It’s a familiar sight: the back-of-house office overflowing with stacks of paper invoices documenting recent deliveries of linens, produce, meat, and dry goods. Perhaps the only thing worse than keeping tabs on all that paper is the headache of entering those costs into bookkeeping software.

While the process of transferring paper invoices to digital spreadsheets is often completed manually, either by restaurant management or accounting staff (or sometimes both), technology now eliminates the need for punching in those costs by hand. ChouxBox, from restaurant industry veterans Tony Aiazzi and Xavier Mariezcurrena, allows restaurateurs to scan or take smartphone photos of paper invoices, which are then automatically populated into bookkeeping spreadsheets.

Aside from eliminating time for data entry, ChouxBox gives chefs a better understanding of spending habits and allows restaurant management or restaurant group leaders to see real-time data on costs. 

Jason Kallert, corporate chef of New York City–based LDV Hospitality, says chefs within the 30-unit group now have greater responsibility over their own spending with the app.

“The chefs are now looking at every dollar every day,” he says. “Let’s say you spend $500 a day every day on produce. You may never notice the cost of asparagus going up $2 a case. But now they’re looking at it every day. They notice it much more.”

While much of the business world has migrated to operate paper-free, Kallert says he sees no end to the mainstay paper invoices used by his company’s many suppliers. Vendors and restaurants rely on paper invoices as proof in case quantities get mixed up or certain products are found to be defective, he says. ChouxBox has found 20 percent of the invoices it processes include some kind of alteration. 

“The purveyors are so outdated it’s amazing,” Kallert says. “I have purveyors that still use printers with the things you peel off on the sides that have holes in it. I don’t even know what you call it. It’s amazing. They need signatures on everything because there are so many discrepancies with weights or products missing. They always want a signature. So I don’t see them ever going paperless.”

ChouxBox co-founder Mariezcurrena says the app was born of his own frustration trying to manage two sets of redundant books—one at the restaurant level and one at corporate. He estimates that the average restaurant receives 250 invoices per month.

“The guys in the restaurant are keeping their own spreadsheet so they know where they are every week. Then when you send your invoices off to go into the accounting platform, you never see them again,” he says. “I’m doing data entry at the restaurant level, and they’re doing data entry again at the corporate level. It was kind of crazy how manual and old school this whole process was.”

Even after spending $49 to $249 per month for ChouxBox, restaurants typically save between $25,000 and $55,000 by using the app, Mariezcurrena says.

“If you used to have a bookkeeper who was charging you for 20 hours a month, now they’re charging you for five. So restaurants are saving a ton of money,” he says. “I really think it’s the next best thing in restaurants because all these other solutions out there are really focused on front-end consumer-facing issues.”

Aside from time savings, ChouxBox makes data much more accessible to a variety of restaurant stakeholders, says Laurence Saul, senior vice president at Aramark and a partner in Zavino Hospitality Group, which by 2017 will operate six restaurants between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. 

“I can drop it into QuickBooks or any other financial platform,” Saul says. “It’s flexible. It’s digital. It’s all electronic. It’s all there for me to see or anyone who I give oversight to, whether it’s my accountant at the end of the month or someone who operates as my controller.”

Saul says the intuitive system has transformed Zavino’s accounting processes. “We don’t have anyone doing data entry anymore. There’s nobody keycoding off a general ledger list that has to memorize the code for what prosciutto is or what a chicken breast is. Once it’s in there the system recognizes it,” he says.

Even at a significantly higher price point, he says ChouxBox would still pay for itself through time and money savings. And he believes the technology is poised to take off as more restaurateurs learn about it. “It’s still unknown,” Saul says. “This is a mushroom that’s going to happen very quickly in the segment. It’s all upside.”

Feature, Technology