Finding Dollars in Data

By Tammy Mastroberte, Contributing Editor | June 03, 2013

The amount of data collected in a restaurant is seemingly endless, from the customer orders, menu information and ingredient inventory, to the daily sales and employee time and attendance. The point-of-sale and back-office solutions capture much of this data, and with the right business intelligence (BI) technology to slice and dice it into a usable format, restaurant operators can gain a great deal of insight into the operations of their company.

“Access to data is great, but unless you can do something with it, it’s just data,” says Alex Birnbaum, vice president of information technology at CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries Inc., (www.craftworksrestaurants.com) based in Chattanooga, Tenn. “The biggest payback is cost control, and the ability to see a trend and act on it quickly.”

Whether looking at waste control, employee overtime or daily sales, BI software allows operators to drill down into data and uncover metrics that can change the way they operate their business, and ultimately increase profitability.

“Anything that is measured helps you to be more successful,” notes Randy Beaver, COO of Wisconsin Hospitality Group, (www.whgonline.com) based in Milwaukee, Wisc., and operating 38 Applebee’s and 82 Pizza Hut locations. “You can get into some pretty detailed reporting and substantial analytics to create better guest metrics and better labor.”

Many BI systems are cloud-based, meaning all of the data is stored in a virtual cloud rather then on a local server, and is accessed via the Web. This gives operators freedom to access the data from anywhere, including a mobile device, whether it’s the CEO at the headquarters or the manager at the restaurant level.

“We are all Web-based,” Birnbaum says, explaining his company uses CTuit Software (www.ctuit.com). “It’s also permission-based so a general manager has access to different data than the floor manager, brewer or kitchen manager.”

It’s this ability to view data in a number of different ways that is changing the way restaurants operate, according to Birnbaum. BI data needs to be presented in multiple views because the way accounting views the data is not the same as the CEO or as the restaurant manager, he notes.

“Also having the ability to go in and pull custom versus canned reports,” says Birnbaum. “We want to go in and see what specials were successful and a canned report won’t allow you to do that, so operators need to look for programs that are easily customizable.”

Data Details
What if you could have the exact figures you need to make a decision about labor scheduling, inventory ordering or a limited-time-only special? Through built-in and customer reports, BI software offers this and more. Some operators choose to review reports or have them e-mailed to key employees daily, while others stay on top of figures throughout the day.

“We run reports daily and weekly and use it for ad hoc analysis to slice, dice and drill into data,” says Chris Olson, vice president of finance at First Watch Restaurants (www.firstwatch.com) based in University Park, Fla., and operating 103 locations. “We look at everything from sales product mix, theoretical costing data, employee time and attendance, hourly labor and wage rates.”

First Watch uses Data Central back office software from Restaurant Magic (www.restaurantmagic.com), which includes a business analyzer technology. Integrated with the POS, Olson can look at data on a profit and loss report by daypart and hour of the day, and pull custom reports without having to contact the IT department.

“It allows us to go deeper without having to contact IT to write up another report,” he explains. “It’s access to anything you want at any time, and it’s easy and quick. We have much greater visibility into what is going on at the locations.”

At Barnett Management (www.barnettburgerkings.com), operating 24 Burger King locations in Phoenix, the company uses Micros inMotion (www.micros.com) to pull data every 15 minutes through a Web portal. At 3 a.m. every day, three or four reports run checks and balances from the day prior so the manager can view it each morning, and at the headquarters level, directors can look at sales, traffic, food cost, labor and more compared to the year prior, which is also automatically e-mailed at 6 or 7 a.m. each morning, says Shane Jacobs, director of operations at the company.

“We compare food costs down the line and if someone is spending more, we will look at potential theft or waste issues,” he explains. “If traffic is low in a store, we will drill down to see if there is new competition or road work in the area, and see what the local management team needs to know.”

Restaurants can also set up exception emails to flag location managers and management at the headquarters if a perimeter is exceeded, such as labor. This is how Birnbaum at Craft Works uses the CTuit system, and he also pulls data reports once per day, he explains.

Data on the go
Like everything else in technology today, BI systems are going mobile. Whether its accessing data via a Web portal, an app, or a tablet running software, operators are arming employees with key metrics on the move.

“It’s the direction everybody is going in,” says Birnbaum. “It really opens up the door to do things that were not available even a couple years ago.”

Micros offers an app for the iPhone and iPad, streaming real-time data, and Jacobs says one for Android is coming out soon. He uses it while walking through locations to pull up current sales data and compare to prior weeks, and with real-time data streaming to the app, managers can use it for alerts as well.

“If an employee goes into overtime, or there is a large amount of returns in a small amount of time, a manager gets an alert on the phone,” he explains. “A customer can call, and we can pull up their receipt right on the phone.”

At Wisconsin Hospitality Group, the company is getting ready to roll out tablets to its managers running Restaurant Magic’s software to free them from working in the back office and give them more time up front with customers.

“The managers are busier and busier, so when you can use things like tablets, it frees them up,” Beaver says.

Looking toward the future, gaining access to more data and customization is a priority for many operators. On Jacobs’ radar is finding a way to analyze real-time sales performance of each employee throughout the day in order to incentivize them with possible commissions, and Beaver believes the next “big wave” is the forecasting piece.

“Having the system be able to forecast a labor schedule to get the right people in the location at the right time is next,” Beaver notes. “Nobody has cracked that code yet.”

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