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The Online Office

HR, marketing, you name it, there are new Web tools for any operation. Here’s how to streamline your business online.

Restaurants will always be firmly anchored in the bricks-and-mortar world, but the Internet is working its way into more and more aspects of their existence. It’s now possible for restaurants to conduct most of their business using Web tools—all the way from ordering to accounting to marketing. The key is finding and adopting the tools that are right for your needs—tools that can save you money, boost productivity and appeal to your young workforce. What does this look like in practice? Two restaurants reveal the tools that they rely on to keep their businesses rolling.

Bread & Company 

Bread & Company started as a family bakery in Nashville in 1992 long before anybody was really thinking much about the Internet’s existence. Now with four bakery and restaurant locations, co-owner and president John Clay has his sights set on growing the chain to 30 locations with the next decade. Before embarking on that journey, he decided to completely overhaul his company’s technology to take advantage of the latest Web tools that will help him scale out quickly to new locations. “When we open a new store, we don’t have to have our IT people go in and install all this software on all of these computers. We just have to have a Web browser,” says Clay.

Managing inventory, recipes and more

MonkeyMedia software’s Web-based operations tools handle a lot of the heavy lifting for Bread & Company. Clay uses two modules in particular: MonkeyBakery and MonkeyCatering. “Monkey helps us manage everything from inventory to recipe management to our internal ordering process to our wholesale business,” says Clay. “It gives our wholesale customers the ability to place orders and manage their accounts online.” Reporting, predictive ordering and waste management tools are folded into the program. “Through Monkey we order much more effectively, we sell out of our products less frequently and we waste less,” says Clay.

Price: Fees based on various licensing options with installation and setup starting around $5,000.

Tracking gift cards

Bread & Company recently launched a gift card and loyalty program through service provider Paytronix aimed attightening up their gift card process. “Up until this point we had a punch card based program and we had 13 different punch cards. We’ve been able to eliminate that program, which is fraught with potential for abuse,” says Clay. The system lets users register their cards online, keep track of their rewards and in turn helps Bread & Company keep track of their customers’ card use while offering incentives for repeat visits.

Getting a handle on hiring

In the high-turnover world of restaurants, the hiring process can be incredibly time consuming for managers. “Due to our growth we had to have a better way of managing our hiring process and reviewing applicants and finding the best people,” says Clay. He turned to Sysdine’s Web-based solution to manage and streamline the process. Sysdine handles online applications, screens potential candidates ahead of time, handles scheduling and even guides managers on what questions to ask before the interviews occur. The package continues to work beyond the initial interview process. Says Clay, “The system helps us manage the whole training process, once they’re hired it schedules their first 90 days of training and it gives us reports.” Since Sysdine handles and stores the applicants’ information remotely, Bread & Company doesn’t have to deal with securing and managing the sensitive data.

Price: Variable depending on modules, locations and number of employees.

HR online

Outsourced business services provider The Sommet Group has helped Bread & Company move a lot of human resources tasks online. “New employees go online to enroll in the Sommet system and by doing that they fill out all their I-9s, W-2s, W-4s and everything else they need to fill out during the hiring process,” says Clay. With 180 employees in his chain and more on the way, the online HR system takes a big burden off his company’s shoulders. “Eliminating all of the paper that can go along with the HR process is huge for me,” says Clay. “When you’re in a multi-unit environment, making sure everything gets to the right place and is filed appropriately takes resources.”

Price: Variable

E-employee schedules

With so many employee administrative needs online, it was a natural step to adopt online employee scheduling as well. Hot Schedules has been a big step up from the time consuming Excel spreadsheet method Bread & Company had been using. What once took hours, now takes a fraction of the time. “Hot Schedules manages that whole process electronically and allows our team to log onto the Web site and manage their schedules and request to trade shifts. It gives our managers great reporting tools to help manage overtime,” says Clay. Moving tools online doesn’t mean abandoning real world methods of working. Hot Schedules sends employees text messages with their weekly schedule and workers can call a toll free number to check their schedules if they don’t have computer access.

Price: The basic Core Edition starts at $30 per month.

The Frog and the Peach

Contemporary American cuisine restaurant The Frog and the Peach in New Jersey is a fine dining restaurant with one location, multiple dining rooms and a lot of special events to manage. Event planner Kara Stout is also responsible for updating the restaurant’s Web site. She ends up accessing their Web tools from home and when away on vacation, as well as from the restaurant itself. “Web-based tools save the restaurant money in the end as far as not losing things as much, but more importantly it earns us more. We are more accessible because of what we have on the Web,” says Stout.

Booking and planning events on your laptop

Tripleseat is a startup that provides Web-based customer relationship management and event planning software designed specifically for restaurants. The Frog and The Peach has been involved with the system since it first came out in beta form earlier in 2008. Tripleseat handles event scheduling, follow-up reminders, email alerts and banquet ordering. “When myself or any of the other managers take a lead, we go into the Web site. It’s easy to follow up, we don’t waste paper and they don’t have to read my handwriting,” says Stout. Customer information is maintained on the Web site to ease the process for future events and provide leads for potential business.

Price: $89 per month/per restaurant.

The reservation standard

OpenTable is familiar to most in the restaurant industry as an online reservation system, but The Frog and the Peach is using it for more than just booking tables. Says Stout, “If you use it to track your guests, it’s a huge asset. It leads straight into customer service. All of our comment cards with email addresses go into the OpenTable database and we track people, their dislikes and their allergies on there.” The Frog and the Peach uses that database to send out birthday cards and email marketing messages.

A little marketing assistance

Restaurant Passion is an online restaurant directory focused on New Jersey and New York. The Frog and the Peach uses the site to showcase photos, video and a virtual tour for prospective customers. It also lets them offer online ordering for gift certificates that the managers can attend to at their convenience. “We’re a really small restaurant so everyone does several different jobs. When a gift certificate order comes in, they fax it in and email it. I can then handle it when I have the chance to read it,” says Stout.

Helping your customers find their way

Sometimes it’s the simple tools that make a big difference. Customers that go to frogandpeach.com can access a built-in Google Map that shows the restaurant’s location and provides driving directions. “People like it,” says Stout. The interactive map is much more effective than a static picture or general text directions since it can generate specific driving instructions from wherever the customer is located.

Price: Free


A few other tools

Advertising
MealChime.com: This local restaurant search startup originally launched with coverage of the St. Louis, Missouri area in mid-2008 with big plans for expansion. Restaurants can sign up to join the directory and offer special deals to users.

Email marketing
Constant Contact (constantcontact.com): Restaurants can build and manage email lists, create marketing emails and monitor the response to email campaigns. Services start at $15 per month.

Labor Management
Attendance on Demand (attendance-ondemand.com): This Web hosted employee time and attendance system lets you handle scheduling, budgeting and time cards online.

 

Management

eRestaurant from Altametrics (altrametrics.com): Back office, supply chain, workforce management and marketing are some of the facets of this wide reaching online restaurant management system.

Merchandising
Hungry Potato (hungrypotato.com): Hungry Potato takes those online merchandise selling headaches off your hands. You send them your merchandise and they handle product photography, ordering and shipping. They take a 20 percent commission (10 percent for gift certificates).

POS
Halo (myhalo.com): Even your point of sale system can be Web-based. Halo takes all the familiar POS functions and reinvents them as a secure and affordable online service with an offline feature to keep things running even if your Internet goes down.

Web site
Microsoft Small Business Live (smallbusiness.officelive.com):

For a quick do-it-yourself Web site, Microsoft’s service lets you build and manage a Web presence using simple online tools. The basic site is free, but you can pay to register a domain and add on extra services.

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