It’s a concern that keeps multi-unit operators awake at night. When an established restaurant makes the leap from one location to many, trying to maintain a certain standard across state lines can be a dicey challenge. Traditionally, restaurant owners have relied on audits to stay informed. However, the pen and paper model can be subjective, outdated, and oftentimes better suited for a shredder than a staff meeting.
Ryan Vann, the executive vice president of operations and services at Last Call, a three-concept restaurant group that has more than 80 units, explains the problem from the ground. Even if an auditor completes his assessment of a specific store, scans it, uploads it, and sends it in, he notes, how would an employee at the corporate office really absorb the information? In an industry where time is fleeting, trying to sort through hundreds of hand-written audits is essentially unrealistic. And spotting real issues and trends from a mountain of paperwork is equally foolhardy.
“When I joined the company, all of our auditing, from facilities to operations to cleanliness and organization, to food and beverage specs to how we handle our finances, was only done with pencil and paper and then either just left at the store or scanned and emailed to somebody out there who never got it,” Vann says.
For the past year, Last Call has turned to the HappyCo platform for its 48 Fox & Hound Sports Taverns, 10 Bailey’s Sports Grilles, and 22 Champps Kitchen + Bar locations.
HappyCo’s Happy Inspector mobile app and Happy BI (Business Intelligence) platform automates a restaurant’s audit and inspection process. The information is collected on mobile devices and uploaded to the Cloud, where Vann or anyone from the Last Call team can quickly pull up a location and access the digitalized notes. The BI program arranges it so Vann can see, from a global perspective, what the company averages are on every single question posed in its customizable audits. “Based on that, we can rally around the opportunity as a brand and make an impact very fast,” he says.
Since deploying, the group’s internal shopper score is up from 85 to 91 percent, the cleanliness rating has jumped from 91 to 94 percent, according to a third-party certifier, and guest complaints have dropped from 1.7 to 0.8 per location.
One of the main reasons for this progress might seem simple, but it was a mythical concept pre-HappyCo. With the mobile technology, auditors can take and upload photos to go along with their report, giving Vann some tangible proof of the claims. “It’s like you were there yourself,” he notes. “You can’t argue a picture.”
He can see just how clean a location’s bathroom truly is. Or, and this is where he says he’s noticed the biggest impact, Vann can observe food and beverage specs to check if dishes are being prepared, plated, and presented consistently across locations.
“Flat out, our brands were serving the wrong ingredients, wrong specs, it wasn’t plated correctly, and drinks weren’t in the right glass,” Vann recalls. “We were able to fix that right away.”
He also noticed that some units weren’t handing guests a beer menu when they sat down, which is company policy. “At the Fox & Hound brand, we also weren’t having enough hosts on, being at the front door greeting people,” Vann adds. “We were able to address and attack that, and get a host on the schedule from open to close, with somebody at the front door greeting folks.”
“The first two quarters that we did the internal audit with our services, our scores were about 50 percent,” he continues. “And this past quarter, the same person, doing the same audit, we’re in the low to mid 70s. So there’s been really good improvement with the audit as well from an operational and cultural stance.”
Vann says their full operational audit “probably has more than 250 questions,” and the HappyCo platform allows him to find the bottom 20 things that were missing on each audit at every unit. There’s also hardly any training involved. “It’s self-explanatory,” he says. “We have a director of training who made a training audit for the regional training managers to go audit training stores, there’s nothing to it. Cleanliness and organization have improved tremendously.”
Vann says the group is also witnessing a financial boost. “We’ve saved an incredible amount of capital on things that would have broke if we hadn’t done these audits,” Vann explains. “Things that we caught in time and said, ‘Hey, we better do something with these now.’ In addition to that, our food and drink quality has gone up tremendously.”
Jindou Lee, the CEO of HappyCo, started the company for property managers to aid in inspections. He was investing in real estate and found that it was difficult to retain deposits without having effectively recorded data.
“And what we found going through that process was that it wasn’t just property managers that were having that issue,” Lee says. “It was virtually any business that is a multi-side or multi-location operation. Everyone was using pen and paper. And it just blew my mind, and those happened to be my assets. But imagine if you were looking at millions and billons of dollars of assets.”
The company started in 2012 and expanded to include other industries, such as restaurants, in 2015. Lee says the company is continuing to evolve to meet the foodservice sector’s needs. For example, one upcoming module will include work orders. The current software runs on any platform, from iPhone to Android and web-based systems.
“What we essentially did was to help replace [pen and paper] with our technology so all of that data could be collected in real time,” Lee says. “Organizations can leverage that data in no time to make key decisions around the business.”