by Courtney Ryan
September 11, 2018

When it comes to the restaurant industry, there are few guarantees — but a frantic work environment is usually one of them.

Beyond preparing and serving food, restaurant owners and staff manage a complicated payment process that varies greatly between businesses. For example, one restaurant might feature counter service while another accepts orders and payments at each table. Other eateries might use a mix of both.  

Toast is simplifying the payments process at restaurants by building a customizable payment settlement system that is easily scalable as the market grows and evolves. We spoke with four engineers to find out how they’re making restaurant life smoother.  

 

a bright seating area in Toast's office.
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham
Four beer taps with Toast's logo.
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham
Toast's logo
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham

 

 

FOUNDED: 2011

EMPLOYEES: 1,000+ (564 local)

WHAT THEY DO: Toast is an all-in-one point-of-sale and restaurant management platform. As a cloud-based system built specifically for restaurants, Toast offers advanced functionality, including table-side ordering, quick menu modifications, real-time enterprise reporting, online ordering and labor management with an easy-to-use interface.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Boston

PERKS: Unlimited vacation days, flexible work hours and monthly events are just a few perks.

NOTABLE CLIENTS: Flour, Oath Craft Pizza and Bar Mezzana

KNEAD TO KNOW: Every conference room is named after a type of bread.

FUN FACT: Toast empowers its sales team in order to fuel the company's growth. Learn more

 

Christina Wallin sits in the office, playing with toy made from blocks.
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham
Portrait of Christina Wallin
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham

 

Christina Wallin, Senior Software Engineer

Christina Wallin is the team lead of the labor, payroll and cash team. She drives sprint planning and other meetings, interfaces with product management on roadmap discussions and acts as the technical conscience of the team via code reviews and pair programming.

BEYOND WORK: Christina volunteers with the Back Bay Mobile Soup Kitchen, a grassroots street outreach group. She walks through Back Bay and talks with individuals living on the street, offering them socks and sandwiches and friendly conversation.

 

Did this job turn out to be what you expected it to be? How or how not?

I didn’t realize how complex a restaurant point-of-sale system is — there are so many moving pieces and so many layers. I also didn’t realize how big of an impact I would be able to make. My team’s features are used by all employees at a Toast-powered restaurant, whether they are a server clocking in for a shift, a bartender taking a cash payment or a manager looking at labor and cash reports. I still get excited every time I eat at a Toast customer, especially if I’m paying with cash!

 

My team’s features are used by all employees at a Toast-powered restaurant.”

 

How do you incorporate your involvement in community service with your professional life?

I’ve recently organized a sandwich brigade at Toast. Every week, a few of us make sandwiches for the Back Bay Mobile Soup Kitchen. It sometimes seems like the tech world is in a bubble, so it’s a good opportunity to bridge the gap between the tech community and those in need outside our door.

 

What problems are you solving with technology, and how?

In order to comply with labor laws, restaurants need to carefully track when employees clock in and out, and when they take breaks. Seems boring, right? But there’s a surprising amount of complexity involved: What if a restaurant is offline and thus can’t talk with our servers, but an employee clocks in on multiple devices? How do you resolve conflicts? What do you do if an employee forgets to clock out? And managers need to have access to reports on who was working when so that if they are audited, they can handle it.

 

The engineers cheers with beers inside the Toast Pub.
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham
Portrait of Travis Miller
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham

 

Travis Miller, Software Engineer

Travis Miller is the payment extensibility team lead. He works with his team’s product manager to plan out the roadmap of the team, break down projects and prioritize upcoming work.

BEYOND WORK: Travis loves the physical challenges that come with indoor rock climbing.

 

What opportunities does Toast offer for professional development?

The senior leadership team runs a management development program to provide insights and direct feedback. This aligns all managers at Toast and gives us a common language for communicating.

My manager also leads a management book club where a group of team leads reads a book on management and discusses it. These books provide a useful basis for building my management style. I appreciate discussing the material with other team leads and hearing their challenges and what they are trying with their teams.

