Jeffrey Hall – HMC Hospitality Group
When the first Hooters restaurant opened in Clearwater, Florida, in 1983, the company branded itself as “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined.” Servers in low-cut shirts and short orange skirts served basic fare like chicken wings, burgers and beer.
Nearly 40 years later, those staples remain, but behind the scenes, technology infrastructure provides modern conveniences that serve employees and customers alike.
For nearly 25 years, Chief Information Officer Jeffrey Hall has been charged with providing those updates, as well as providing security in a world full of digital threats. Whether that means upgrading the online ordering system or preparing for the future deployment of handheld devices to wait staff and customers, the goal has always been to improve the Hooters experience for everyone.
“Empowering our team with the tools they need to be successful will enable them to function well and produce high-quality work that keeps everyone coming back for more,” Hall says.
HMC Hospitality Group owns and operates Hooters restaurants in some of the country’s biggest market, including Manhattan, Las Vegas—coming soon—Chicago and the Tampa Bay area. Hall regularly collaborates with Hooters operators, including Hooters of America—another management organization under the Hooters umbrella—working together so that restaurants are using the same or similar technology for network security, inventory and purchases on the floor.
Better experiences for everyone
Hall is especially excited about several new tech integrations rolling out at HMC Hospitality Group locations.
Those includes SmartSense, a system that uses sensors in Hooters coolers to automatically record temperatures and record them in cloud. There is also a manual sensor that syncs through Bluetooth to an iPad that checks the temperatures of certain foods every four hours—Hall says the technology gives managers a more accurate accounting of the state of foods in the coolers and on the floor.
Hall has also recently introduced a new enterprise resource planning system that was expensive but much needed. The yearlong rollout will lead to better inventory management, labor management, scheduling and the ability to eliminate repetitive work between departments, he says.
Hooters is also rolling out handheld devices that servers can use to process payments and QR codes—customers would scan the codes with their phones to make payments. Both ideas came about during the pandemic, when customers complained it took too long to pay and order and when virus transmission was a bigger concern.
Ordering from a handheld device at the table is also a concept Hall has been kicking around. Additionally, he hopes to complete the implementation of a new point of sale system at every HMC Hospitality Group location by the end of 2023.
However, one part of the experience won’t change.
“The Hooters Girl is a staple of our company and of our concept,” Hall says. “They are a big part of what we do and who we are, and that’s not going to be lost.”
Prioritizing security and education
Any new software rollout or new platform implementation comes with training so that managers and employees understand how the systems work, Hall says.
For HMC Hospitality Group, the best way to provide training is to have regional directors, who can relate to the servers and other frontline workers, involved in the rollout. Listening to a “tech nerd in a shirt and tie talk about software” isn’t as compelling, Hall says with a laugh.
For example, as the new enterprise resource planning system is being rolled out, managers will be trained in a classroom environment but then will receive follow-up training through custom videos and restaurant support training in a live environment to reinforce what was taught in the classrooms and videos.
“That helps get buy-in from management on the ground, and with troubleshooting, it helps to have tech savvy people that know what managers deal with rather than using people in a call center,” he says.
For HMC Hospitality Group, cybersecurity comes in many forms. Each restaurant has four separate networks (five, if you count the one for the TVs) that are independent and run off different routers, adding protection. There’s a network for the point-of-sale system, one for employee Wi-Fi, one for customer internet access and the phone system and one for devices such as security cameras and a digital jukebox.
“No matter how much we beef up the front lines with firewalls and other protections, the door is still always open to breach,” Hall says. “Most of our issues come from interactions done by the user in error.”
To help prevent those issues, Hall says the company continues to educate its users on the dangers of phishing attempts through phone and email, social engineering, and other techniques used by those wanting to steal its data.
The Hooters journey
Reflecting on more than two decades with the franchise, Hall says he got interested in technology after watching the classic 1983 movie WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. He was so into tech and computers that he started and ran the Tampa Bay area’s first FidoNet—a system used for communication between bulletin board systems—when he was just 15 years old.
Hall spent three years in telecommunications for Home Shopping Network, Nielsen Media Research and Quest Diagnostics. He joined Hooters as an IT manager in 1999 and spent 14 years as the company’s director of information technologies. He accepted his current position in October 2021.
“This company is like a family. The leadership team hold onto those values and continues the culture that started things back in 1983,” Hall says. “The loyalty we see from our customers reflects the loyalty the company’s employees and leadership hold for one another and to the brand. This is a place you want to work.”
View this feature in the Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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