Back Office Tool Box

By Reid A. Paul, Editor-in-Chief | May 01, 2005

Big Burrito has been mixing innovative, award-winning contemporary cuisine with creative restaurant design and exciting dining experiences at its nine Pittsburgh area restaurant since 1993.

The back-office operations, however, were another matter. Managing six Mad Mex restaurant locations, which serve Mexican food and offer an extensive beer list, would be enough. Add in Casbah, which serves upscale Mediterranean inspired dishes, Soba's pan-Asian cuisine, Umi's focus on Japanese fare and contemporary American cuisine at Eleven, and you can begin to understand the need to assert order in the Big Burrito world.

"Our financials were primarily driven by Excel spreadsheets and we outsourced our accounting operations," admits Jim Miller, director of information systems/information technology at Big Burrito. "Our company has grown to the point that this was not only very inefficient, but a relatively costly way of doing business. Paper flow alone was so inefficient that it caused delays in preparing and finalizing our financials."

Miller's top priority was to bring accounting operations in-house, centralize its data and make it accessible for actionable reporting. To achieve these goals, Miller quickly realized that Big Burrito needed a comprehensive back-office solution, not just a replacement for his current spreadsheets. After an exhaustive search, Miller selected Compeat Restaurant Accounting Systems (compeat.com).

Getting buy-in

Purchasing, inventory management, accounting and reporting were the primary focus once the system was installed. "If Compeat was just an accounting package, we would likely not have purchased it," Miller notes. "The fact that it is a full featured accounting and inventory management system set it apart."

Already, use of the system has spread out to include Big Burrito's corporate chef, accounting department and inventory manager, who all access the system from within the corporate office.

"Our accounting process has become much more efficient and we now have access to an exceptional set of tools and reports that are meaningful to our business," adds Miller. At the restaurants, managers use Microsoft (microsoft.com) Remote Desktop Web Connection to access the system in the corporate office to enter invoices and work with the inventory.

Big Burrito polls data from its Aloha point of sale from Radiant Systems (radiantsystems.com). To bring the data into the back-office system, the POS polling is replicated on a server, where it is interfaced to the Compeat system. The POS data in exported in XML format to the Compeat server in Big Burrito's corporate office. In the final step, the data is made accessible online to Big Burrito users.

According to Miller, a key advantage of having all of the data centralized is that Big Burrito can now see food-cost trends as well as review food-cost comparisons for its six Mad Mex locations. "This helped us to identify costing problems and ultimately reduce food costs," he notes. "This is something that is very critical to any restaurant business and we were not able to do this with our Excel spreadsheet system."

Theoretical inventories

For Big Burrito, the next step is to begin using Compeat's theoretical inventory feature. With a broad range of menu items for its various restaurant concepts, enforcing efficiency on inventory and procurement is an ongoing struggle. "This will help us to take our inventory management to the next level by identifying excessive waste and have better control over shortages," Miller explains.

"From an overall systems point of view, we have just begun to scratch the surface," Miller concludes. "Over the past year, we have managed to centralize our POS data as well as our accounting data. We are now in the process of creating and providing meaningful information that will help to drive our business to become more profitable."

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