 

The leadership team runs a management development program to provide insights and direct feedback. My manager also leads a management book club... I appreciate discussing the material with other team leads.”

 

What’s the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

At one point, the database for our device event-tracking system was getting too large, leading to frequent failures and regular maintenance. I took on the task of evaluating and determining a replacement datastore for these events, which entailed coming up with a set of requirements. The datastore needed to scale, be searchable, be flexible with inputs and have the ability to hook into our existing reports. I found multiple datastore options and prototyped them, ultimately choosing Elasticsearch as a replacement.

 

 

How does your team set goals for itself, and what drives employees to deliver?

We set goals each sprint and schedule team demos to track progress. The demos are informal and the audience is mostly people within the team, but it adds some accountability when iterating on a project. The team also has quarterly metric goals for things like bug count or feature adoption. These goals are kept in mind as we plan the overall direction of our sprints.

 

Clement Masson and other engineers look at two computer screens.
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham
Portrait of Clement Masson
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham

 

Clément Masson, Software Engineer

As a team lead, Clément Masson works on building and maintaining the complex, fault-tolerant system that ensures restaurants receive their money every day.

BEYOND WORK: Clément loves running because he’s free from distractions and can take a step back and think about the bigger picture.

 

What are your favorite perks of working at Toast?

One thing that makes a big difference for me is flexible time. As a father of a toddler, I appreciate being able to adapt my workday so that I can spend more time with my family. Also, as a foreigner, it is great to be able to work remotely from France in order to spend extra time with my family there. I also loved being able to watch the World Cup games in our pub at work.

 

I appreciate being able to adapt my workday so that I can spend more time with my family.”

 

Did this job turn out to be what you expected it to be?

I was surprised to see how fast the company has grown. Such a swift evolution comes with its own very unique and exciting challenges, both in terms of software systems — scalability, resilience and organization — and onboarding new people. With such rapid growth, we focus intensely on anticipating what will break, making sure our platform and systems scale.

 

 

What does a Toast developer’s typical day look like?

We organize the work in our team to minimize distractions and context switching. We have set up a weekly rotation where one person in the team handles maintenance, support and troubleshooting every six weeks, allowing the rest of the team to focus on coding and delivering features. We also try to keep the number of meetings low while still ensuring information is shared across team members.

 

Lori Tavis enjoys a martini at the Toast Pub
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham
Portrait of Lori Tavis
PHOtography by Amelia Ingraham

 

Lori Tavis, Software Engineer

Lori Tavis is team lead for Toast’s gift card and loyalty platform.

BEYOND WORK: Lori volunteers with various organizations, such as the Nashoba Youth Football League and local civic committees to support the creation of a new parks and recreation facilities.

 

If a developer came to you and said they were burnt out, what would you do?

I would first try to understand where they feel the pressure. For instance, is the burnout stemming from tedious work, too much work, lack of support or frustration? Is the team member overwhelmed and in need of help? Taking time off may or may not help resolve the burnout if returning to work results in finding the same situation. Offloading work or mentoring may be a more effective solution.

 

Is there anything special about the processes your team uses?

Most of our processes, from design through development, involve developing skills and growing as developers. We learn by sharing our ideas, designs and code with each other. It’s especially easy to do this because we sit next to each other in a pod-style office space. The team culture is open and collaborative. We also have numerous channels available to reach out beyond our immediate teams and learn from or teach others. Cross-team technical meetings and exchanges of ideas are open to all. They come in the form of reviews, guilds, book groups, clubs, blogs, hackathons and lunch conversations in the Toast Pub.

 

Most of our processes, from design through development, involve developing skills and growing as developers.”

 

What about the culture at Toast compelled you to join the team?

Before joining, I’d read numerous business articles and reviews, and it was clear that Toast had a proven senior leadership team. Lead engineers posted really interesting blog posts about modern technological approaches to solving problems, and I thought applying these approaches to an industry that really needed the infusion of new technology was very compelling.

 

 

 

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