ihop x tray
Tray x IHOP

How a little known restaurant tech provider TRAY beat 82 competitors to land IHOP

May 23, 2022

Editor’s Note: AFN’s parent company AgFunder is an investor in TRAY.

IHOP — the restaurant chain known for its breakfast and pancakes specifically — today announced a multi-year deal with restaurant tech provider TRAY.

Given the challenges brought about the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw 110,000 restaurants closed down temporarily or permanently and continued labor shortages, IHOP, like many restaurant operators, has been forced to innovate to stay afloat, such as by adding online and delivery services to their offerings.

That’s not always easy if you’re a large-scale restaurant chain with entrenched processes and practices, but in an effort to streamline its operations and payments processes, the Dine Brands Global-owned business is adopting a new cloud-based point of sale (POS) and restaurant management software, at all of its 1,600+ locations across the US, from Arizona-based startup TRAY.

In a three-year marathon, TRAY’s technology was pegged against 82 of the world’s top POS systems. The final step of the selection process, a grueling year-long multi-store pilot, ended in October 2021, and TRAY was selected as the winner.

A key feature of the startup’s technology is that it can integrate with best-of-breed reporting, inventory, and payments systems used by large restaurant brands, and importantly, it can operate on existing hardware. The new system allows IHOP franchisees to utilize existing hardware, providing an additional cost-savings opportunity for franchisees and allowing for rapid conversion with minimal restaurant disruption.

Meet TRAY, our first investment in Restaurant Tech

“TRAY meets the stringent requirements for our business and the business of our franchisees now and in the future,” said Justin Skelton, chief information officer of DINE Brands. “TRAY’s ability for customization allows for continued growth and innovation. “

According to TRAY’s founder & CEO, Peter Kellis, “We knew we had a great Enterprise solution for Family Entertainment Centers, which was our initial focus, but we didn’t have everything full-service and fast-casual restaurants needed. Over several years, working with the awesome team at DINE helped us perfect our offering. This new venture with IHOP  confirms our technology and our ability to support major restaurant brands.

New tricks

To say that most of the restaurant industry in the US needs an upgrade is an understatement; according to Kellis, most large restaurant brands like IHOP are using old technologies that have been around 30+ years. Kellis has seen other major technology changes as an MIT graduate and former Google PM in several other sectors, but “nothing at this scale.”

“Restaurant POS systems used to require a physical server on location, which added a point of failure and reduced the potential of the technology,” he adds. “Our system is cloud-based and is a much more modern system, which can handle the new requirements for restaurants like server tablets, app-based ordering, kiosks, online and 3rd-party ordering, and integration with other Enterprise Software for reporting, payments, etc; we are both processor and hardware-agnostic making us a flexible choice for Brands looking to make a change.”

And, until the pandemic, much of the restaurant industry was resistant to change, particularly these larger chains, according to Kellis. “It is a big deal for a big brand at the corporate level to decide to do something completely different and it takes time,” he added.

When Covid-19 hit, the restaurant industry had to deal with both customer and labor shortages and so needed to create more flexibility in its workflow, requiring a change of technology guard.

This need for change has been a boon to the POS industry overall; Kellis argues that helped push the biggest, best-known POS player to its multi-billion-dollar valuation.

Why TRAY?

Over the past nine years, TRAY has quietly been developing an Enterprise product that’s compatible with multiple types of hardware and processors — so restaurants can keep using their POS hardware devices, processors, and other systems. It can also manage multiple parts of a multi-restaurant business.

From a user-friendly POS and robust kitchen display features that can deliver orders to different sides of a kitchen, to menu management at the enterprise level and self-service online, table or kiosk ordering, TRAY offers a long list of features for restaurants at an enterprise level. It also works on bespoke or customized features with clients. In fact, during the quiet sales cycle of the pandemic, the team was busy adding almost 500 new features to its technology, specifically for full service and fast-casual enterprise restaurant clients.

IHOP is part of the Dine Brands Global group, which also owns Applebee’s and flip’d by IHOP.

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