Nobody likes change, especially if it means you have to alter the way you run your restaurant. But what if that change meant you could get detailed reports on menu items that aren’t selling, ensured that everything put on a table or handed over the counter was paid for in full, and reduced the number of staff needed per shift?
These are just some of the benefits that a fully integrated back office solution can bring, and in the increasingly cut-throat restaurant business, having this sort of system interfacing with your cash register, till or point of sale system has become essential to stay competitive.
Back office systems used to be a luxury reserved for big chains and expensive fine dining institutions due to the high cost of hardware and implementation. Now, however, these systems have become very cost competitive, enabling all sizes of restaurants to perform detailed analytics and forecasting in the background.
“Some people think it’s going to cost a fortune and that they’ll have to mortgage their house to finance one, but far from it,” says James Verlaque, national sales manager of Vectron. “We’ve done some site conversions or system setups for venues for as little as three or four thousand dollars, and some venues can get a return on their investment within a few months.”
Verlaque recalls a recent client who transitioned from an old-style system to a fully integrated system, including tablets on the floor to take orders. The 300-seater restaurant was able to increase revenue by 26 per cent on the first day the system went live, and he says the increase has remained consistent from that day onwards.
With various back office solutions available, there are certain key things a restaurant owner or manager should look out for.
The beauty of a back office system versus the old-fashioned manual processes is that it gives you all the tools you need to keep an eye on what’s going on in the restaurant. The breadth and quality of these tools will vary between systems, but at the very least you should be able to get a big picture view of how much money the restaurant is making. You should also be able to generate reports that give you more information about finer details of the business, such as which parts of the business are the most profitable, which items are selling and not selling, and how many hours your staff has worked.
The more advanced systems can also send out instant alerts that enable managers to make decisions in real-time. “If, for example, you have a staff member who works the till and does a ‘cancel no sale’ to take some money out of the till without ringing up a transaction, for example, our system will automatically SMS the owner or the manager and say, ‘Hey, James has just done a cancel no sale and taken $50 out of the till’,” says Verlaque.
“We’ve done some site conversions or system setups for venues for as little as three or four thousand dollars.” James Verlaque, national sales manager of Vectron
Josh Franklin, general manager of Revel iPad POS Australia, says this type of real-time intelligence can extend to stock control, where the system prompts relevant parties automatically when the restaurant needs to order or replenish ingredients to get through the next few days or week.
Reckon you know how much everything on the menu costs to make? You may have a general idea, but a back office system can automate this procedure and give you the exact dollar amount, enabling you to make informed decisions about how much to charge for each item.
“Using a recipe creation system, you can put all of your raw, individual ingredients in, such as a kilo of flour, a kilo of butter, etc. When you then make a certain pastry, the system knows you’re using 100g of flour, 50g of butter, 50g of sugar, etc, and it will automatically know how much the pastry costs in total to make,” says Franklin.
He still sees plenty of smaller restaurants and cafes using paper-based systems, and says that when it comes to the end of the day, all the owner knows is how much cash has been taken into the till. “They’ve got no depth of knowledge as to how efficiently that business is running, and they have to perform time-consuming manual calculations for everything,” he says.
Upgrading to an integrated back office system isn’t only about making the existing processes more efficient—
it can also bring in additional income by introducing completely new functions like order ahead, online ordering and the ability to run customer loyalty programs.
Verlaque says a well-designed customer loyalty program can help a restaurant re-initialise customers and produce more revenue. “You can run a report that says, ‘Hey, give me all of my customers who haven’t visited me for the last couple of months’. The system can then automatically send them an email saying ‘Hey, we haven’t seen you for a couple of months. Have a coffee on me next time you’re in’.”
Finally, choosing a system that’s easy to use (for both the front- and back-end) and has a vendor that offers strong customer service and post-sales support will ensure that the transition occurs as seamlessly as possible. The fanciest and most high-tech back office system won’t get much use if you or your staff members can’t figure out how to use it, in which case you may as well have stuck with a simple cash register. While there are plenty of vendors that are happy to sell you their software from offices overseas, finding a vendor with a strong local presence will ensure you get access to things like training programs for all staff, access to an on-site technician during critical phases of the roll-out, and 24/7 support in case the system goes down.