Virtual Dining Concepts (VDC), a forward-thinking addition to the hospitality industry, helps restaurant owners and operators maximize their existing space and drive additional revenue through delivery-only concepts. Over the past three years, the company has grown from a handful of individuals to almost 50 people who work with over 2,500 restaurants across North America and the U.K. Even as it’s grown, employees of all levels still hold on to their startup drive and wear many hats across sales, customer service, marketing and other teams.
Co-founder and president Robbie Earl grew up in the restaurant industry. He saw firsthand the hard work it demands and knew he wanted to create a company to help independent businesses while lowering the infamously high failure rate for restaurants. Building a brand isn’t easy, however, and launching an entirely virtual company has its own unique challenges.
With partners scattered all over the world, VDC had to find a way to communicate clearly and consistently to ensure that everyone had the most up-to-date information and it could bring in new talent and grow revenue streams without sacrificing productivity and efficiency.
That’s why CEO Stephanie Sollers introduced Slack within her first three months at VDC. After dealing with a packed meeting schedule, a stuffed inbox, and long email chains with attachments, she knew she needed a better, clearer way to work from her home base in Los Angeles with colleagues at the company’s headquarters in Orlando. Now Slack enables VDC to speed up communication, bookmark key documents in channels, and improve collaboration across its distributed team and many external partners.
“We’re building things at the speed of light. As soon as we moved to Slack, our ability to create brands faster and keep everyone on the same page improved significantly.”
Staying connected from anywhere: the kitchen, office or home
As with many small businesses, the work VDC does is not confined to a conference room. Colleagues are constantly on the road, in the kitchen, or meeting with chefs and restaurateurs. This means working across a variety of time zones and finding flexible ways of working that keep everyone connected and up to date on projects.
VDC’s culinary director, notable chef Eric Greenspan, knows what it’s like to work under pressure while trying to manage too many cooks in the kitchen. “When I was running my own restaurants, it was hard to oversee a kitchen while talking to my accountant and simultaneously updating the marketing team,” says Greenspan. “Slack allows me to keep all areas of our business aligned at my fingertips while I’m busy doing other things.” For him, that includes menu ideation, brand partnerships, marketing, sourcing and logistics, all while being a fully remote employee.
“I exclusively work on my phone,” Greenspan says. “I’m always on the move, either in the kitchen testing recipes or traveling to events, and don’t have time to lug around my cumbersome laptop. I have Slack on my phone and can catch up with my team anytime, anywhere.”
“I use Slack mostly to communicate easily with my teammates. It’s easier than text, it’s easier than email. It’s where everyone is. And so it serves as a source of truth for the company on any critical matters.”
Making quick business decisions, all in Slack
When a supply chain issue pops up requiring a menu change, Greenspan needs to get a lot of people unified at once. The problem? Sometimes a conversation is the best way to get things done quickly, but there’s not enough time to check calendars and schedule a meeting.
That’s why VDC relies on Slack for screen sharing, huddles, video clips, and project updates to collaborate in real time and asynchronously. “When I need to talk to the team fast and someone is in the Orlando office while I’m in Hollywood and our CEO is traveling, huddles are the perfect, efficient tool,” says Greenspan.
Earl agrees on how critical immediate communication is to their business: “Things are always evolving, from new brands, new market partners, marketing initiatives, pricing updates, menu items and supply chain issues. Using Slack chats, channels and threads has enabled us to be more efficient in addressing these situations that occur on a daily basis.”
The sales team also benefits from speedy communication within Slack. If a sales representative is on the phone with a restaurant partner, the rep can message their team and get an immediate answer to a question, quickly resolve incidents, and allay the partner’s concerns.
“Having a tool like Slack where I can group all the people I need to talk to about something immediately, have a record of that, and bring new people into the same conversations, all in my pocket, is a game changer.”
Using channels for project ‘mise en place’
On top of managing its own brand, VDC is also responsible for the brands that it launches and oversees. With so much on its plate, efficiency and organization is key. That’s why VDC relies on Slack channels to keep tasks streamlined and communication clear and targeted.
