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  • | 10:13 a.m. December 27, 2013
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As computer tablets replace paper menus at restaurants, one entrepreneur says the technology can be use for more than just picking wine.

Uptown Network, a Naples-based company started by technology entrepreneur Jack Serfass two years ago, provides restaurants with the software to replace wine lists and menus.

This isn't just gee-whiz technology to wow the customer. Restaurants are seeing sharp increases in spending by customers who follow the helpful wine selections that pair vintages with food.

Now, Serfass says the computer tablets can be used to test the knowledge of prospective employees and train current staff. Uptown Network is testing it at Shula's, the steak chain that already has adopted the technology for its menus. It will be commercially available in January.

Testing staff about their menu knowledge can be difficult. “The way most restaurants do it is by email, or they mail a paper test,” Serfass says. “The manager has to give the test, grade the test and send it back to headquarters. It's very time-consuming and cumbersome and sometimes inaccurate as well.”

Now, using Uptown Network's software, managers can hand a computer tablet to an employee so they can take the test online. The program automatically grades it and provides managers and executives information about staff knowledge and how much time it took for them to answer questions. “It's all automated and they can do it on their own,” Serfass says.

The service is by subscription. It costs $250 per month per location for 25 people. Serfass says that's less costly than paying someone to manage the paper tests and enter the results in a database. He estimates training expenses can be cut by 80% using the system while improving service.

Tests cover four categories, such as food, beverage, promotions and food safety. For example, Shula's might require its wait staff to know how long it takes to roast a prime rib (answer: 3 ½ hours).

“Restaurants want to improve their service,” says Serfass, who has filed a patent for the testing and training software. “The labor force is so transient, and managers don't have the time.”

The system provides ongoing training, too. Every time employees pass a new test, they can earn badges that they can post on their LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

For restaurants that already use Uptown Network for their menus, the training system is another function they can select. Restaurants such as the Capital Grille and resorts such Hershey Park in Pennsylvania already are customers. “We just signed the Seminole Hard Rock casinos,” Serfass says, who adds that he's in talks with other undisclosed large brands.

The idea for Uptown Network was born out of necessity when Serfass and his wife, Nadine, bought an Italian restaurant in Naples. He thought the idea would help him improve wine sales.

Serfass is no neophyte to technology. He's a successful entrepreneur who built and sold two Boston-based technology companies, Bowstreet and Preferred Systems. IBM acquired Bowstreet in 2005 and Computer Associates acquired Preferred Systems in 1998, both for undisclosed terms.


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