“They (Restaurant Magic Software) came up with an ingenious way to track it that saves us a significant amount of money,” says Paasch.
“Liquor was one of those items that we had no idea how much we were using. We now have a way to track and control that. Other vendors said they could not solve that problem. Restaurant Magic’s team solved it in two weeks.”
The Wisconsin Hospitality Group (WHG) owns and operates 41 Applebee’s restaurants and 83 Pizza Huts, for a total of 124 establishments. Its sales have grown to the point where it is now the largest food service franchise company in Wisconsin. The company is driven by two main principles: People and Profit. From this they derive their corporate slogan, “Have Fun, Make Money!”. Although WHG is a multi-unit, multi-chain owner / operator, its IT department works across both brands. As the company and its restaurants grew, they found their growth outpacing the ability of IT’s vendor-supplied software applications to provide financial and operational data in a timely manner while simplifying the process of reporting across the board. After eight years of being tied to the same vendor and an application that had not changed in that time, WHG began looking for a better solution that could help facilitate the company’s growth and simplify its reporting.
Under a mandate from CFO Jason Westhoff, Peter Paasch, the company’s Information Technology Director, and others on his team made the trip to the 2008 Multi-Unit Restaurant Technology Conference (MURTEC) to investigate new technologies. Paasch is a corporate officer who made his reputation working in software development for the aerospace industry, not in the restaurant business. His orientation to software is more toward the technical quality of the application’s architecture.
WHG had a number of corporate initiatives requiring up-to-date data, as well as demands from the financial analysts for simplified, timely consolidated reporting. Plans were also in place to migrate from one payroll processing vendor to another, producing a complicated integration requirement for whatever software solutions Paasch and his team recommended. Additionally, the company was using SQL as its point-of-sale application, requiring another integration effort.
From an operational standpoint, the managers at the restaurants required something simple. In the restaurant business, the managers’ primary duties require them to be on the floor ensuring things flow smoothly so customers experience an enjoyable, hassle-free evening out. These are managers gifted with people and management skills, as well as an appreciation for the culinary arts. They are typically not inclined to technology and its uses. Given this, WHG knew going in that whatever applications they chose, ease of use and user experience were top-of-mind requirements. WHG had also started down the path of using the software in use by other Applebee’s franchisees. However, Paasch objected to its web-based capabilities, reasoning that an application that could not be used during a network outage might create more problems than it solved.
Solutions & Benefits
At MURTEC, Paasch and his team took notice of Restaurant Magic and its Data Central product. Screen shots and demos left an indelible impression in Paasch’s mind that this was a product built by people who understood software and simplifying the user experience. “Data Central’s design was different from anything I’d seen from previous vendors,” Paasch says. “Our managers require software to work for them throughout the day. So many applications in our industry are built to collect data at the end of the day. Data Central’s design allows you to collect the data when it’s convenient or necessary for us. If a manager needs something to move from the point of sale system into Data Central, he can do that because he has both a client and software to use, not just a website.” Data Central is designed to work in an offline state, allowing managers to complete day books, cash out servers and collect money, all without any requirement for Internet access.
Paasch and his team also discovered that Data Central could handle the company’s requirement for consolidated reporting. “Data Central does everything at the restaurant level that we need it to do,” Paasch says. “This includes scheduling features, cash management and local reporting; but it also rolls all the data up throughout the organization.” Financial analysts receive current consolidated reporting and those corporate initiatives that have been set in motion now have up-to-the-minute data supporting decisions.
Given that WHG’s IT department spans both brands, integrating Data Central with the SQL point-of-sales application was crucial. According to Paasch, Restaurant Magic’s performance in this area was exemplary. “Restaurant Magic had never integrated Data Central with SQL point-of-sale before,” he said. “They got that set up in a very impressive manner. There were no extra charges involved; Restaurant Magic took care of it.”
The integration with the WHG payroll systems also testified to Restaurant Magic’s commitment to customer service. In 2009, WHG was scheduled to switch over to a new payroll system, meaning that Restaurant Magic, which had come on board in October in 2008, had to not only integrate Data Central with the new payroll system but also with the old. One of the truisms in business, and especially the restaurant business, is that you can’t miss payroll, and WHG’s timeline for payroll is, in Paasch’s words, “tight.” Unfortunately, the problems didn’t surface until WHG started doing parallel payrolls using Data Central. “Restaurant Magic put in so much time because our payroll vendor just didn’t have the updated information available for use in finishing the integration,” he says. “Their developers worked on the weekends and at night. In the end, Restaurant Magic stepped up and got the implementation in because that’s what we needed.”
Along the way, Restaurant Magic provided a solution to a long-time WHG problem. In the restaurant business, one of the biggest challenges is understanding how much liquor a restaurant has on hand based on what’s been sold. For years, WHG had been asking its vendors to help find a solution to what they had termed “theoretical liquor” with very little response. Restaurant Magic solved that problem. “They came up with an ingenious way to track it that saves us a significant amount of money,” says Paasch. “Liquor was one of those items that we had no idea how much we were using. We now have a way to track and control that. Other vendors said they could not solve that problem. Restaurant Magic’s team solved it in two weeks.”
When most companies move to a new vendor and new application, they hope for two things: A very quick return on their initial investment in the technology and savings through improved efficiencies. Restaurant Magic’s Data Central delivered both to WHG. After using Data Central for almost a year now, Paasch enumerates the various ways in which the application has positively impacted WHG’s financial picture. “The upfront investment was minimal for us,” he says. “To get Data Central set up, and have a few customizations built and installed, was less than we expected. In fact, for 41 stores, it could be considered cheap.”
WHG’s ROI on a month-to-month cost basis is also solid. “Data Central does everything our other software did and more, and costs us less month-to-month,” says Paasch. “We’re saving money every month, just from a dollar-to-dollar perspective with the time savings provided to the IT group and the financial group. With the superior quality and timeliness of the information available now, we’re saving 15 to 20 hours per week for four people on tasks that don’t have to happen anymore. Every month, we’re paying Restaurant Magic less money than we paid the vendors they replaced. We have a much better, more robust product, more accurate and timely information, much better support, and continual and constant upgrades so the product is always improving. Restaurant Magic and Data Central deserve a look from anyone in our business.”