Life at Toast Blog

Meet the Leader: Lou Orfanos, SVP, GM of Commerce


Bria F.

Content Writer, Employee Experience

Lou Orfanos is excited to help design the future of restaurants.

Born and raised in Boston, he grew up visiting his grandmother at the local pizza shop where she worked. He loved helping her make the dough to prepare orders for customers. Aside from sharpening his sous chef skills, Lou also learned how restaurants operate by watching the owner of the pizza shop run his business.

Lou eventually went on to follow in his grandmother's footsteps by working in restaurants himself. He then began building a career in tech, which included roles in marketing, business development, product management, and product.

He’s also taught at Harvard Business School and advised startups. Those interests, along with a desire to drive impact across a company, led him to Toast.

In May 2022, he joined Toast as the SVP and GM of Commerce in our Research & Development organization. Lou leads Toast’s commerce line of business, where he works to ensure that our platform is resilient, pressure-tested, and always innovating.

You grew up in the Greek immigrant community and around restaurants in Boston. How has that experience impacted your decision to join Toast?

In the 1970s and 80s, there was a wave of Greek immigrant entrepreneurs to the Boston area who opened pizza stores and dry cleaners. My family didn't directly own any of these, but all of their friends did.

I can remember watching my grandmother work and hearing how stressed the owner was. Running a restaurant  was tough and a big grind. Then at some point, I started working in restaurants and it gave me a lot of empathy for the folks that are in restaurants, and it’s really good to be able to help again.

You’ve jumped into a lot of projects since you’ve joined Toast. What type of work do you do day-to-day?

I lead the commerce line of business — basically the operations of a restaurant. We’re trying to figure out how to have a high quality product, innovate with product, and make sure we can help restaurants do the basics and operate how they want.

We’re also trying to piece together priorities and sequencing of how our new initiatives come to life. My role is to decide: How do we sequence? How do we prioritize? How do we make decisions on whether to work on one thing or another? Then,  how do we inspire the teams to go after a big bold vision for it?

In what ways do you think about scaling monetization within our platform of products?

The key to this as we scale is to keep it simple. You have to think about it from the customer perspective and imagine them visualizing all the things you're trying to get them to purchase. Sometimes, it’s just too complicated. So, if we can keep that part simple, that's great. 

The other side of that is the low friction, which means that you have to let them buy the way they want to buy. Some folks are going to want to work with sales teams, and others are happy to do it within a no-touch, e-commerce process. I think as we scale, we have to set up multiple avenues for purchase that are really aligned with what customers want, in an effort to reduce decision fatigue. 

How do you see product, engineering, and design working together when building products?

The way these three teams work together and make decisions should be concentric circles of overlap. The product person owns the problem set that's out there. They can help prioritize the problems we need to solve. The design person owns bringing that problem to life and figuring out the best way to solve it, and determining what the experience will be. Engineering has sort of a technical complement to that, which is: “Why don't we make this happen in a scalable way, and do it the right way?”

Each role, when they're at their best, can flex and do parts of the other role. The teams should be able to rely on each other and stand in for one another. At Toast, we also have a strong program management team. They function like train conductors who operationalize processes and keep everyone on track.

How has your work prior to Toast helped you hit the ground running?

I've worked in similar technology companies before, and you start to see some patterns of the types of decisions that can be valuable for teams. When my team is making big decisions, I've said: If we want to make this a priority now, the best thing we can do is give the teams clarity. We can always unwind it or pivot, but transparency is key.

Alignment — making sure everyone understands what we’re working on, where we’re going, and why we’re doing it — is more important than strategy. Because anybody can have a great strategy. But getting it done is really, really tricky. You can always pivot your strategy slightly, but it's really hard to pivot and recalibrate for the best approach if you aren’t aligned. And if you don't install those types of things, it can become really difficult to keep a high performing team running.

What do you do outside of work/do for fun? What are some of your hobbies and general interests? 

I always joke that I used to have hobbies, but I have three very little girls. My kids are five, three, and 10 months old, and they sort of fill everything up in a good way. I spend a ton of time with them, whenever I'm free, basically. We like to go to the beach a lot. I like going out to dinner with my wife when I have a peaceful moment. I like simple things, like being with my friends, and at this point, I just want to be around people I love.

What excites you about the future of Toast? 

It's really cool that I can tell my friends and family that I'm helping design the future of restaurants. Building the standard for restaurant technology and how restaurants operate is a really compelling vision. I want Toast to be the place partners think of when they want to collaborate and build innovative products, or where restaurants go when they want to expand the things they're doing to a new service model. We want to become the standard, and it's really exciting to figure out how we're going to build to that point.

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