Ultra Steak has been a mainstay outside Indianapolis, Indiana since the 1960s. The company, which today is the nation’s largest Texas Roadhouse franchisee, started in the grocery store business before moving to restaurants in 1979. Since opening its first Sizzler that year, Ultra Steak has grown to 23 restaurants and four brands, including Aspen Creek Grill and Aspen Tap House, employing 2,500 people nationwide.
Until 2019, however, Ultra Steak had a laundry list of problems with its generic accounting software: Microsoft Great Plains. Each location needed to house and maintain its own server. Gathering and producing reliable data to control costs and boost efficiencies was so time-consuming and error-ridden it was nearly impossible.
“We really had nothing in the cloud, nothing integrated, and nothing restaurant specific,” said Kevin O’Bold, Ultra Steak’s vice president of finance.
O’Bold and his team noticed those three features when the group first met Restaurant365 in 2018 at the National Restaurant Association’s annual show. Since implementing the integrated, cloud-based, all-in-one Restaurant Enterprise Management platform, Ultra has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on staple menu ingredients like ribs alongside hundreds of hours of administrative work as it transformed into a data-driven organization that embraces technology to drive efficiency and growth.
Ultra Steak’s operational and administrative challenges before moving to R365 were similar to those the industry has long struggled with and that many operators today continue to wrestle.
“Our back-office system didn’t talk or integrate with our accounting system, and that accounting system was very general… we had no financial metrics,” O’Bold said.
Time & Money in the Bank
In place of reliable data, Ultra used what it called non-financial metrics or tracking units, which were KPIs like labor and sales data tacked onto profit-and-loss statements. But even that data, often a point of contention, was difficult and time-consuming to produce. A data file needed to be extracted from each of Ultra’s 23 locations and reconciled with banking records before any numbers could be crunched. Each of the company’s stores also had its own administrative assistant who spent 20 hours a week on this and other paperwork like submitting invoices and payroll.
Almost immediately after moving to Restaurant365, Ultra immediately cut that time per store down by 35%, and today it’s half what it once was.
“The biggest change overnight was moving from a static system to a dynamic system,” O’Bold said.
Previously, Ultra Steak’s leaders input theoretical data, but those figures changed item-to-item, recipe-to-recipe, and month-by-month. With Restaurant365, the company no longer had to rely on managers and operators to enter information manually and could instead pull accurate, updated figures condensed into a single file.
“Managers could then get data right away, even seeing it before multi-unit operators so they could fix a count or whatever they needed to do. It just made us more efficient,” O’Bold added.
Instead of spending time reconciling numbers and hosting a debate on data reliability, everyone across the company could have meaningful, actionable conversations to boost Ultra’s bottom line.
Over the past year, Ultra Steak used this data to uncover significant savings, including $58,000 on ribs at its Aspen Creek Grill and Aspen Tap House concepts and $48,000 on lettuce when the price of a case spiked above $100 in mid-November 2022.
Reporting Better Margins
That success is due not only to Restaurant365’s ability to provide Ultra Steak with fast, accurate, actionable reports but to Ultra’s commitment to embracing and using restaurant technology to its full potential.
“Our corporate chef or product coach can pull up custom financial reports and actually see item cost trends and say, “Wow, it’s been stable for so long, and then boom, I saw this spike, I need to talk to purchasing. We have to figure out a substitute,”” O’Bold said. That ability was vital over the past couple of years when prices, during the pandemic, had to be either managed down to the cent day in and day out or carefully monitored as food prices continued to rise.
Ultra Steak also uses Restaurant365’s full suite of menu engineering tools and capabilities, such as the menu item analysis that shows the margin and quantities of menu items to analyze the popularity and profitability of each menu item ranked against each other and provides a category that has a call to action associated with it.
“We’re always digging into that report to see what we can do to move a dish that’s a puzzle or an opportunity to star,” O’Bold said. “Anytime we get into pricing discussions, we’re always using that to look at our margins to make sure we’re focused on the right items and doing the right thing with them for our customers and our bottom line.”
Tools to Grow
Restaurant365 also proved invaluable during the pandemic when Ultra Steak made a commitment not to lay off any staff and instead scrambled to sell pre-mixed cocktails, to-go foods, and grocery items like produce baskets and house-cut meat.
“Having all of those changes all at once and trying to adapt on the fly, not only did we need the reporting in real-time, but we needed the mapping to happen very quickly,” O’Bold said. “With EDI integration with our mainline supplier and Restaurant365, we could easily update those right away. It took off all the backend work of inventory or theoretical or trying to figure out substitutions.”
That ease of use, particularly in connecting Ultra Steak’s operations to its accounting system and general ledger, has proved especially useful as the company has seen its delivery and takeout revenues remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Restaurant365’s similarly streamlined accounts payable tools, AP Payments and AP Center, have helped Ultra Steak save thousands of dollars and hours moving from physical checks to ACH payments and digital checks. Previously, Ultra made 6,000 payments per year via hard checks at about $5 each. At their last review, O’Bold said the company tallied 3,500 ACH transfers and 2,200 virtual checks and saved about $2 each time it moved a vendor payment from a paper check to digital.
Given Ultra Steak’s success in honing its business model, it might seem like smooth sailing from here on out, but O’Bold said the opposite. Given the dynamic nature of and challenges in the restaurant industry, he said the company is looking to further centralize its business on Restaurant365’s all-in-one platform and use every available technology tool to streamline operations while driving top and bottom-line growth.
“We try to use Restaurant365 as much as possible. I think having the one-stop shop has always been appealing to us, and we know we can integrate more,” O’Bold said. “Restaurant365 has been a total game changer for us, not only from the accounting side but from operations as well.”