Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, NC is the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina. Shelton Vineyard’s Harvest Grill has been an important part of the operation for over twelve years. We sat down with Paul S. Lange, Executive Chef at Harvest Grill for the last eleven years, to discuss his experience with Digital Dining POS (from Menusoft Systems Corporation). Digital Dining was acquired by Heartland Payment Systems in late 2015.
In this interview, Chef Lange explains how Digital Dining enhances the customer experience, and helps him manage Harvest Grill's day-to-day operations.
Good Afternoon Paul. Thank you for speaking with us today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about Harvest Grill?
Well, I’ve been the Executive Chef here for eleven years and the restaurant itself has been here as part of Shelton Vineyards for twelve years. We serve what I call "high end comfort food". We take what people are comfortable with and create dishes that might not be available locally. Of course, as part of Shelton Vineyards, we develop our menu to ensure that everything pairs well with the wines offered by the winery. This adds a challenge to menu creation, but it also means we focus on choosing the right mix of items for our menu. We do try to use farm to table sourcing as much as possible, and the food tends to be generally regional, but there are dishes that have been influenced from all over the country.
Our menu also changes seasonally, and we have developed a good niche presence among travelers along the Interstate 77 corridor as well as among those visiting the winery as a destination for a wine lover’s experience.
When you were searching for a POS system, what functionality did you absolutely need to have? And what were some "nice to haves"?
The POS system was already in place when I arrived eleven years ago. The restaurant had been open for less than a year and the system was new and in place. I found out very quickly that the system had the functionality that I would have looked for had I sourced it myself. Primarily, I was glad to find a system with a quick interface and similar layouts from screen to screen. We have a retail component as part of the restaurant since we are part of the winery and the ease of use in switching between screens and with having the available retail items along with the food items was something that has been essential. It is very easy to add new menu items and build screens and sub-windows for the menu. It’s also been very easy to train new staff on the system as well.
As for "nice to haves", I’d say the system is pretty much full service for our needs as is. However, one nice thing was having the ability to type in modifiers rather than work from a list of pre-established modifiers that you have to search for. For example, a staff member can type in "lactose intolerant" rather than search for it on a list of established modifiers which speeds things up a bit.
What POS system do you use? Why did you ultimately choose it?
We use Digital Dining. It is our POS system here for Harvest Grill as well as for the retail wine options that are sold here at the restaurant as part of the dining experience.
As I mentioned, I came in starting in year two and the system was already in place. It was my understanding that the owners had shopped around among options and had done extensive research on the system best suited for our needs before purchasing.
What other systems were you considering at the time? And what other systems have you used in the past if any?
I had used an older version of the Squirrel System POS in a past experience. I have also used Micros POS and Oasis. This was my first time using the Digital Dining system.
What do you like about the system, especially compared to other systems you used in the past?
I really like the Digital Dining system. As I mentioned, I find the ease of use and similarity of screen layout to be very helpful. It’s also an intuitive system. When I came in I had not had experience specifically on this system and I was able to get up and running on my own and build menu options and navigate and use the system without training. I’ve found that when training someone on the system it is equally intuitive and have trained staff in a single sitting for the features that pertain to their job.
We can use and change dining room layouts if we want to and we use the dining room module for seating and of course the kitchen module. I also like the reporting and I use the month end reporting function for labor and inventory. And since we change our menu seasonally I like the ease of being able to program new menu items as well as specials.
What can be improved, or is there any functionality you wish it had?
I think the best improvement we could have is more of a personal desire. We are using an older version of the system and there is an update that would allow the use of handheld table to table modules and other advanced features. I think upgrading to gain those features would be something I could envision doing.
As far as functionality, I would love to see speech to text if that’s possible. The system also does not have an event module. I think we could use that if it were available.
Would you recommend the system to others?
Yes, it’s a good system and I would recommend it. We have used it for eleven years and it has been remarkably stable and trouble-free. And we can usually "train in one try" so the time saved with the day to day use and ease of training would be something I would recommend for those considering the system.
How would you rate their customer service (1 to 5 with 5 being the best) and why?
It’s hard for me to give anyone a five. I would rate them a four. Our experience has been that they have addressed every problem we’ve ever had very quickly. Another plus in dealing with their customer service is that is very personal. When you call, you speak to a person right away. There is no long process of phone prompts and pressing numbers before reaching someone.
How well or poorly does it integrate with other applications (payment processing, accounting, reporting, and other marketplaces like OpenTable, etc.)?
We link to our labor, payment and accounting system. As far as other marketplaces we do use OpenTable, but to my knowledge we can’t directly link the Digital Dining system to OpenTable. If we had that functionality available, we would definitely use it. We use the labor reports for labor management. We also use the inventory reporting but mostly for end of month reporting. I know that the ability to manage the inventory exists within the system, but because of the seasonality of our menu and the time required to input the inventory changes for the new seasonal items we don’t use it for active inventory management but we do know the functionality is there and we do use the inventory function to generate end of month reports.
How did pricing work?
The system was already in place when I arrived but I do know it was purchased outright. For a while we did have a monthly maintenance contract but to be honest, their customer service has been so responsive and fast we have had so few issues with it we no longer carry the monthly maintenance and just rely on a “per call” for service.
About Digital Dining
Digital Dining (owned by Heartland Payment Systems), has been widely used across the food service industry for almost thirty years. The product offers front of house features such as table management, delivery, table service and reservations and many others. It also offers a large selection of back office functions including menu maintenance, staff maintenance, labor, inventory, accounts receivable and credit card processing.
To learn more about Digital Dining, you can visit their site here.