Wanting to expand to a second location and having been part of several family-owned restaurant startups previously, Eduardo and Angie Alarcon were wary of high opening costs.
Xenial running on an Android-based tablet, with orders sent directly to Xenial kitchen monitors.
Angie and Eduardo Alarcon are all too familiar with the challenges and costs involved in starting a new restaurant business. Eduardo’s parents, Dulce and Amilcar Sr., have opened and managed several large Mexican restaurants with help from family members including Eduardo and Angie. The Alarcons love the independence, but face challenges common to many other restaurateurs in their situation: constantly trying to manage expenses with unending demands and find work-life balance.
The current primary enterprise, Margarita Paradise, is owned by Eduardo’s mother, Dulce, which she manages along with Eduardo. It serves customers in the Milwaukee Public Market. Although most of the business consists of walk-up/to go orders, the restaurant has a bar top and a small seating area for about 20 guests. ‘MP at the Market,’ as it has come to be known, dishes out fast but delicious home-style Mexican fare to market visitors and a huge lunch rush of downtown workers: around 250 covers per day.
Growing Business, Growing Family
The Alarcons’ goal is to pair home-style cooking with first-name-basis service. It’s a tradition – a custom – that they are now passing on to Angie and Eduardo’s three children. Angie and Eduardo make their home in Eagle, an hour from MP at the Market. The commute – coupled with long hours – left Eduardo with little time to spend with his family.
They wanted to stay open at the market, but provide more family time. “Eduardo worked so many long hours, and I didn’t want him to miss out on being involved in our children’s’ lives as they grew up,” says Angie Alarcon.
After considering several options, when a location adjacent to a gas station / quick stop opened up in Eagle, they jumped at the opportunity.
They knew they could replicate MP at the Market’s quick serve model to feed on-the-go gas station customers. And they believed that their reputation at the Milwaukee Public Market would win them a rapid following among residents in Eagle.
The same year their third child was born, the Alarcons, along with Dulce, opened MP Taqueria, which Angie and Eduardo now co-manage. It is equipped with a much larger kitchen than the downtown market location, so Eduardo can do most of the food prep for both locations in Eagle. He can start his work day at MP Taqueria, and either make food runs to MP at the Market, or send staff to deliver food in time for the downtown lunch rush. The kitchen at MP Taqueria serves multiple duty, dishing out delicious food to quick-stop customers and supplying the couple’s growing catering and taco cart business.
“I trim and marinate meat, cook beans, and make sauces and salsas to supply both of our fixed locations. The result is a better, more consistent product across the board,” says Eduardo.
Balancing Startup Costs and Stresses
Eduardo grew up working in the restaurant businesses his family has owned for 40 years. He and other family members helped his parents start and operate 200-seat Mexican table service restaurants. Angie’s tenure in restaurant spans 20 years. So they are no strangers to the high cost of opening a new restaurant. One thing that particularly concerned them when they decided to open MP Taqueria was what to do about point of sale (POS). Often a huge capital expenditure, POS can be a major source of stress.
“A startup has to juggle all kinds of opening costs: furniture, kitchen equipment, supplies, hiring, training, etc.,” says Angie. “When we opened restaurants in the past, a POS was a huge budget item that ate up money I would rather spend on something else, like better kitchen equipment. On top of the initial and ongoing hardware, software, maintenance, and per-terminal fees, we had finance charges for the money we borrowed to pay for it.”
Xenial is different, entirely. “The Xenial rental model is perfect for a small business like ours, because we didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars up front,” says Eduardo. “Xenial made all the difference, budget-wise, for our growing business.”
From a startup perspective, Angie adds: “There are a million details and stressors that come with opening a small business, especially a restaurant. Xenial took all the stress out of the POS aspect of opening our new location. The POS piece of the puzzle, which I thought was going to be stressful, was not stressful at all with Xenial. The Xenial team has been incredible to work with. It’s just been easy. It was an easy transition to get Xenial.”
The Alarcons had experience with a legacy Xenial POS as well as with Heartland card processing. “We have only worked with Heartland for card processing from the very beginning,” says Angie. “They are number one on our list. We trust them implicitly.”
