Restaurateurs are creatures of habit so Emdadul ‘Tipu’ Hoque had his work cut out in convincing them to replace their pens and note pads with an electronic ordering system.
In 1998 he spotted a gap in the market, but how could a 28 year-old graduate with no practical IT experience develop a software system linking front-of-house to the kitchen?
A handful of restaurants were already using EPOS (electronic point of sale) however, this was merely the tip of the iceberg of an otherwise untapped market.
Tipu said: “It was exciting to realise the potential but I wasn’t naïve enough to think that someone, somewhere else was thinking just the same thing.”
He had two things in his favour.
A family run restaurant offering insight into the challenges that existed within the trade and the fact that the majority of Indian families have an IT expert somewhere in their midst.
Tipu shared his idea with a nephew, who was working as a software engineer and the pair developed a prototype, piloting it four months later in his own restaurant
“The biggest obstacle was getting staff to use it and I realised the great non-technical challenge would be helping people bridge their fear of change and technology.
“It’s great to have a vision but you have to be able to share it with people so they see the benefits. As a result, we focused on making the software as user friendly as possible.”
The entrepreneurial rollercoaster isn’t for everyone and Tipu has had a sometimes-white knuckle ride since the first product introduced 22 years ago.
Today, Unisoft Solutions Ltd is thriving, supplying specialist catering software to thousands of restaurant and takeaway businesses, across the hospitality industry.
This includes developing and customising software that fits into the EPOS system together with touch screens, takeout home delivery software, database marketing, labelling and customer databases.
With new technology available, Tipu explains how it all works, “By using the EPOS system, you can take restaurant orders quickly via an iPad or similar handheld device and print the order remotely in the kitchen and bar sector of the restaurant. Takeaway orders by phone operate similarly and also identify the customer’s number, which can be saved together with the customer’s name for future customer identification, prompt ordering and marketing.
“These systems allows for quick, error-free ordering, saving time and improving business efficiency. Ultimately improving order turnover and profit. Integrated e-commerce ordering systems are also available to be customised to the needs of a specific restaurant and/or takeaway.”
It is a testament to Tipu’s self-belief that Unisoft has survived.
“I’ve had my back against the wall a few times,’ laughs 49 year-old from his office in London’s East End.
“I’ve been heavily in debt and wondered where the next meal was coming from but you aren’t beaten until you stay down.”
He acknowledges the support of family and friends, especially his father and long-term friends and colleagues including software engineers Asfar, Nisar, Abu and lawyer Gary.
Nowadays, we take remote access for granted, where an IT engineer can fix a computer from another location.
This technology didn’t exist in Unisoft’s formative years and Tipu had to personally visit restaurants to resolve technical problems.
It meant an exhausting round robin of call-outs to keep his clientele happy in places as far afield as Birmingham.
He was once so tired he decided to stop off at a service station and shut his eyes for 30 minutes. Tipu woke to find he had slept several hours and missed seeing his father off to the airport.
His commitment to customer services was admirable but also increasingly un-manageable.
The Covid -19 Pandemic is the worst thing to hit the restaurant and takeaway sector in modern times.
Tipu has been extremely busy during this lockdown period providing tremendous support to businesses, which have been providing takeaways in this challenging time.
“It was exhausting but I didn’t want to let anyone down. The restaurant community is tight knit and bad news travels just as fast as good news.”
“One of the original reasons for setting up the business was to make a positive contribution to my community. I am not in this to make a quick buck and that means going the extra mile and delivering on my promises.”
His determination and dogged belief slowly began to pay off in the early nineties, despite having to contend with 18 hour days, a shrinking pot of money and staff shortages.
Sadly, not everyone survived those tough first years including his nephew who opted to go back into more regular employment.
Nowadays, Tipu runs the business from part of a building that was originally home to the family restaurant.
He employs 12 staff with several working remotely from locations in Europe and North America.
Minimalism and white furniture seem to be de rigueur for tech companies nowadays but Tipu’s taste in office décor is more eclectic.
His love of antiques that include a crystal chandelier, rotary dial telephone and radio that looks like it has been tuning in since the days of the Raj, sit comfortably alongside the modern day accessories of computer monitors and hard drives.
Tipu’s ability to marry the old and the new extends to his business skills and he has patiently encouraged hundreds of restaurateurs and their staff to embrace technology and the rewards it brings.
His commitment to putting customers first is reflected in the fact that 95% of business sales come from word-of-mouth recommendations.
“It’s been hard work but I’m glad I didn’t give up. If I’ve learnt one thing it’s that you can do anything with faith.”
Unisoft Solutions Ltd, Level One,
46 Hanbury Street, London E1 5JL.
Tel: 020 7377 2627
Products start from £999 plus VAT.