Enterprising Solutions

By Curt Harler, Contributing Editor | March 01, 2004

Savvy restaurant executives drive efficiency by implementing powerful tools enterprise wide. The growing use of back-office and ERP software helps restaurants interpret data generated at the restaurant level quickly and efficiently to make changes on the run.

Operations ranging from Cousins Submarines, to the Wolfgang Puck fine dining operations, to Wendy's seek ways to save money and time with instant access to data.

"We have saved $1100 a month with our system," enthuses Debra Graham, who is responsible for the accounting and POS operations for Wolfgang Puck's. They installed Slingshot from Avero (averoinc.com) in mid-2002.

"We have so many restaurants around the country," she continues. "We needed a single venue that would put all of our information into one spot." Before installing the software, Puck relied on each restaurant manager to fax in daily reports. Data was then keypunched.
 

"Now we are able to get information straight off Slingshot and use it without the managers having to be involved," Graham says.
Wearing her accountant hat, Graham is pleased with the access to all aspects of data. To see how a particular check was closed out, they simply go into the system and see all aspects of the transition - without local intervention. With units scattered from Maui to Chicago, time zones become almost as big a consideration as the fax bill.

"The new process has saved us at least an hour a day," Graham adds. That does not count hassles with weekends or odd work hours.
Prime Restaurants shared the same desire to streamline its operations across their numerous restaurant concepts, including East Side Mario's, Casey's, Fionn MacCool's Irish Pub, D'Arcy McGee's Irish Pub, Slainte Irish Pub as well as Esplanade Bier Markt, a Belgian Brassarie concept. Prime chose a restaurant software solution from Maitre'D (maitredpos.com). Prime benefited from improved information system and operational efficiency, shaving hours off of data composition.

Five hours saved
The savings at Wendcentral were even more dramatic. "It used to take five to six hours per manager every Monday to enter the data. Now it takes a total of one to one and a half hours to count the restaurant," says Edward Perrotte, with Wendcentral. The firm serves 250 Wendy's franchisees mainly on the East Coast, but reaching as far as Texas. They have used Aloha Inventory from Radiant Systems (radiantsystems.com) since it debuted as Version 1.0 and currently run the same version of BackOffice products. As new restaurants come on line, they are equipped with the latest version.

Prior to automation, they had Dell computers in each restaurant. Data entry was manual. The system was prone to computation and transposition errors.

"It took two or three days until managers had any feedback and could make changes," Perrotte continues. That meant they did not know whether losses of high-value items like meat and chicken were due to waste, theft or simple mis-portioning. Now, managers get their theoretical food cost in hours, not days," Perrotte says.

Fresh bread, fresh data
"We have always polled information from all 175 of our stores," says John Ognenoff, IS manager for Cousins Submarines. They have locations in 10 states - in strip malls, convenience stores, and free-standing units.

Just as Cousins Subs start with fresh-baked bread, so too does the management process start with fresh data. "The main focus has been to get POS data to flow seamlessly to our reporting tools," Ognenoff says.

Currently, Cousins focuses on two areas: supply chain management (including inventory and order creation based on forecast use), and workforce management. Corporate locations are polled daily; franchises, weekly.

"We have a number of home-grown applications that we use," Ognenoff continues. This includes an ASP-based solution for the corporate stores.

The workforce management program will be based on sales and hourly activity patterns at each individual store. Savings potential is large. "We are looking to save a minimum of one-half percent, but are hoping to save 1 percent to 1.5 percent," Ognenoff says.
The supply-chain data will create an order but will not directly interface to the supplier since they have a set pattern for deliveries. Some stores get product twice a week, others three times.

"The system allows flexibility for the manager to adjust order forecasts based on special events like football games or a concert," Ognenoff says.

Flexibility was very important for Spirit Mountain Casino because it needed a solution that enabled the management of both foodservice and retail inventory in one system. Spirit Mountain decided on EatecNetX (eatec.com) to manage its storeroom, fine-dining restaurant, deli, two cafes, two kiosks, banquets, an employee dining room and room service.

"In the past, we had a DOS-based system that we wanted to replace," says Shawn Scranton, IT project manager for Spirit Mountain. "EatecNetX is a very reliable, stable solution." Scranton adds that the EatecNetX retail module will be implemented soon and interfaces to Spirit Mountain's POS and accounting systems will be in place, enabling automatic depletion of inventory based on sales data and electronic export of transactional data to the accounting system.

Moving away from manual
Button Pizza wanted to move away from manual entry to POS-based polling. "When we started, we were just using register information. We soon found we needed a POS system to track items, employees, and other information from the stores," says Cindy Moss, information technology manager for Button Pizza. Button is one of the largest franchisees of the Papa Murphy's pizza chain, with 18 stores in the Chicagoland and Northern Indiana. They offer take-n-bake service Ã.‚¬"pizza is made on the spot but customers cook it at home.

The old routine required managers to hand write and fax data to headquarters daily and weekly. Today, Button Pizza uses PixelPoint's (pixelpointpos.com) HeadOffice and Dataminer to pull sales information from its stores. Each store sends data to the home office overnight. A report is automatically generated on the Windows XP or 2000 server and e-mailed to management. Each store manager sees the local report.

Windows Scheduler kicks in and runs a DSR (daily sales report) and automatically e-mails the result to management. The DSR is a custom report designed specifically for their needs, and is a variation of PixelPoint's Sales Summary report.

Moss says it is hard to fathom how much time is saved. "We had a person manually entering data to an Excel spreadsheet. This is a fantastic time saver and money saver," she says. Within 12 months Moss expects to eliminate manual reporting and will rely 100 percent on POS-based reporting.

Ognenoff foresees more sophisticated reporting in Cousins's future. He hopes to have enhanced reporting and better analysis systems in place. "In 18 months, I think we will be able to do data warehousing analysis," he says.

Continued use and interpretation of data should help management get even more efficient and produce fresher food at a better margin.

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