All Hands on Deck: How Upserve Helps Restaurants Pivot to Takeout

In her role as product manager at Upserve, a Providence-based company offering inventory management and point-of-sale (POS) tools for restaurants, Morgan Thompson '17 is used to solving problems for restaurateurs on a daily basis. But in a post-COVID world, the very concept of a “typical day” has gone out the window, and Thompson — now working from home and collaborating with the Upserve team via Zoom — has seen what she calls a “ruthless prioritization” of her team’s to-do list. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck time,” she explains. “Our product team as a whole has been looking at all of our offerings through a new lens, like what is the most important thing we need to do right now? A lot of what I’ve been doing in the last month is both brainstorming and working on executing. What do restaurants need right now and how can we give them the tools and resources to help them?”

Upserve’s online ordering tools (including a takeout/delivery application) have been in use since 2017, but mid-March saw a huge surge in usage and new clients. Restaurants that had never relied on takeout and/or delivery as part of their business model were scrambling to find solutions that would allow them to spin up a functional platform, and fast. And Upserve’s all-in-one suite of applications offered a customizable and fairly out-of-the-box solution.

For Upserve, the sudden spike meant that their applications were getting pressure-tested in unexpected ways — and gave the team an unprecedented opportunity to iterate in response to urgent business needs.

“Whenever you apply more pressure to a product by adding a ton more users, a bunch of different use cases come up that you hadn’t really thought of before or weren’t even relevant before,” notes Thompson. “Right now, there are new challenges to solve and [our team] is balancing what we need for this time and what will also be helpful in the future.” An example of a COVID-necessary feature that’s been fully rolled out is the ability to limit the restaurant’s hours and offer pre-orders.

“It’s really energizing to be able to see the impact of the work we’re doing.”

Upserve is in a unique position to gather all kinds of data on the sweeping impact COVID-19 is having on the restaurant industry. In particular, Thompson notes, specialization has become less relevant.

“We have all types of customers, from coffee shops on up to a super fine dining restaurant offering a 12-course tasting menu. And the way that they use our technology is going to be pretty different,” she explains. “Whereas right now, people are using it in very similar ways because everyone’s doing this takeout model.” That kind of use-case streamlining has helped Upserve make updates to the platform, because they have confidence that the tweaks will be widely adopted.

“We are always focused on making restaurants successful — it’s why we do what we do. But there’s a different intensity now — we’ve seen firsthand the tools we’re able to build and deliver are making the difference between restaurants staying open and closing (potentially for good).”

Upserve’s ability to adapt and respond quickly puts them in a good position to support restaurants through a period of real hardship. “It’s really energizing to be able to see the impact of the work we’re doing and see it helping restaurants,” she notes, adding that their team has a “Tell Me Something Good” channel on Slack where they post positive stories from Upserve clients.

Some of these stories can be found on Upserve’s blog — hopeful stories of free lunches being distributed to frontline workers; distilleries donating hand sanitizer; restaurants turning into food banks; and more. And, of course, there are GoFundMes and tip jars to help hospitality workers who have lost their jobs.

“There’s some really beautiful stories coming out of this, highlighting the creativity of the restaurant industry right now and their heart for service,” notes Thompson. “They just put their whole heart and soul into the business.”


The Upserve Team