"Any company with multiple restaurants will find it to be a great tool. I know it makes our restaurants very attractive to potential franchisees, which is good for growth. We appreciate the application, and the people who support us in its use. We are excited to see how far we can go- and grow- with Data Central."
There are two ways to run a franchised operation: Either you mandate to the franchisees how everything is to be run, down to how they prepare the food, what cups they order and what systems they use; or you allow the franchisees some latitude in how the units can be managed. The reality is that most people appreciate having a little freedom to do things their way because it makes everything seem a little more like it belongs to them.
However, if a company follows the latitude model in dealing with franchisees, it can create challenges later. When people get used to doing things a certain way, they struggle when change comes- and in business, change is going to come- even if the change is for the better. This was the dilemma that the Melting Pot and GrillSmith restaurants faced when they wanted to update the franchise back-office systems from what they had been using to Restaurant Magic’s Data Central. Melting Pot and Grillsmith Data Central Operations Manager, Cindy Smith, is one of the people intimately involved in making this change happen.
“We opened our first restaurant in 1975 in Maitland, near Orlando,” says Smith, who has been with the company almost as long as Data Central has been installed there. “Today, we operate 150 units, consisting of six company-owned GrillSmith restaurants and five company-owned Melting Pot restaurants. The remaining 139 units are operated by franchisees across America and in Canada.”
The Challenge of Change
Since the franchisees were initially given quite a bit of latitude operationally, this resulted in a mixed bag of systems. And because many of the franchise owners are “restaurant people” as opposed to "accounting people" they were slow, at first, to see the benefits that could be derived from a robust application such as Data Central. “Our franchise is an older one and many of those who came aboard early on had different levels of experience with computers, they used different point of sale (POS) systems, they had gotten comfortable doing things with QuickBooks and spreadsheets, and they were not comfortable with having to change anything involving their computers or accounting processes.”
However, the management of the company realized that continued growth and control of expenses were key items that had to be accomplished. And they knew that they had to improve the quality of their reporting in order to get an accurate picture of how each store was performing. Enter Steve Roberts, Founder and CEO of Restaurant Magic, developers of Data Central. A powerful back-office application, Data Central delivers information and reporting to any web-connected Windows PC in your organization- even when working from home.
However, like most leading-edge technology, Data Central has a minimum set of system requirements that users must have in order to take advantage of the application’s impressive feature set. This meant changes for many of the franchisees. Also, to take full advantage of the accurate reporting and real-time business intelligence capabilities of Data Central, accurate data entry was required. “It was difficult building the credibility of Data Central at first, just because so many people were set in their ways,” Smith says. “But Steve showed us what the application was capable of doing and explained how it could benefit us all by helping us improve performance and reporting. Now we depend on it to give us real-time information on unit performance and we can fix problem areas quickly, keeping things running smoothly.”
Improved and consistent performance reporting is just one of the many advantages the company has derived from mandating the implementation of Data Central. “It has really helped us tighten up our operation controls,” says Smith. “Data Central helps us save time on invoicing, it helps us control our inventory and it helps us control labor.”
Integrating for Improved Information
Another key area of concern for the company were the various POS systems- Aloha, Squirrel, MICROS, Maitre’D and others- in use throughout the franchises. Integration with these systems is sometimes easy- as in the case of Aloha- but a little more challenging with others. Still, Restaurant Magic’s crack programming team gets the job done. “We required some B2B integration put into place at the administrative level,” Smith says. “Programmers from both companies had to work together extensively to make sure we could link the items we needed linked so the invoices accurately flow down to the unit level. The Data Central team is extremely responsive in this regard. This helps us save a lot of time with our invoicing.”
One other aspect of Data Central that Smith appreciates is the high level of support Restaurant Magic provides. “The Data Central Request System is a real help to us,” she says. “We submit requests for changes and they take a good hard look at what we need, and do their very best to accommodate us, either by custom programming or inclusion of the suggestions in new releases of the application. Not every company out there does that; many of them say, ‘Here it is…take it and use it’ and that’s their bottom line. We appreciate Restaurant Magic’s commitment to us as a customer.”
Fantastic Forum...And More!
Cindy is also a fan of the Data Central forum. “The forum is fantastic,” she states emphatically. “For a while, there were so many changes happening that, in terms of our training and documentation, we had trouble keeping up. Also, every new release meant changes to the documentation and training materials, which meant increased costs in printing.” The company’s franchisees can now access the forum directly, asking questions and present situations, and get expert guidance from the Data Central team. Restaurant Magic also provides a wiki offering comprehensive user documentation and built-in training materials. “Data Central’s Forum takes that documentation burden off our shoulders, and that has been a tremendous benefit,” says Smith.
She appreciates the professionalism and expertise of the Data Central team. “There are so many talented, committed people working there,” she says. “They are incredibly responsive and their communication is always timely and clear. I want to thank them all for being such a support to us.”
As for Data Central itself, Smith isn’t quite sure how any restaurant or chain manages without it. “As far as detail and accuracy of its reporting, it is very thorough and comprehensive,” Cindy says. “Any company with multiple restaurants will find it to be a great tool. I know it makes our restaurants very attractive to potential franchisees, which is good for growth. We appreciate the application, and the people who support us in its use. We are excited to see how far we can go- and grow- with Data Central.”