Case Study: How a Melbourne restaurant uses clever IT to reduce workload

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Case Study: How a Melbourne restaurant uses clever IT to reduce workload

Jacqui Huismann and chef Karel Huismann quickly realised they needed to reduce the amount of paper involved in running suburban Melbourne restaurant Fedele’s Ristorante Italiano after they purchased it in 2013. The answer? Clever use of IT.

The manual systems in place when they took over the restaurant were very time consuming, and the hundreds of dockets, timesheets and other documents took up a lot of room. “Space is valuable — you want to use it for seating,” explains Jacqui.

Since Jacqui also works for MYOB, it’s not surprising that she uses AccountRight  for keeping the books, but it wasn’t an automatic choice. “I love numbers… I need powerful reporting,” says Jacqui. “We tried Xero but it didn’t feel powerful enough.”

That’s just one part of the way this small business has brought IT to bear.

Cooking the Books (in a good way)

Jacqui reduced the time needed to prepare the weekly payroll from two or three hours to a matter of minutes by adopting the Tanda cloud-based time and attendance software. The timesheet data is gathered via Tanda, which easily integrates with AccountRight to actually pay the wages. This allows Jacqui to do the job from wherever she happens to be, even while travelling overseas. And although making manual superannuation payments to the various funds was “really stressful” at first, Jacqui abandoned that approach in favour of MYOB’s Pay Super facility and now the task is “amazingly easy.”

Budgeting is also simplified with Tanda. Food and wages costs have to be less than a certain percentage of income “or you will fail,” she says. So the supervisory staff are given a weekly budget and plan the roster accordingly. “Before, you wouldn’t know that you were overspending on wages until it was too late.” And the way Tanda charges according to the number of people employed shows it understands its small business customers, adds Karel

The hospitality sector has run on “archaic” systems for years, he says, but modern software is making a big difference. Kitchen staff can order food supplies via the cloud-based system Cooking The Books, which provides visibility of what has been ordered, delivered and served.

“Every dish needs to be profitable,” he says, and Cooking The Books makes it easy to determine the actual cost of every item on the menu. It can also be used to encourage suppliers to tender for your business, because it reveals the items and quantities you could purchase from them, explains Jacqui.

Cost control is vitally important: given the competitive nature of the hospitality business there is only limited room to increase prices. “There are many ways of saving” now the necessary information is available from Cooking The Books or AccountRight, says Karel.

“It took 12 months for the kitchen staff to really understand the advantages of Cooking The Books, but now they love it,” says Jacqui.

Karel is now looking at Drinking The Profits, a similar Software as a Service (SaaS) offering from the same company but for the beverage side of a business. Although it is a very new system, he can see its potential.

The Pointy end of POS

A big advantage of modern software is that it is usually designed with integration in mind, so data can flow between systems with no effort on the user’s part. Fedele’s uses the iMPOS point of sale system to handle customers’ orders and bills. While iMPOS can integrate directly with AccountRight, Jacqui says they preferred to take advantage of its integration with Cooking The Books, which in turn integrates with AccountRight. That approach simplifies tasks such as stock checks, she explains. Looking to the future, they hope iMPOS will integrate with Tanda to help make more informed rostering decisions.

The pair examined several POS systems before settling on iMPOS as a replacement for the inherited system that could only output its reports to the receipt printer. At that time the restaurant’s internet connection was substandard, and Karel also found the cloud-based systems designed for use were not sufficiently stable. But iMPOS ticked all the boxes in terms of functionality and was available on subscription with good support, so that was their choice despite it being one of the most expensive options.

And when Chip and PIN became the norm for credit card transactions, they picked one of Tyro’s devices for the convenience of wireless operation and because it integrated with iMPOS. Another advantage of the Tyro card reader is that it simplifies bill-splitting, though there is still room for improvement, he says.

There was some concern in the industry that Chip and PIN transactions would reduce tipping, and that was the experience at Fedele’s. “Tips have dropped,” says Karel. Another problem was that customers feel a bit stressed over being asked to operate the device themselves and got confused when asked to tip via the device, so assistance is needed by the staff. 

Virtually thief-proof

It doesn’t help that some suppliers are still very much in the paper era. Jacqui says one company will send statements as PDF files, but all of its invoices are still on paper even though the software can send them electronically. “I have to scan every invoice as it comes in,” she says. Earlier this year, AccountRight gained the ability to process PDF or scanned invoices, storing them in the cloud along with the financial transaction. So Jacqui now scans every paper document as part of her workflow and no longer needs to worry about the potential loss of records as a result of fires or other catastrophes. “You can’t control suppliers. They’re still going to send paper invoices, but we don’t have to keep them.”

