Cohn Restaurants to open new Del Cerro eatery with GPS 'butler bells' to summon server

In a move certain to trim labor costs, the Cohn Restaurant Group plans to open next month an elevated fast casual eatery in Del Cerro that will rely on GPS-enabled devices to summon servers.

Del’s Hideout, as it’s being called, draws from the conventional fast casual model, offering counter service for ordering, but it will also have a full bar with craft cocktails and beer on tap and a children’s play area.

What really differentiates it, though, are the electronic devices known as Kallpods that diners will use to order extra drinks during their meal or alert a server that they’re ready to pay their bill. The technology has grown more popular over the last several years, although it’s more widely used in hotels, stadiums and amphitheaters.

As restaurants are increasingly looking to trim costs in the face of rising wages and utility bills, the tracking devices could become more widely embraced by dining venues.

Where the Cohn group would normally staff a full-service restaurant with three servers for every 15 tables, Del’s Hideout will only need one server for the same amount of tables, says co-owner David Cohn.

“We’re trying to balance menu pricing with labor costs, especially in a neighborhood restaurant where we want to serve our neighbors at as reasonable a price as we can,” Cohn said. “That means coming up with a different model and being more creative.”

And if it’s not clear enough that the Cohns are trying to change things up, there will be a sign over the entry door that will read, “Rethinking dining.”

While Cohn knows of no other freestanding restaurants in the county using the technology other than a few hotel eateries, some chains like Chick-fil-A are testing it. Kallpod, in a news release last year, boasted that in addition to convenience, the devices are driving increased revenues. It noted that Canadian Brewhouse, a casual dining operator in Western Canada, has seen a $211,500 average increase in gross sales at its 30 locations since it began using the Kallpods.

In the Del Cerro restaurant, the tabletop devices will have three buttons: one for general service needs, one specifically to order more drinks and one to request your check.

Cohn said the same devices will also be used at the company’s upcoming brewery restaurant, Draft Republic Brewing Co. in La Mesa, expected to open by the end of the year. Of the company’s nearly 22 San Diego County restaurants, just two are fast casual — Zigzag Pizza Pie in Oceanside and the Tea Pavilion in Balboa Park.

“It’s an experiment but we think there’s a way to not abandon people once they’re seated at fast casual places,” said Cohn. “Fast casual has been elevated for the last 20 years but everyone is trying to figure out the service piece.”

Del’s Hideout will occupy a 5,400-square-foot building on Adobe Falls Road north of San Diego State that was the former home of the long closed Junk House Restaurant and before that, Nicolosi’s.

The Cohn Restaurant Group purchased the building last year for more than $1.8 million with the idea that it could be used as a commissary kitchen for catering and prep work for some of its other restaurants. Given the space’s especially large kitchen, Cohn said that eventually it will likely do double duty as a kitchen for the new eatery as well as a commissary.

It’s now being entirely reimagined by longtime design collaborator Phillippe Beltran, who often brings a sense of whimsy to the restaurant decor. He is incorporating vintage bicycles into the design of the communal table bases, and a shipping container has been repurposed as a three-sided activity area for kids.

The main dining area will lead out to a 700-square-foot patio, separated by floor-to-ceiling roll-up garage doors.

The restaurant menu will include American classics like burgers and BBQ, plus a number of healthy options such as entrée-sized salads and bowls with grains, fresh vegetables and proteins. Rotisserie chicken will be a featured menu item, and diners will be able to sweeten their meals with a complimentary soft-serve ice cream cone they will get from a self-serve station on their way out.

Cohn estimates that the build-out of the restaurant space will cost roughly $500,000.

lori.weisberg@sduniontribune.com

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Twitter: @loriweisberg

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