Union Square Streamlines Employee Training

By Adam Riess, Director, New Business Division, Union Square Hospitality Group | October 09, 2008

When you work for Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) (www.ushgnyc.com), the focus is rightfully on excellent cuisine and hospitality. Over the years, our team has won an unprecedented 19 James Beard Awards, including Outstanding Service, Outstanding Wine Service, and Outstanding Restaurant of the Year. While it's our food and service that get the attention, smooth back office operations across nearly a dozen restaurants is an integral part of our success.

As we've grown, the company has faced increasing challenges between centralization and decentralization. Though our accounting team has grown to include 17 employees, we still offer a hands-on, tailored approach to accounting for our restaurants. We didn't want a "by-the-books" plan that would hamper each chef's individual vision. Each accountant customizes policies and procedures for that particular restaurant's needs.

This kind of flexibility, however, makes managing the accounting group more difficult. We've had five different controllers with five different working styles training each individual restaurant's accountant. Throw in the usual flux associated with a rapidly growing company, and you get a major organizational challenge.

A virtual handbook
To solve these issues, we decided to develop a handbook that would offer a flexible solution. Based on my familiarity with wikis, I decided to use PBwiki (www.pbwiki.com) to create a wiki handbook that is customized and available on-demand, letting us serve accountants in 9 different locations without worrying about setting up servers or dealing with firewalls.

We assigned different sections of the handbook to different controllers and accountants, and asked them to post their results to the wiki. Unlike a traditional handbook, the wiki is a living document. For example, the bookkeeper at the Union Square Café can add a special page for additional notes and procedures that are specific to his or her restaurant.

PBwiki lets us keep our data and processes consistent, which is key to streamlined and effective accounting. If we lose a controller, we should be able to understand how they're doing things. Having PBwiki enables us to be organized, better train our staff and think about the future.

Now, when we hire a new controller or accountant, we add them as a PBwiki user. We still do hands-on training, but all the documentation is on the wiki rather than in people's heads, including links to the several third-party vendors we use. In the future, we'd like to use PBwiki as a master knowledgebase for every question that gets asked within our department so that before someone sends an email, they search the wiki for the answer.

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