar series to discuss why immediate payment disbursal is key for the restaurant industry and the gig economy as a whole.

Watch the webinar here or read our recap for the highlights: 

People live paycheck-to-paycheck

Not just some people are living paycheck to paycheck. Most people are. 

That’s right: around 64% of U.S. consumers are just getting by. Even more shocking, 51% of consumers who earn over six figures are still living paycheck to paycheck, despite their higher tax bracket. 

It’s a major reason why employees need access to their earnings sooner rather than later. The pressure of watching your bank account slowly drain in the two weeks between payday is putting a lot of pressure on people, leading to a much greater demand for instant payments than ever before. 

Instant payouts are now table stakes

A PYMNTS study found that people of all ages prefer to be paid out immediately, as well as some other interesting statistics:

  • When given the choice, 68% of respondents said they would opt for an instant pay out
  • 40% of gig workers surveyed were willing to pay a fee for an instant disbursement
  • 81% of respondents were willing to switch jobs to an employer that offers instant access to earned wages and tips

It’s safe to say instant payouts are becoming the expectation for today’s modern workforce. But not all instant payouts are created equal.

Consumers are much more likely to engage with an instant payout system if they aren’t required to share their bank account and routing numbers and can access funds with just their debit card credentials. Why? It’s faster, more convenient, and feels more secure. 

Instant payouts and tip management: a perfect use case.

Instant payout innovation has come at the perfect time for the restaurant industry, which is struggling more than ever with the hassles and cost of cash.

If you’re in the restaurant biz, then you know: Most consumers pay with credit cards these days, not cash. That means there’s rarely enough cash on hand to pay out tips at the end of a shift. But employees still want and need instant access to their tip earnings.

Enter: instant payouts. Offering employees the option to receive their tip earnings directly to their bank of choice, the second their shift ends, can go a long way in improving employee satisfaction and ensuring their financial security.

But instant payouts are more than a work perk for employees. The operational benefits for employers range from reduced administrative burden and significant time savings to stronger compliance and streamlined reporting.

Modernizing your tip management strategy: 5 best practices 

There are three key components to your tip management strategy: 

  • Tip pool policy: How are you divvying up tips among your staff? 
  • The payout method: How are you distributing those payments?
  • The systems and tech: What are you using to facilitate those payments?

Under the current circumstances, restaurant operators are under immense pressure to bring their tip management into the future. 

5 best practices for tip management 

Based on our experience working with restaurant operators across the country, we’ve found that these five practices are the perfect recipe for building a successful tip management system.  

  1. Determine the right model and method for your restaurant, based on your location and tech stack
  2. Get a written tip policy (and get it legally approved
  3. Solicit employee feedback in a structured way
  4. Leverage technology for efficiency, accuracy, and compliance
  5. Don’t over-complicate (but do over-communicate!)

Tip management solution must-haves

When seeking a new tip management solution, make sure you carefully vet each system to see if it really meets your needs, or if it’ll be just as frustrating as cash. Here are a few suggestions for what should be on your checklist: 

  • Instant payouts
  • Direct to bank of choice
  • Availability of employee funds
  • Payroll option 
  • Integrations 
  • Simple implementation + onboarding process 
  • Around-the-clock customer service 

Big emphasis on strong customer support teams. Restaurants and bars don’t have “typical” business hours, so neither should your tech support.

Bar Louie automates payouts with Kickfin 

In a recent case study, we took a deep dive into our partnership with Bar Louie, a chain with over 60 locations that took advantage of our new integration with Toast. They made the switch from cash payouts to Kickfin’s instant, direct-to-bank payouts and haven’t looked back.  

Two-minute tip-outs

Before Kickfin, managers spent an average of 45 minutes per shift working through Bar Louie’s complex tip out policy and counting cash. The tip pooling rules were important to them — it’s what makes the entire staff feel like they’re getting their fair share. 

Using the Kickfin0Toast integration, Bar Louie was able to automate the tip pool calculation process and send tips straight to employees in under two minutes – a potential annual savings of 15,000 labor hours across all locations.

