Dining of the future: Datum grows, helps more local restos with culinary innovation

Sarasota's technology solutions biz Datum is engaging more independent eateries and customers.

click to enlarge TECHIE TASTES: New tools are changing the way diners and drinkers order. - Ziosk
TECHIE TASTES: New tools are changing the way diners and drinkers order.

Head toward your neighborhood coffee bar.

“Hello, are you thirsty?”

Swipe left for “yes” on your smartphone. Keep moving.

Arrive and walk inside to pay for your latte order, which was prepared by the barista as you got closer.

This kind of proximity-aware technology, known as beacon technology, isn’t as futuristic as some might expect, and it isn’t reserved for food and drink giants, either. According to Andrew “Wilko” Wilkins, director of independent restaurant solutions for Datum Corporation, mom-and-pops have more access to these types of infrastructure than they think.

“Most restaurateurs think they can’t get it, it’s too far out of their way, so expensive, or whatever,” Wilkins says, “so we provide a one-stop shop, if you like, for everything you need for technology in a restaurant.”

Based in Sarasota, Datum uses various technology solutions to assist its clients, restaurants among them, in operating and marketing more efficiently. CEO Tom Frost established the company in 2003 after supplying IT services to Hawaiian fusion restaurant Roy’s, and now, Datum’s nationwide portfolio highlights a mix of independent eateries and other big brands like Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and First Watch.

But as technology becomes a larger part of the conversation for the restaurant biz, Frost says he wants to help more small-scale operations elevate their “culinary innovation.”

“Multi-unit restaurants were the only ones who could afford [technology] for a long time,” Frost says. “Now start-ups are helping independent operators take advantage of that.”

Using his industry knowledge and contacts, Wilkins — who founded St. Pete Brasserie and also ran restaurants for Ceviche and Boca Kitchen Bar and Market — is building up Datum’s independent restaurant market in Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando. The company’s new office in Clearwater acts as a technician base, and some of Wilkins’ local clients include Il Ritorno, Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club, CopperFish, Station House, Green Mint Asian Grill and St. Pete’s recently opened Mill restaurant.

Datum, which also offers consulting, charges restaurants a monthly fee for the technology and IT it provides, setting itself apart from other firms that sell equipment such as point-of-sale systems at a flat rate. The fee includes 24/7 support, another hard-to-come-by feature, and eateries may upgrade their systems after a year or so if they choose.

While Wilkins says the company does it all (“anything that’s got a cable attached to it we’ll do”), he sees more independent restaurants asking for food and beverage inventory software, kitchen video displays that present orders on a screen rather than paper, hostess software and handheld devices like iPads.

The biggest technology in demand, however, mirrors the LevelUp software that’s part loyalty-based rewards program, part mobile payment. And with new POS systems from Datum set up at every Kahwa Coffee, owners Raphael and Sarah Perrier are looking for additional ways to explore their LevelUp app, launched last year, with Datum and its partnerships.

“We would want to get the new beacon technology, but it’s kind of in the beginning stages right now,” Sarah says. “We’re trying to be able to go where you can order from your house, and when you get close to the store, [the staff will] know that you’re near and they’ll make the drink for you.”

Alongside beacons and online ordering, Wilkins says self-service tabletop ordering, implemented at Chili’s, Applebee’s and the like, is also growing in popularity. But are the gadgets that are hot (or not) in Tampa Bay different from those in big-time food destinations?

“Not necessarily,” Wilkins says. “It’s all about having a [restaurant] that knows its needs and knows what’s out there. So many people don’t know what’s out there.”

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