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Hospitality Technology Launches Restaurant Accounting Innovation Council

Hospitality Technology (HT) has assembled a new thought leadership group, the Restaurant Accounting Innovation Council. This intimate community of finance and accounting executives from a diverse range of restaurant brands including Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining, Kona Grill, Sweetgreen and others, will meet four times a year to identify best practices and develop standards to share with the industry.

Through the input and collaboration of members, the charter of the Restaurant Accounting Innovation Council is to create a framework for operators looking to streamline and improve the operational impact accounting systems have on the enterprise.  The council is comprised of 11 restaurant operators, plus representatives from Restaurant365 and Hospitality Technology.

“The input HT gets from the industry is second to none, and there is a clear consensus that executives want to work through key challenges with their peers,” Abigail Lorden, vice president, group brand director of Hospitality Technology, says. “We identified that innovation around accounting doesn’t get talked about enough. We’re championing this group not only to be a service to its members, but also to work as a community to share valuable ideas with the rest of the industry.”

The first meeting of the Restaurant Accounting Innovation Council took place in October 2017. During this initial gathering, members identified several key issues.

All attendees were in consensus that systems integration continues to be a stumbling block for operations. Steven Song, CFO, Luke’s Lobster shared that as his company examines the ways customers want to order food and the plethora of apps on the market, finding something that integrates all those pieces has been a challenge.

“We’ve prioritized finding a way to integrate everything from the POS to accounting, online ordering, loyalty, etc.,” he says. “Finding a stack of technology partners that enables that integration is key.”  

Christi Hing, CFO, Kona Grill echoed frustrations caused by having 10 different SaaS providers with only a few that integrate. “A major challenge we face is evaluating technology and then finding providers that integrate with current systems,” she says.

For Song, a first step to achieving integration goals is identifying the role of the POS as either the central brain of operations or just a component. Secondly, he stresses the importance of open dialogue with vendors from the outset, during RFP and selection process. “We gave our technology partners a map of all the things we wanted to integrate,” he explains. “At the very least they are aware that integration is important to us and is part of why we selected them.”

Scott Gillman, Chairman, Mascott Corporation, concentrates on the strategy around integration rather than the exact integration. “We have to get as much natively integrated as possible,” he says. “My focus is to use as few integrations as possible and I look for ways for my clients to do that as cleanly as possible.”

The council also found agreement in the need for better reporting systems. Michael Lubitz, Chief Financial Officer of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Worldwide, identifies a top need as integrated forecasting, scheduling and time reporting systems that are able to enforce multiple state rules and jurisdictions. “Most POS systems don’t pay attention to that,” he notes, “and even back-office systems don’t do a great job.”

In looking at what system should be tasked with tracking labor and compliance, Mark Quandt, CFO, Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, says ideally this would be picked up by the POS or time and attendance.  “If it’s not going to happen in payroll it must happen somewhere in the labor system,” he says. “I see an opportunity for a separate labor aggregations system. This is something we’ve been talking to our POS provider about and I see more coming in the near future.”    

For the executives, issues with reporting centered around time-saving and training. Bryan Kay, CFO, Vibe Coffee Group, admits that while his company has a good amount of data, they are not drowning in it. “The problem we have,” he admits, “is training. Getting data down to the store level is a constant battle.”

Bill Valentas, VP of Finance, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers says that creating a data warehouse to culminate data from different systems helps them analyze and make decisions quickly. “Syncing up the data helps so we are not wasting time and gives managers more opportunity to be out on the floor,” he says. “Raising the bar would be to have a direct API. Anything that cuts steps out of the process and allows us to leverage technology to streamline operations would be beneficial.”

WoodRanch found it hard to get the data it was looking for from canned reports, so it built its own data warehouse. “Now we’re doing a second iteration with an independent vendor,” Quandt reveals. “The key is to find a partner that knows the industry and what you’re looking for and can pull that together for you. At the end of the day, if you want flexibility, you have to have a warehouse where you can move in data from everywhere and combine it for reporting.”


Restaurant Accounting Innovation Council Members

Scott Gillman, Chairman, Mascott Corporation

Melissa Haman, Controller, Crazy Bowls & Wraps

Christi Hing, Chief Financial Officer, Kona Grill, Inc.

Amy Hwang, Controller, Upward Projects

Bryan Kay, Chief Financial Officer, Vibe Coffee Group

Brandon Keith, Chief Financial Officer, World Famous Fare

Michael Lubitz, Chief Financial Officer, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Worldwide

Colleen McGuinness, Accounting, Sweetgreen

Mark Quandt, Chief Financial Officer, Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill

Steven Song, Chief Financial Officer, Luke’s Lobster

Bill Valentas, Vice President of Finance, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

John Moody, Co-Founder, Restaurant 365

Abigail Lorden, VP, Group Brand Director, Hospitality Technology

Dorothy Creamer, Editor, Hospitality Technology

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