Full-service operator Restaurants Unlimited Inc. is benefitting from tying in-store systems to web-based tools, vice president of information technology Patrick Irwin said.
Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, which is owned by Sun Capital Partners, operates 46 restaurants under 21 different brands, including Kincaid’s Classic American Dining, Newport Bay Restaurant, Palomino Restaurant & Bar and Standford’s Restaurant & Bar.
Irwin, a seven-year Restaurants Unlimited veteran, was previously director of information systems for Perkins Family Restaurants and director of accounting and international systems for McDonald’s Corp. He also has operated a franchised Perkins restaurant and led a software company.
Nation’s Restaurant News spoke with Irwin about recent IT projects.
1. What IT projects has Restaurants Unlimited recently completed and what benefits do they provide?
A tips reporting system delivered a tremendous financial benefit. Developing an interface for the POS [point of sale] system to capture tips was straightforward, but there was complexity in designing a POS-web interface to navigate the 38 different processes our restaurants developed over the years for allocating tips to hostess pools, expeditors and bussers.
We wrote software for the Micros POS system that takes servers to a web page before they can clock out. That screen displays their credit card tips for the shift and lets them allocate dollars to other servers or pools. At end of day, restaurant managers allocate the dollars in pools to the employees in those pools. All the information is fed into an SQL database and is automatically pulled into the payroll process and available to generate IRS form 8027.
A web-based financial workbook system that eliminated spreadsheets led to a 50-percent drop in the time managers spent doing financial reporting. Restaurant managers can access up to eight web forms through the company intranet that are pre-populated with sales data captured by an enterprise SQL database. Server balancing, safe counts, transfers and inventory are typical forms managers review. Since all data flow from POS systems, adjustments are rare, accuracy is improved and manual intervention is eliminated at all levels. On a daily basis, restaurants have access to current and historical balancing reports, sales reports and P&L data.
2. Do you have IT deployments under way or in planning? What spurred them?
Over the next year we plan to expand our company intranet reach from corporate office and restaurant management teams to every employee. The use of in-restaurant kiosks, tablets and smartphones will be the foundation. We plan to deliver short video training, pass on relevant company news and use online forms with workflow to replace many paper forms. Timely communication to all employees builds a strong team focused on common initiatives that ultimately lead to a great guest experience.
In 2012 we will begin developing and deploying a social media strategy that integrates our websites and loyalty, guest e-mail, restaurant check-in and POS systems. The intent is to have a coordinated approach to following and recognizing our guests from the time they receive an email or loyalty offer through their dining experience. Additionally, we will be able to better understand what motivates a guest to dine in our restaurant and potentially individualize offers.
3. What IT developments are you excited about because of possible applications to foodservice?
The movement, albeit slow, towards a device-independent, cloud- or enterprise-hosted, multi-tier POS system will open the door for cost effective, innovative capabilities, such as real-time communication between restaurants for sales contests, labor tracking and rapid hardware integration. Being able to easily handle catering or remote events without struggling to connect hardware will increase sales opportunities.
I am looking forward to the innovations in guest-oriented table systems that can handle payments securely and allow guests to interact with restaurant staff and marketing systems and order food or drink.