Great food. Great service. Great technology.
Those were the three things that Terry Ryan and partner Chris Sullivan wanted to incorporate in their new restaurant venture - Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar.
Both had extensive experience in the restaurant business. Ryan, now the president of Carmel Cafe, ran a successful seafood restaurant chain. And Sullivan, Carmel's founder is the former co-founder of Outback Steakhouse. Their years of experience taught them it would require a different approach to stand out in their new venture.
"How do we put the guest in more control making it better for the customer?" Ryan said was a question they asked themselves when considering opening Carmel Cafe two years ago. "They customer is really what it's about."
Two years later with locations in Carrollwood, Clearwater, Sarasota and Tampa their approach to fine casual dining seems to be paying off.
The restaurant was recently featured in Apple iPad's in Business video profile segment for their use of MenuPad, a digital application which allows diners to place their orders from their tables using an iPad.
"We wanted to do a restaurant that was different but we wanted to utilize technology to do that," Ryan said.
The app aims to give customers more control over what they order and when they get it.
The restaurant specializes in what they term Modern Mediterranean Cuisine, with a variety of specialty flatbreads, seafood, pasta, steaks, salads and desserts. The restaurant also features a wide variety of wines and specialty cocktails.
When customers enter the restaurant they are seated and a server explains the concept of using the iPad to order. Menu items are displayed on the touchscreen in vivid colors, with information about each entree. Diners are allowed to place their course orders as they'd like them served.
Want dessert first? Touch the Warm Poached Pear with Salted Caramel and Vanilla Ice Cream on the menu and send it to the kitchen. In less than 10 minutes your order will appear at the table by a server. If a salad is what you want next, simply touch the screen when you're ready for it.
The approach allows for a casual dining experience that diners control.
Besides the iPads, there are other things that set Carmel Cafe apart from the traditional dining experience. Absent are the servers in uniforms in aprons. Instead they wear their own clothes.
Professional yet comfortable clothing help servers focus on what's important - serving the customer, Ryan explains. And instead of designated tables for servers, they sort of float around helping customers who need help no matter which section they are seated.
"Ever guest is our guest," is how Ryan explained his servers mindset. "There's a constant flow of serving showing up at the table."
When customers are done eating, they simply cash out by signing the signature line. Receipts are e-mailed.
MenuPad has decreased the restaurant's bottom line cost by cutting down on printing new menus and table tents announcing specials.
"We can drop anything off the menu at the speed of seconds," Ryan said.
Customers may have a learning curve on their first visit, but Ryan maintains the benefits serve them well in the future.
On average entrees come out about 10-15 minutes at most restaurant. At Carmel Cafe they pride themselves on swifter service.
Chris Zumwalt, president of MenuPad's U.S. division, saw Carmel Cafe as the perfect testing ground for the software, which can be adapted to hotel and other hospitality businesses.
"Having this in a real restaurant environment has been invaluable," Zumwalt said.
And it seems others are taking notice.
Quite a few chain restaurants have requested information on MenuPad.
"We see this being a staple for years to come," Zumwalt said.
Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar's Carrollwood location is at 14306 N. Dale Mabry Hwy in Tampa. Calling ahead for preferred seating is recommended. You can reach them at 813-265-1415.