Educated guesses are a valuable tool in restaurant management, but could back office software help keep you on top of your game? Lucy Robertson logs on.
Computers have been helping managers run their businesses for decades, just like digital point-of-sale systems have been keeping restaurateurs on top of their menu ever since Bill Gates was a boy. But what about those finely tuned elements of the production going on behind the scenes? The experience of a chef or caterer often drives most of the daily decisions in a restaurant, and those gut feelings can be priceless in getting the balance right. But with a host of integrated back office software packages on the market, restaurateurs need to ask themselves if there’s a more exact science to making key running decisions, like what quantities to prepare, how many employees to assign or how new specials will affect the regular menu.
Siobhan Mulvahil from management software manufacturer TriniTEQ says back office systems can streamline any business, but are particularly beneficial in the hospitality industry.
“These kinds of systems end up saving restaurateurs quite a lot of money by eliminating wastage in both food and time. Combined with a point-of-sale system, back office software can also help with specific menu control functions like up-selling certain items or counting down specials on the floor,” she says.
Mulvahil explains the best way to use management software is to integrate different elements into a whole-business package. This way, the potential time and cost savings are applied to every stage of the operation.
However, she says every business has different needs and probably needs a tailor-made system to get the best performance.
“Any system is only as good as the way you construct it. Integration is also very important—it’s vital to get a system that is compatible with any other systems being used.”
While automated ordering systems that incorporate hand-held devices used by wait staff and real-time communication between the floor and the kitchen are nothing new in the food industry, back office systems offer a more complete picture of the business and are increasingly becoming a better way of managing food service operations.
National sales manager for software designer RedCat, Spiro Vournazos, says most restaurateurs are very familiar with front-of-house systems, but says back-office software simply allows them to collate and use the information.
“They basically take the manual work out of a restaurant manager’s job, with information like payroll, stock ordering and financial data made readily available and accessible. They are all obvious benefits,” he says.
According to Vournazos, hospitality businesses will benefit in two key areas by using back office systems.
“Financials are one of the most important areas when it comes to collating information and generating reports,” he says. Details like what menu items are ordered, when they are sold, which staff members are doing the most selling and other administrative information like GST and payroll hours can all be tracked with back office software that’s integrated into the point of sale system. Managers can then run reports using this data and easily identify the strengths of the menu, what time periods and staff members are most profitable, or what areas need to be improved.
“The second most important thing is stock management. Things like tracking suppliers, generating and monitoring accounts, what to re-order and when,” Vournazos says.
Other more tailored capabilities of back office systems include tracking loyalty programs, managing memberships fees for other parts of the business like accommodation or an attached golf club, controlling accounting elements like tax, or calculating the individual costings of new menu items and daily specials.
“The list is endless, and really depends on the individual needs of the business,” Vournazos says.
It’s this capacity to monitor loyalty programs and target specific groups of customers that is making integrated back office software appealing—particularly at the high end of the market.
Melbourne restaurant and wine bar, Botanical, has been using integrated automated management systems in its two-hatted dining, lounge and function space since start-up. Using a combination of H&L point-of-sale software with a ResPAK reservation system, national marketing manager Sarah Murray says the technology allows them to provide a higher level of personal service.
“We’re able to track our VIP customers and monitor things like their preferred dishes and table locations. We can also keep on top of little details like the names of customer’s partners, their birthday, that sort of thing.”
Murray says while the software helps manage inventory and staffing, these elements often take a backseat to more targeted marketing functions.
“The main benefit for us is in driving revenue. We can also easily see where our revenue streams are coming from and who our best customers are,” she says.
In a bid to attract more functions to Botanical, a web-based program has also been recently rolled out through the restaurant. Through online venue management site, YourFunction.com, and in conjunction with a complementary software package used in-house, Murray says she is able to perform targeted functions like menu analysis and detailed customer profiling for special events.
“Like the integrated software we use for our day-to-day management of the restaurant and bar, the YourFunction system allows us to provide a better service and drive our function revenue,” she says.