>> See more customer success stories 

Do you want to see these kinds of cost-saving results at your business? Let’s talk. Get a demo of Kickfin and see why restaurant owners and employees alike trust us to manage their tips.

Kickfin’s best-in-class tip calculation tool has some exciting new bells and whistles.

If you’re already using Kickfin’s tip pool calculator, then you know how much time and hassle you’re saving by automating everything. (And if you’re not? Head over to our tip pooling software page to see how it works!)

As we partner with more restaurants to bring their tip management into the future, we’re continuing to innovate our product so we can address their biggest pain points.

In this case, that means enhancing our tip pooling features so you can auto-calculate tip amounts even for the most complex or unique tip pool or share policies.

Check out a few of our latest features that will make tip calculations easier than ever.

New Release: Splitting Large Party Tips 

If your restaurant often hosts large parties, you know that the tip share can get confusing. Say one server is taking care of a party of 40 with a bartender assigned to only make drinks for that party. Meanwhile, the server has a few other two-top tables that are getting drinks from the main service bar. At the end of the night, how do you ensure that the large-party bartender gets their fair share of the tip out (without spending an hour on your phone calculator)? 

Kickfin can now automate that process for you, alleviating questions from your event bartender and saving time and effort on the part of your managers. 

Seamless Integrations 

Kickfin is partnering with your POS system to integrate seamlessly with your existing restaurant tech. Already, we’re serving Toast customers through our integration — and your POS just might be up next. 

Kickfin integration users get access to new product features first, like our new tip-out transparency tool. Your employees can log into their Kickfin accounts and see exactly how their tips have been split between team members, offering them full transparency into your tip policy in action.

Manager Tips 

We’re always listening to feedback to improve the Kickfin experience, and this one goes out to all of our restaurant partners who asked us to streamline the manager tip reallocation process.

>>Learn more about managers & tipping laws

In most cases, managers are not allowed to earn tips since they are salaried employees. But we all know that managers often step in and take care of tables to help servers get out of the weeds. Well-meaning guests will most likely leave a tip, not knowing that the manager technically can’t accept them — so where does that money go?

Kickfin now features a default pool, where tips “paid” to a manager are automatically redistributed to tipped staff based on your restaurant’s tip policy. 

Improved Labor Data Accuracy

We all know how easy it is for an employee to forget to clock out after a long shift. And sure, they aren’t going to get paid for a 16-hour overnight shift, but when payday comes around, those extra hours create a nightmare for your payroll team. 

With Kickfin, all employees are required to be clocked out in order to finalize payments — so you’ll catch the labor data mistake long before your payroll team has to sort it out. 

Even Better Security 

We’re committed to protecting you and your employees’ hard-earned money, so we’re adding an extra layer of security for certain transactions. You can now enable double approval of payments that meet certain conditions:

  • First payment for new employees
  • Employees getting their first payout in X number of days
  • Employees receiving more than X payouts in a 24-hour period. 

With these extra guardrails in place, you can always be sure that the right money is going to the right person. Reach out to our support team to configure your custom security measures.

Using Kickfin is a win-win for operators, managers, and employees alike. Restaurateurs save on cash delivery and labor costs, managers shave hours off their workload, and servers have the same instant payment that they’re used to — without the hassle and uncertainty of cash. 

Want to learn more about Kickfin? Let us show you the ropes with a demo

You heard it here first: 2024 is the year of integrations. 

In an effort to make Kickfin even more user-friendly and adaptable for our partners, we’re working with restaurant tech leaders to integrate our tip management solution with their existing systems. 

First up — Toast! A trailblazer for cloud-based restaurant management technology, Toast is a favorite POS system for restaurants, food trucks, and bars. You probably know them best for being the first to create handheld POS devices, drastically changing the entire restaurant ecosystem. To make life easier for their customers, Toast partnered with Kickfin to create an integration that makes tip pooling, tip distribution, and calculation smoother. 

As restaurant tech innovators ourselves, this partnership is the perfect fit for Kickfin. 

Our goal at Kickfin is always to save time for managers, prevent loss for operators, and create more financial freedom for hospitality employees through pioneering technology that digitizes many of the analog processes that the restaurant industry is built on. 

