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Back from the Brink: Jay’s Steakhouse Rebuilds Its Reputation for Quality, Customer by Customer

May 3, 2016

Jay Walters has a passion for food, a work-hard ethic, and an entrepreneurial spirit. So he did what thousands of plucky, independent-minded people do each year: “I stuck my neck out and went for it,” he said.

In 2013, Jay’s Steakhouse opened in picturesque Rifle, Colorado. Nestled between the Colorado River and the wild Roan Plateau, this cattle-ranching town gets travelers to and from Denver and attracts hiking and hunting enthusiasts alike.

Rifle may be small, but Jay felt the ingredients for restaurant success were there. The potential customer base is robust. Real estate is affordable, even in the historic downtown. And Jay knows hearty steaks and burgers never go out of style.

But like many new restaurant owners, he discovered that turning a passion into a successful operation is harder than it looks. For starters, the restaurant business is notoriously tough. Common estimates are that 60% don’t make it past the first year, and 80% go under in five years.

In our connected, competitive world, a stellar reputation is essential, too — and reputations are easy to tarnish. There’s no room for mistakes, even for novices climbing the learning curve.

For Jay’s team, that curve was steep. The cooks were inconsistent. The wait staff was inexperienced. And the restaurant’s POS crashed frequently, forcing harried employees to write tickets by hand and resort to old credit card swipers.

Service stumbles “spread like wildfire” in the small town, says Jay. Customers went public with their discontent on Yelp. At a low point, as the restaurant struggled to survive, Jay jumped into action. He took the helm as cook, hired a reliable team of servers and ditched his “terrible” POS.

In its place, he took a chance on Clover. The impact was swift and dramatic. Orders from the restaurant floor or outdoor patio were simply tapped into a Clover Mobile. The kitchen instantly received each order. Freed from racing back and forth, the wait staff was able to focus attention where it belonged: on customers.

Clover Mobiles have “truly built the business back because we’re hands-on with our customers,” says Jay. “I turned the place around in eight months with the help of everybody — and a good portion was with this Clover. It just made everything run easier and more efficiently.”

The restaurant’s manager, Crissi, recalls hours spent on paperwork, not people. “With the old system, I had to manually input credit card transactions, a month and a half worth of them.” Tasks such as this have been eliminated.

And you don’t have to be super tech-savvy to reap labor-saving benefits. Wait staff quickly get the hang of using Clover. As Crissi says, “I explain to employees that it‘s like a big smartphone.” And like a smartphone, she downloads only the apps she needs — Tables for orders and Time Clock by Homebase for employee payroll and scheduling.

By simplifying both the front and back of house, everyone has time and energy for the bigger picture: keeping customers happy with perfectly prepared food, delivered promptly and cheerfully — every time.

Opening a restaurant is never easy. But today’s diners have sky-high expectations, and they’re empowered like never before. While social media can get the message out about a business, negative word-of-mouth travels even faster, derailing dreams in the process.

For Jay and his team, those dreams are alive and growing. With business booming, Jay is scouting for new locations for a second branch. And he’s rekindled his original passion for cooking, which is what nudged him into the restaurant business in the first place.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” he says, “but I put my heart into every plate.”