App-based Cloud POS Perfectly Suited to Quick-Serve
Xenial keeps the line moving for a business built on speed. Both the lunch crowd at MP at the Market and the quick-stop crowd at MP Taqueria are time-starved, and hungry. “People want to fill their gas tank, grab a bite, and get back to work, or back on the road,” says Eduardo. “Since we offer quick walk-up counter service, if there has to be any wait, I would rather have customers wait for me to cook the food, which is a value-add, than have them wait for me to key their order into the POS.”
Order flow for the MP Taqueria menu items goes extremely fast in Xenial. Menu items, sides, add-ons, and exceptions, are all on one screen, which makes ordering go quickly.
“We don’t have to flip to another screen and wait for it to load,” says Eduardo. “If we have an order of five custom tacos, Xenial can do it in a third of the time of other POS systems we’ve used. This makes it ideal for quick-serve / counter service locations like ours. Our lines go so fast! Xenial has been the first POS system that has been able to do exactly what we want a POS system to do.”
Fast and Easy System and Menu Setup
Xenial system setup was considerably faster than previous POS systems the Alarcons have worked with. “Xenial setup took four hours or less, compared to one to two days of setup for systems we’ve used in the past,” says Angie. “Our Xenial rep did the installation the same day we opened our doors, and it went smoothly.”
The Alarcons were also happy with menu set up. “With Mexican food, in particular, there is a lot of building,” says Eduardo. “We offer standard menu options, but these can be customized. And we give customers an option to build their own taco or burrito from scratch. That’s a lot of variables, but Xenial handles it with no problems.” Angie adds, “In the past, I would hand my menu to a programmer. What I got back would take a week or more and several back-and-forth iterations before it was right. Xenial menu setup was not only faster, but what I got back only needed a few minor tweaks. Like I said, Xenial was virtually zero stress.”
As Easy to Learn as Your Smartphone
“Xenial is extremely user friendly and easy to learn,” says Eduardo. “My father-in-law, who is 69, and owns a flip phone, learned how to use Xenial on an Android tablet in no time. As far as training our staff, it was a no-brainer. It was just really simple!” Eduardo also considers himself somewhat of a technology adoption laggard, adding, “I work with knives, and I still have all of my fingers. But when it comes to technology, I’m all thumbs. If I can use Xenial, anyone can use it.”
Fast Ordering, Faster Lines, Happiest Customers
At MP at the Market, the Alarcons continued to use a client-server POS while they tested Xenial ordering and kitchen management at MP Taqueria. “At MP at the Market, our order prep time is about 2 to 3 minutes. Based on how fast Xenial ordering goes at MP Taqueria, if I used it at the market, I think I could get that 2 to 3 minutes down to a little over a minute, and our downtown lunch crowd would be thrilled!” remarks Eduardo.
Smooth Kitchen Management
Accustomed to printed tickets at the market, Eduardo was excited to try Xenial Kitchen Management at MP Taqueria. “Xenial kitchen management works so well for us,” Eduardo says. “It’s really streamlined. Order prep has been incredibly smooth. It’s been heaven because the cook (usually me) can just keep going, instead of stopping to read the ticket, take it down, and pass it along.”
The kitchen screen keeps orders easily visible, and always in order. It’s easy to bump them off as orders are completed. “With Xenial kitchen management, there’s no paper ticket to accidentally lose, no getting tickets out of order, and no confusion if someone steps in to help,” says Eduardo.
Customers who visit MP Taqueria find it welcoming, from the low-profile, uncluttered counter, to the wood carving wall decorations next to each table. The open layout at the counter lets customers watch while the cook puts finishing sauces and touches on their meal. This contributes to the ‘family-owned, home-cooked, home-style’ appeal. “The simplicity of the Xenial tablet-based POS adds to this experience by keeping the counter clear, and giving us more face-to-face, personal contact with the customer,” says Angie.
Eduardo adds, “Because ordering is fast and conversational, we have greater opportunity for personal interaction. By saving time on taking the order and payment, I have some freedom to make small talk and help the customer feel welcome, even in our quick-serve environment. And the kitchen monitor lends a touch of professionalism to our image.”
The tablet is portable, so if Eduardo is the only one in the store, he can move it around to make it easier to both take orders and cook.
“I wholeheartedly recommend Xenial to other restaurant businesses,” says Eduardo. “With the restaurant industry up and down all the time, my dad always emphasized the fact that customer service keeps the doors open. Xenial helps us do customer service better.”