314 Hospitality Group Empowers Managers to Make Real-Time, Data Driven Decisions with Restaurant365

Background

314 Hospitality Group operates eight restaurant locations across the St. Louis area and Washington, D.C. Famous for its pizza at Pi Pizzeria, the restaurant group has also recently opened up Pi + ¡RICO! MEXICAN, combining its classic pizza menu and a new Mexican concept.

Pi Pizzeria has been the recipient of many awards, including “Best Pizza in DC” on Trip Advisor and a winner of best pizza and other recognitions in St. Louis’ local Riverfront Times multiple years in a row.

Aside from making the tastiest pizzas with the freshest ingredients, Pi Pizzeria prides itself on taking care of its awesome team by paying a higher minimum wage, minimizing its carbon footprint with sustainable purchases and practices, and giving back to the community.

Challenge

Before adopting Restaurant365 four years ago, accounting and operations looked significantly different for the Pi Pizzeria team.

Cary McDowell, Corporate Executive Chef with 314 Hospitality Group and Pi Pizzeria, explained that like many restaurant groups, almost every element of operations was done manually. A few people managed the restaurant group with overly complex systems built on Excel spreadsheets.

For inventory example, Mr. McDowell explained, one team member would count stock by hand, using paper and a clipboard. Then, someone else would input the numbers into an electronic format and review for accuracy. Because of the tedious process, errors frequently stemmed from inputting or saving numbers incorrectly, becoming time consuming to correct.

These manual systems for accounts payable (AP) and inventory consumed a lot of labor hours, explained Mr. McDowell. In addition to the labor for stock counts, “someone would spend at least two to four hours a week at a desk in the office, inputting and categorizing invoices,” he said.

Finally, a report was generated and distributed via email, and a meeting was scheduled to discuss a response to the report. This data was always “a week behind, based on invoices and sales from last week,” said Mr. McDowell.

There were real business implications because of this outdated data. “At best, they can do something today about an issue that they should have done something about seven days ago,” he added.

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“It happens almost instantaneously. The invoice comes over and we just go down to check and verify. It takes 60 seconds an invoice,” said Mr. McDowell.

Solution

After adopting Restaurant365, Pi Pizzeria was able to implement major time-saving operational changes that also led to more timely and accurate data.

Mr. McDowell recounted an example: previously, if a 220-piece US Food invoice came in, it would take a manager almost an hour just to input that one invoice.

But R365’s AP Automation, fully compatible with Toast, Pi Pizzeria’s Point of Sale (POS) system, made approving outstanding AP invoices on a monthly basis take minutes, not hours. “It happens almost instantaneously. The invoice comes over and we just go down to check and verify. It takes 60 seconds an invoice,” said Mr. McDowell.

Because Restaurant365 AP Automation and inventory management are part of the R365 all-in-one restaurant management system, the accounts or product prices are updated in real time. “The work is literally done for you,” joked Mr. McDowell.

He mentioned that while there is a top-level approval process for making sure invoices are correct, the automated import of invoices into the system “saves an entire layer of operations labor and time.”

Other processes, like counting inventory, were also streamlined by the use of Restaurant365. “People, myself included, used to have nightmares about inventory,” laughed Mr. McDowell.

In January 2021, Restaurant365 introduced several new operations-focused features with its Smart Ops Release.  By that time, Pi Pizzeria had been using Restaurant365 for four years when the restaurant group signed up to be an “early adopter” for the updated features.

For Mr. McDowell, there were specific reasons to become an early adopter. “I wanted to be a part of Smart Ops as quickly as possible because of the tools for scheduling and inventory—those two things are the things that are the most impactful to our business,” he explained.

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“I wanted to be a part of Smart Ops as quickly as possible because of the tools for scheduling and inventory—those two things are the things that are the most impactful to our business,” Mr. McDowell explained.

Mr. McDowell described the update as “seamless and so integrated,” with an ease of use that is a real benefit for himself and his team. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say this, but a lot of restaurant people, myself included, are super creative people and we often freeze up when we see spreadsheets and databases,” he said.

With an overall presentation that is even “easier and intuitive” than before, plus an interface consistent with everyone’s modern smart phone, Mr. McDowell explained that Restaurant365’s operations update helped engage his staff. The functionality in the back end is helpful for everyone, “from the accountant in the office to a dishwasher trying to figure out their schedule.”

“Where the suite sits now is super exciting and super easy to use,” he stated.

For example, Mr. McDowell is able to streamline the inventory process for his staff. As an administrator, he uses the drag and drop feature to create a “sheet to shelf” inventory list. Mentioning his wine bar as an example, he explained how he can match the order of the list to the physical location of each item in restaurant storage.

“You can really dial in the app and make things as seamless as possible for your team,” he explained. “Drag and drop makes it infinitely easier to update and keep fresh over time, a really big time saver.”

In addition to ease of use, the operations updates offer even more visibility across all locations. “From a food and beverage perspective, the largest problem is the timeliness of understanding data,” said Mr. McDowell. “To have real-time information was like a dream come true.”

Accessing sales information from the integrated POS system allows for data-driven decisions. Mr. McDowell recounted that he can understand the exact recipe costing of a pizza on a specific day of the week, down to the ingredient prices updated from the latest invoice. With this visibility, he can adjust prices in real time to keep the margin intact, if needed.