As a member of the Toast Partner Ecosystem, we’ll be able to deliver our product to Toast customers and modernize their tip management systems with ease. Using technology that they’re already familiar with, Toast customers can reap the benefits of Kickfin with minimal ramp-up upon implementation.

“No two restaurants split tips the same way, but invariably, it takes too long and involves too much risk,”  said Justin Roberts, the co-CEO of Kickfin. “This integration allows for the utmost customization with a near-zero learning curve — truly the best of both worlds for restaurants that want to save time, reduce labor costs and make life easier for their team.”

And one of their partners is already enjoying the ROI with Kickfin. Bar Louie takes great pride in making tip distribution equitable for all of their employees, so they rely on a complex tip pooling system to ensure fair pay. Prior to using Kickfin, managers at each of their 60 locations spent 45 minutes at the end of every shift to make calculations and divvy out funds to all of their servers. Now, they’ve streamlined their tip-out process with Kickfin — and managers are doing the same work in less than a minute! That’s an annual average of 15,000 hours saved across their entire chain. 

>> Hear more Kickfin success stories

After implementing Kickfin, managers can spend their time on what matters most: delivering excellent customer service. That means more table touches, more support for your staff, and more time to focus on server training. 

With managers spending more time on the floor (instead of counting cash in the back), you’ll see better customer reviews, better service, and increased sales — all from digitizing your tip-outs with Kickfin.

We’re excited about our new partnership with Toast and the opportunity to make digital tipping a reality for their customers. For restaurants who aren’t using Toast, don’t worry! We look forward to providing similar integrations across the restaurant tech industry.  

Want to see these results for yourself? Find out how to become a Kickfin integration partner or check out a demo of our platform.

No growing pains here! 

We’re thrilled to announce that Inc. listed Kickfin in their list of the top 10 fastest growing companies in the Southwest. (In fact, we earned the #1 spot in the software category and were listed as #9 overall!) We’re honored to be included alongside innovative companies that are making a big difference in our region. 

Inc. measured Kickfin’s growth from 2020 to 2022 — which wasn’t an easy time for the restaurant industry, to say the least. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, restaurant concepts across the country embraced Kickfin’s technology. 

As a group, the 2024 Inc. honorees averaged 136% growth and created 17,606 new jobs over a two-year period. Individually, Kickfin grew by a whopping 1,304% (yes, really!).

We want to recognize and thank both our amazing customers and the Kickfin team for being part of our success story and allowing us to be a part of theirs. 

Our Customers

For years, restaurants manually calculated and paid out cash tips — despite the increasing hassle and liability those old-school methods entail. It’s not because operators are tech-averse; there simply wasn’t a good way to automate the process that didn’t create new friction or require new workarounds. 

That’s precisely why we developed Kickfin. Of course, we’re proud of what we built and the team behind it (more on that below). But we owe a great deal of our success to the customers who trusted us enough to give Kickfin a shot — especially those early adopters who are now some of our longest-standing customers.

There’s a leap of faith involved when you partner with a vendor and layer in new technology, particularly when it impacts something as important and sensitive as how you pay your people.  We don’t take that lightly, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve each and every customer who’s been on this journey with us.

>> Hear from our customers about their experiences with Kickfin

Our Team 

Every person on our team wholeheartedly believes in our mission and vision for the future. In short: we’re here to make the tip management process insanely easy for everyone so that paying out your people is (almost!) as great as getting paid. 

As backstory: Our co-founders, Brian and Justin, came up with the idea for Kickfin while dining out together and noticing that an armored car was dropping off cash. They asked why a restaurant would need a cash delivery when most patrons pay by card; the manager explained the cash was needed to pay out tips at the end of the shift. The inefficiency (and expense, and risk…) of that process was a lightbulb moment for Brian and Justin.

They set out to build a team who not only understood the problem, but could think critically and creatively about a solution — and bring it to life. 

From sales and marketing to product and support, every Kickfin employee has had a hand in the growth and success of our company, thanks to their passion for our purpose and their commitment to being best in class.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved thus far, and we’re excited to continue collaborating with our customers, innovating on their behalf, and taking Kickfin to the next level together. Onward and upward!

See Kickfin in action!