One of the biggest challenges in running a restaurant business is the number of moving parts, acknowledges Dave Strong, director of operations for Marketplace Concepts, owner of MarketPlace Grill and MarketPlace Express, family casuals that focus on serving fresh American fare. Marketplace Grill was voted a 2012 Best of the Best in Overall Restaurants in Northwest Arkansas.
Given the industry’s tendency to low profit margins—the National Restaurant Association estimates it’s around 4 percent for full-service operations—it’s critical for the restaurant owner to keep his fingers on all the numbers associated with these moving parts.
From the day it opened its first Marketplace Grill in 1995, Marketplace Concepts looked to technology to help control those moving parts, and streamline its business operations. “From the beginning, we embraced the leading edge of technology to assist us in being as efficient as possible,” notes Strong.
Sometimes being an early adopter resulted in implementing technology that was more on “the bleeding edge,” admits Strong. One of the main issues is the lack of a single, integrated system to drive all the business operations.
“There are a whole bunch of software programs that are best in class,” says Strong. “Some handle inventory control, others payroll, accounting, point of sale, labor management, or seating management. Unlike the retail industry, which has integrated systems, our business has all these disparate pieces of technology that don’t talk to each other very well, which to this day, is still a challenge.”
The good news is there are technology providers in the industry that are beginning to offer multiple solutions. “The challenge is making sure the technology will meet your needs and will talk to each other,” says Strong. “We’ve tried to do this without a dedicated IT person. We felt there has to be a simpler solution.”
Adds Strong, “As restaurateurs, we need to be in the kitchen or with our guests.”
To streamline the labor management piece, in the spring of 2013 Marketplace Concepts combined staff scheduling, the job application and onboarding process, and staff training under the Red Book Connect platform. Managers are able to sign on to all Red Book Connect programs with one logon.
Red Book Connect is one of several software companies that provide cloud technology to help restaurants manage the labor component of their operation. Other providers include Schedulefly, ShiftPlanning, TimeForge Scheduling Free, 7 Shifts, When I Work, and ZoomShift, to name just a few.
Marketplace Concepts was already using Red Book Connect’s HotSchedules program, which allows managers to create staff schedules online and then electronically send it to the staff. HotSchedules also provides managers with analytics to forecast sales accurately and then schedule appropriately to hit labor targets.
While management approval is still required for shift trades, communication is accomplished electronically. Calls back and forth between manager and staff are kept to a minimum. Staff can use their smartphone or their tablet to sign on to HotSchedules, or can access an 800 number if they don’t have use of a computer.
Red Book’s GoHire program combines the job application process—Marketplace Concepts was previously using a different online program—and the onboarding process. GoHire allows managers to “rate” the applicants, and eliminate job seekers that aren’t suitable—if they can’t work the necessary shifts, for example. When there is a new hire, all the necessary paperwork is sent electronically to the applicant, who can fill it out in the comfort of her home.
Strong’s training program, honed over several years, is now available online through Red Book Connect’s social eLearning solution.
The online training material, which consists of videos, manuals, menus, and tests, bring a much more efficient and consistent training process to the operation. “I know for a fact, especially with all the video, that every new hire is seeing the same training material,” says Strong.
"These programs get our managers out of the office and on the floor or in the kitchen, managing the restaurant instead of spending the extra hour or two or three in the office at a computer or with a new hire,” says Strong. “It allows them to do what restaurant managers are best at—getting in front of our guests and working with staff.”