Managing information across a disparate portfolio, which includes both company-owned and franchise locations, was a growing challenge for Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, an upscale steakhouse that offers brunch, lunch, and dinner in hotel settings, lifestyle centers, and urban areas.

“We started in the restaurant business in 1978 with a 100-seat restaurant in Iowa,” says Ajay Singh, vice president of brand development for Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse (Moline, Illinois). “Our development company, Heart of America Group, now has 31 properties, located in six Midwestern states. There are three restaurant brands: Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, The Machine Shed, and Thunder Bay.”

The decision to expand via franchising caused Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse to realize that it had outgrown its internal Excel spreadsheets. With eight company-owned units and imminent franchise expansion plans, Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse needed the ability to access near-real-time data to help managers control their costs on a daily basis.

“The increasing complexity as a result of our growth led us to outgrow spreadsheets,” Singh says. “Since we are franchising one of our concepts, we needed a reporting measurement that allows us to have a feed into each of the franchises.”

The first franchised unit of Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse rolled out in mid-2013.

“Using Excel spreadsheets works fine when you have two or three units,” says Joe Spalding, chief operating executive for the Heart of America Group. “However, when you get larger than this, you need a Web-based system.”

Heart of America Group searched for a solution that would allow it to share its key data from all locations with the whole team, ultimately choosing a solution from Ctuit Software that collects and disseminates information from and to all of its restaurant locations.

By making the solution a required tool for all franchisees going forward, the corporate office is now able to receive daily field reporting on traffic, sales, and labor.

“One reason we selected Ctuit was because it is the most user-friendly,” says Spalding. “It also interfaces well with our operating system.”


Heart of America Group’s restaurants are currently using an app-based solution, which allows managers and corporate executives to have reporting access on iPads and iPhones.

“We rolled it out as a gradual process,” explains Chris Russell, corporate controller, Heart of America Group. “We had to pull together copious amounts of historical data for each property and then upload it, so that we had historical data to compare against when we went live.”

Some internal training was necessary, “however, the system is so user-friendly that a lot of training wasn’t required,” says Spalding. “For example, the dashboard reads well, and there are a lot of pre-generated reports.”

Russell explains, “I conduct a one-hour training class for our new managers when they go through orientation, and Ctuit also offers some online basic training that shows users how to log on and navigate the site, as well as how to run the reports.”

Using the Web-based tools, Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse has gained significant new functionality, providing it with daily—and even hourly—access to relevant data in an easy-to-use format.

“It simplifies the process for consolidated reporting,” says Russell. “Each property can benchmark its own performance against its sister stores. It allows us to monitor sales and labor daily, and react more quickly. The on-line manager log allows managers to effectively communicate and stay informed for smoother transition between shifts and days.”

And, because it is Web-based, managers can access it from anywhere they have Internet connectivity, enabling them to stay informed even when they are away from the restaurant.

“The tool consolidates all of the needed information on a day-to-day basis, with a semi-live look at the business,” says Spalding. “This allows managers to see what’s going on 24 hours a day. They have information on labor, sales, and everything else.”

According to Singh, the new system provides management with a reporting level that not only allows the accounting support team to look at numbers, but also provide details to those who are “on the ground” and accountable for the performance of their properties.

“It is very intuitive to use, both on the Web-based and the iOS applications,” explains Singh. “Our property managers, who are responsible for their own P&Ls, no longer have to wait for reporting information to come from a centralized source. They can see it, manage it, respond to it, and react to it.”

The solution also allows the corporate office to drill down and provide guidance to operators. As a result, the corporate office can offer immediate assistance if a negative trend is spotted and also provide a well-deserved pat on the back when a location is trending positive.

Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse is also able to compare sales, labor, food costs, and other metrics with multiple locations in a way that allows it to ultimately share best practices among all the locations.

Feature, Technology