With channels for the leadership team, international partners, guest relations, customer success and brand divisions, VDC can stay on track, map toward goals, align on timelines, and share updates all in one place.
Designated partner channels have also helped VDC speed up incident response time, which is essential for a company that prides itself on great partner experiences. Third-party needs are flagged internally immediately, and the appropriate team quickly triages questions or concerns so partners are never left in limbo.
Having a history of projects and key documents has also helped VDC onboard new employees as the company experiences rapid growth. When someone new joins the company, Slack offers a seamless transition by providing access to channels full of proprietary documents and information. Colleagues can tag new people in threads—a nested comment section responding to the initial post—to get them up to speed, thus streamlining the onboarding process without impeding progress.
“We’ve got different Slack channels based on projects. If I need to get an update at any time, I can check in and follow up on where groups are on certain projects.”
Relying on Slack Connect to keep partnerships cooking
VDC’s Rolodex of suppliers, restaurant groups and celebrity partners is vast, which means lots of messages all day, every day. Onboarding a new VDC partner includes planning the brand look, name, menu and much more. VDC relies on Slack Connect to stay in constant communication with outside partners, fielding questions and brainstorming together as they launch new brands.
One business challenge is reacting to supply chain issues quickly and swapping out ingredients across multiple locations as smoothly as possible. Slack lets external culinary directors reach VDC in real time when they need updates. No matter what the challenge is, VDC can add the relevant people and information into a Slack Connect channel to help ASAP.
Part of the power of Slack Connect channels is the ability to share files without relying on lengthy email chains. Maintaining restaurant brands goes beyond menu planning, pricing and back-of-house details. It also includes marketing, social media, training videos and content—a lot to keep organized. To save time, Greenspan will shoot a quick kitchen training video, upload it to Slack and get immediate feedback from external partners. That way, he can easily make tweaks before finalizing a video and avoid endless back-and-forth emails.
“We leverage Slack Connect on a very regular basis so that we’re in constant communication with our partners, specifically our talent creator and brand partners, to make sure our brand development is running smoothly.”
Breaking bread virtually to foster belonging
As the company expanded, it naturally became more difficult to maintain one-on-one contact with each team member, but Slack has helped the wider team stay in touch, align on their mission, and foster a sense of community. That’s why VDC has designated channels for celebrating wins and highlighting peers’ achievements.
Sollers also makes it a point to support work-life balance and healthy approaches to the 9-to-5. She says, “I really value when our team members turn off notifications after-hours, put up an out-of-office status, or let us know when they’re traveling or working from home. It’s super-easy to see the emoji next to their name, letting us know exactly where they are and how they want to communicate.” Whether it’s the palm-tree emoji for OOO or the house emoji for WFH, Sollers appreciates the context Slack provides and knows that she can reconnect with her team when they’re ready.
As president, Earl has increased transparency, modeled work-life balance, and set the tone for the entire organization through his own use of Slack, including status updates, Do Not Disturb settings, and posts in-channel.
For Greenspan, it’s the emoji that make the difference: “I’m a very emotional and passionate person and use emoji to bring personality to text on Slack. It’s a valuable tool to emphasize and provide context and even provide a laugh.”
“Sometimes we’ll launch new brands in hundreds of locations in a single day. As you can imagine, the cross-departmental needs are very demanding. So to have all of our team members engaging in a single channel, being excited, and sharing emoji and pictures about what’s happening is a really fun area for our entire company.”
Virtual Dining Concepts’s recipe for success
Key to VDC’s success is its knack for innovation, commitment to hospitality, and willingness to try new things, solve problems and hold on to its entrepreneurial spirit.
Even as it grows into a larger company, VDC continues to move nimbly and efficiently. Slack is an essential part of that. As Greenspan says, “The only way you can move that fast and pivot that well is if you’ve got great communication.”