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“And that is the biggest gift of Restaurant365 in a real world scenario, because you can immediately make decisions like that,” he added.

With inventory and stock data in Restaurant365, Mr. McDowell can also “easily and fluidly” run reports from wherever he is. For instance, he mentioned that he hadn’t visited the restaurant group’s Washington D.C. location in more than a year.

“But I manage that store on a daily basis because of Restaurant365. Beyond the obvious sense of not physically being there, I still feel super connected—because all we have to do is look at the invoices in the cloud.”

One of Mr. McDowell’s other favorite new features in Restaurant365 is the mobile input mode with auto save.

“Different managers can take partial counts and it blends together in real time,” he explained. Half the stock may be counted during the day, half at night, but all the stock count data is accessible to everyone in real time. Plus, he added, “it can be done on what most everyone owns, which is a cell phone or a tablet.”

Similarly, the auto save feature and offline mode are incredibly helpful for the team. Mr. McDowell acknowledged the well-known industry truth that inventory is frequently stored in walk-ins, freezers, or external building storage, where there may not be wi-fi connection.

However, with the offline mode, “you can trust the stuff you’re putting in will save correctly. You know things aren’t going to get lost, they’ll just sync to the cloud when you get connected—just like photos, etc., do on your personal phone.”

Finally, with new innovations in the Smart Labor and scheduling tools, Mr. McDowell noted new updates for controlling his labor costs. Recently, he had changed the structure of some positions to reflect an operational change to carry out only at a certain location. After adjusting the forecasting, he recounted, he was able to turn it over to the managers so they could adjust their team schedules.

The best part, he said, is that “the managers will use the Smart Labor dashboard because they’re able to do it on their own instead of me having to tell them.”

Results

Overall, Mr. McDowell said that Restaurant365 and the new upgrade have simplified operations for Pi Pizzeria. “Because things are accessible in the cloud immediately, it eliminated the manual management of extraneous paper, plus the time it takes to distribute things amongst the team,” he explained. “It’s fantastic.”

Mr. McDowell said exact labor savings were hard to quantify, but that the restaurant group is saving many labor hours getting rid of manual processes.

For instance, for the inventory process, “in our organization, it saves about a week of ‘in the end’ distribution of data from start to finish.” With the easy sheet to shelf inventory method, team members save time counting and, more importantly, produce more accurate counts.

The smart functionality details are helpful as well, Mr. McDowell reported, citing the alert generated when an inventory taker inputs a number that is far outside the historical average. “The little nuances in the software alerting someone that ‘hey, this is five times the amount of sugar you usually have, are you sure?’ make everything so much more accurate,” he explained.

“I built a restaurant this year and there isn’t a desk or a terminal,” said Mr. McDowell. “And a lot of that had to do with Restaurant365…managers can do everything they need to do from a tablet in the restaurant.”

“Now, the inventory counter gets an alert, they correct it, and it rarely even becomes an issue.”

The breadth of reporting and accuracy has helped the restaurant group with controlling Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS), allowing the team to look at things “more quickly and nimbly.”

This has been essential particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only has Restaurant365 helped the team to react to closures or restrictions in real time, Mr. McDowell said, but it has also allowed the team to work individually, even while more remotely.

In the end, though, Restaurant365 has helped transform what accounting and operations look like within 314 Hospitality Group.

“Ultimately, it helps get people doing what they should be doing. Bar people can work the bar and not have to go work spreadsheets and do costing for four hours. Cooks can cook, servers can serve, managers can be on the floor and present instead of hiding out in an office with cumbersome analytics and super dated spreadsheets.”

“I built a restaurant this year and there isn’t a desk or a terminal,” said Mr. McDowell. “And a lot of that had to do with Restaurant365…managers can do everything they need to do from a tablet in the restaurant.”

Best of all, the new operations features have helped cultivate more responsibility between managers, reported Mr. McDowell. With Smart Labor, the store-level managers can see “exactly where they are today. They have historical data, forecast data, and they can make real decisions,” he said. “That’s almost priceless, now.”

While this certainly saves dollars for the company, Mr. McDowell also recounted that the other main benefit is that “it makes the team feel like they’re making a decision that can positively impact the business, like they’re actually managing something. They see it, instead of there being another layer of regional management telling them how good or bad they’re doing.”

With food costs, for example, managers can actively make decisions mid-way through the week, “instead of talking about it after the fact, when there’s really nothing you can do.”

“It makes my job easier,” he added, explaining that he doesn’t have to take the time to give managers data when they are able to see it themselves. “My kitchen managers are now looking at a P&L and understanding what they’re managing.”

With all of these efficiencies and innovations, what advice would Mr. McDowell give to an operator considering Restaurant365?

“Anybody that wants to grow their company and do multi-unit, multi-location, multi-state operations, it’s indispensable—because you don’t have to manage and do a lot of the heavy lifting of carrying all that data exponentially.”

“Anybody that wants to grow their company and do multi-unit, multi-location, multi-state operations, it’s indispensable—because you don’t have to manage and do a lot of the heavy lifting of carrying all that data exponentially.”

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