Building Better Service

By William Atkinson, Contributing Editor | December 01, 2005

In restaurant settings, POS systems typically handle food orders, operate as smart cash registers, and perform other mission-critical functions such as labor management, scheduling, food ordering/inventory and even accounting. While these are important functions, and while technology executives in restaurants seek ways to maximize the value of these functions, they are also looking for more.

Green Mill Restaurants, with 35 locations, uses the Digital Dining POS from Menusoft (menusoft.com). One feature Chris McDonald, IT director, particularly likes is the Frequent Diner function, which works not only for inside dining, but for the company's delivery business as well. "We also have some applications that have been written to integrate with our POS system that provide sales data to our corporate office on an hourly basis," he continues. In this way, management can identify almost immediately if a location is having any kind of problem, such as a sales or a labor problem, allowing them to take immediate action.

According to McDonald, Green Mill benefits from Digital Dining's customization capabilities. "We can go into the system and find all of the information that we need quickly and easily," he adds. All of the reports are on the same user interface, allowing store managers to edit them without being concerned about affecting anything else. "Finally, it can handle credit card and gift card transactions over the Internet," he reports. "This used to involve a 20-second transaction; now it's down to three seconds or less."

McDonald is also testing wireless handhelds. The newest version of Digital Dining offers wireless handhelds with Bluetooth printers. With this technology, a staff person can use a handheld to take an order and have it print by default to the nearest printer. "We have tested this in a couple of locations and will be implementing it in the near future," he adds.

Increased efficiency

Biscuitville operates 48 made-to-order biscuit shops in North Carolina and Virginia. The company uses the ParTech POS4Xp (partech.com), a Windows-based system with Internet-driven reports that allow store operators, district supervisors and operations people to check store situations online.

"We selected the POS4Xp because we wanted something with touchscreen technology," explains Jerry Sparrow, corporate controller for Biscuitville. "We also wanted something that was easy to use so people could pick it up quickly."

In the near future, Sparrow hopes to be able to integrate the Par system with Biscuitville's back-office system, which is currently a "homegrown" model. He wants to move away from this structure to one where all of the data is driven up to a website that Par has set up for the company. "As time and technology permit, we will bring this back in and create our own site," he explains.

Sparrow also plans to implement Par's production scheduling module, which will improve efficiency and customer service by helping the cooks plan for daily demand. When they arrive on a Friday morning, they will be able to look at the sales that have taken place hour by hour during the last several Friday mornings. "Let's say that, for the last five Fridays between 6AM and 7AM, they sold 15 sausage biscuits," he says. "This tells them that they need to make sure that they have at least 15 patties prepared."

Biscuitville has considered wireless handheld systems, but in its business, they wouldn't be particularly beneficial. What is of more interest are Web-native applications. "We continue to look at this technology," states Sparrow. "We want to eventually take what we have now, create our own intranet, and do some web-based training for the crew."

Since the company does its own food distribution, another plan for the future is to integrate bar-coding into the POS system. "As stores receive inventory, they will be able to scan in the cases," he notes.

Always on

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville currently has InfoGenesis (infogenesis.com) Revelation POS in place at three of its locations, and in two of these, they use the eRevalation ASP solution. "We have no IT department in the company," explains Eric Forward, chief financial officer. "All of the information is handled via T1 lines." Every transaction, from the moment it's rung up, goes directly to InfoGenesis' data center in Santa Barbara. "If we have problems, they are 'live' all the time to handle them."

When Hurricane Katrina struck, Margaritaville was forced to close its New Orleans location. "However, we still had to get the people paid for the hours they worked during that shortened week," explains Forward. The company's financial manager was able to get onto the New Orleans restaurant database through ASP and gather all of the information on the number of hours people worked, ensuring that they would be paid.

Another feature Forward sees value in is that when Margaritaville makes changes to its database, such as new menu rollouts, it can simply send the information to InfoGenesis, which will then build it into the system. "We tell them when we want the new menu prices to go live, and they flip a switch." Nick's Pizza & Pub selected the Aloha POS system by Radiant Systems, (radiantsystems.com) because of the delivery software, according to Matthew Calabrese, controller. Nick's is a family restaurant with an 8600 square-foot building, but about 25 percent of its business is still carry-out. "We don't deliver, but Aloha's delivery system works well for tracking carry-out orders," he states. In fact, when the restaurant purchased the system in 2000, it was the only one it could find at the time that had a system for tracking carry-out. "It really helps get the guests in and out the door quickly," he adds.

The ability to integrate the POS system with back-of-the-house activities, such as accounting, is important to Nick's because the POS is really the hub of the restaurant's accounting system, covering things such as food costs, labor costs, recipes and daily sales.

Nick's just opened its second restaurant, so it has recently been getting into the enterprise side of the POS, which is of value to the executives. "I'm excited to see where this feature is going," he says.

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