The decision to use primarily cloud-based systems paid off when the restaurant was burgled on the couple’s wedding day and the computers and external hard drives were stolen among other items - the thief was thought to have spotted the security cameras and was hoping to remove the evidence. In terms of getting back into action on the administration side, all that was necessary was to buy a new computer and get back to work. Fortunately the iMPOS system wasn’t stolen, but even if it had been, its data could have been recovered from a cloud backup service.

“Our entire recordkeeping is in the cloud, so there is no risk of losing a computer or not being able to find a piece of paper,” says Jacqui.

A Penny Saved

The couple’s accountant loves the system and only queried three items over the course of a year. “Our bill from the accountant was surprisingly low” and the savings roughly covered the cost of AccountRight, says Jacqui, who is also confident of the business’s position if it were subjected to an ATO audit.

“We haven’t done a single BAS on paper,” rather all returns have been lodged electronically, she says.

When Karel and Jacqui took over the restaurant, some bookings were coming via email, but that was inconvenient to administer. They tried a web-based booking service, but the fees of up to $6 per booking made it poor value for money. Fedele’s web site is based on WordPress, so they adopted the Redi Restaurant Reservation add-on that handles an unlimited number of bookings for €5 ($7) a month.

“The more you can integrate into your web site to give customers self-service, the better, even though that might sound strange for a hospitality business,” says Jacqui. She is looking for a mechanism for customers to provide private feedback, as the typical client is in their mid-50s: “n0t really the social media age” and often too polite to raise any issues on the spot.

Antisocial media

“Social media can be your best friend, your worst enemy,” says Jacqui. Someone who ignores the prices on the menu displayed on the web site and comes in expecting to pay $25 for an entire meal may leave a “really cruel” online review.

Karel noted the way Dimmi (one of the two big booking services in Australia, along with bookarestaurant) provides a mechanism that allows restaurants to decline bookings from ‘known difficult’ customers.

The varying policies of social media sites can present issues for businesses like Fedele’s. For example, when an ongoing business changes hands, Facebook makes it difficult for new owners to take over existing accounts, so they lose contact with existing customers. Conversely, Urbanspoon treats it as the same business, so any negative sentiments reflecting the previous owner’s performance tend to hold down the overall rating for some time despite any improvements that are made.

Still, getting 1000 Likes in 18 months was an achievement, “considering most of our existing clients don’t use Facebook,” says Jacqui.

The restaurant receives — and ignores — frequent messages from companies offering 100 purportedly real reviews on Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor and similar sites.

But Jacqui is using social media marketing with offers such as free wine or desserts to attract fortysomethings who normally travel into the city to dine out, though “we’re yet to be convinced that it really works.”

“It’s really hard to work out what works and what doesn’t,” she says. She has looked at social media use by restaurants around the world, and it only seems to be working for “young and trendy” establishments.

Marketing and Muzak

Fedele’s is also working with one of its wine suppliers that is running a ‘free bottle of wine’ program starting in July, in conjunction with the digital edition of the Herald Sun. People will be able to join online and then receive geotargeted messages when they are in the vicinity of a restaurant with a current offer.

Technology can help keep costs down in unexpected ways. Jacqui and Karel were initially faced with high copyright licence fees for the background music playing in the restaurant. The local licence was reasonable, but the international licence was based on the number of seats, prices and other factors, which made it very expensive.

So they switched to Zoo Business Media’s music service, which offers a good range of playlists including seasonal tunes, which are automatically downloaded and updated. “It saves us thousands of dollars,” says Jacqui, and that has helped with the installation of a new audio system to provide more consistent volume throughout the restaurant. “You shouldn’t skimp on technology that improves the customer experience,” she advises.

The reverse is also true. They decided against giving the table staff touchscreen devices for taking orders, because “keeping eye contact with customers is important.”

All told, using MYOB and the other software mentioned here has reduced the routine ‘book work’ from two hours a night to less than four hours a fortnight, so Jacqui is able to devote more time to marketing and she doesn’t have to worry about storing reams of paperwork.

“We have put a lot of technology into the restaurant, including a full AV fitout of our second dining room so it can be used as a mini conference centre. But tech does cost money, and it is important to consider the return on investment and the payback period” she says.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do in 18 months. We’re 80% of the way to our goal.”


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