Words Hugh Francis
As told to Ali Francis

This Tech Shop Is Run More Like a Sandwich Shop

Jan 09, 2017

A consumer cosmetics line, a surfboard company starting an eCommerce store, and taco truck wanting their location tracked on google maps may not have much in common. Except that in 2017, businesses are relying on technology to reach their audience more than ever. In practice, this means owners with non-technical backgrounds are spending more and more time around ‘nerds.’

Hugh Francis is the Studio Lead at Sanctuary Computer, a digital product shop based on the Bowery in Chinatown, NYC. His first job out of school was as a pizza delivery guy, and then a waiter, where he learned the hard way that customers are always right: “I was lucky to also have smart bosses who would carefully explain to me how to show respect and care to the patron in subtle ways.”

“Every micro interaction between the customer and the establishment builds or detracts from that goodwill, and from the moment they call for a reservation, the whole kitchen and wait staff work as a machine to build that ephemeral, undefined experience."

You can find this deep appreciation for customer experience expressed in Hugh and his team’s current work building great tech for musicians, restaurants, metalworkers, and a female sex toy company. “Ultimately, restaurants have helped me truly understand what hospitality means,” he says. “Every micro interaction between the customer and the establishment builds or detracts from that goodwill, and from the moment they call for a reservation, the whole kitchen and wait staff work as a machine to build that ephemeral, undefined experience.”

Culinary is traditionally a field firing on creativity and sensory overload—an industry where tech has traditionally been an afterthought. But Hugh says “the web has become a touchpoint for all business, especially food. With customers doing most of their quality searching online, he says “the initial web presence is a new outlet for communicating the warmth and care of the establishment. Nailing that interaction will mean an increased number of people through the door. Missing that mark will detract from the brand you’re building front of house.”

Hugh sat down with Dirt to develop a toolkit helpful for restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs navigating technical waters.


Treat Clients Like Guests

At Sanctuary, we do heavy technical work building apps and backend systems. It’s always laden with details and nuance, but the difference between choosing one bedrock technology over another can mean big differences for the client’s business. For that reason, when we need to make those important choices, we’re careful to involve our customer. After all, you’d want to know if something is cooked in canola oil or not. That said, it’s equally important that our client comes away from our working relationship energized, and excited about their new product, just as you would an awesome restaurant experience. Craftspeople often like to wow with their technical jargon, but that’s often more self serving than anything. We’re here to make the boring decisions for you (and add a lil’ special sauce for free).


Just Call It Smashed Peas

Tech has always moved at a blistering pace, every year adding layers on top of layers of complexity. We’re often using tools that build on such alien, abstract ideas that it’s easy to forget how bizarre our office-speak can sound to the non-technical. Like if you’re at a restaurant serving ‘Pea Mousse,’ and you have no idea what this even means. However, when communicating important details to a customer, we think hard to come up with simple, tangible metaphors to explain the particular brand of weird that we’re working with (it’s important they can explain the bells and whistles to stakeholders and others).


Write It Like a Menu

When folks come to us for a new build of a website or app, we treat the quotation phase as a unique chance to build hospitality between us and the client. Traditionally, agency-style companies will serve you a magical lump-sum costing, based on some arcane cross-section of employee time, ‘complexity,’ and the miscellaneous. That’s an ambiguous, contentious way of winning business, and in our opinion, starts the relationship off on a poor footing. It would be the same as if a restaurant put one price on their menu, and then the cashier told you another thing—not cool. Instead, we quote in total transparency: we’ll break a client’s job into bite size complexity chunks, and show them what each part costs in careful detail. It makes the process more of a collaboration than a negotiation, as we work together to simplify parts of the build and meet a required budget.


Be the Prep Cook (and the Chef)

Most restaurants you visit won’t ask you to chop your own salad, or slice ham for your Cuban (one of my favorite sandwiches before I went pescatarian). In the same vein, we‘ll never send you a giant google doc to fill out, or complicated spreadsheet to populate. Instead, when we’re in person, we listen, and listen hard. We gather requirements on our side, and format them as we need. Working with us should feel painless, so that means it’s our job to be the prep-cook and the chef. We don’t mind washing some dishes now and then either...


Make Magic

Everyday, we’re working to put coins in the goodwill piggy bank. It takes hard work, and enormous effort from our team. Every email, every slack message, and every carefully planned line of code comes together to create a seamless technology product for our guests. When it goes right, they walk away feeling as though the entire process was nothing short of effortless. Kind of like a perfect meal, it’s not always the tech (food) that makes it special, but rather the hospitality.