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Lone Star's IT Dept. Wins Age-old Priorities Battle, Saves Thousands in Process

Lone Star Steakhouse, Texas Land and Cattle Steak House, Del Frisco’s Steakhouse and Sullivan’s Steakhouse, operating with a combined 161 restaurants operating under the Lone Star Management company, were struggling to identify a return on investment (ROI) during marketing campaign execution. Lone Star’s marketing team found that measuring campaign ROI was a persistent problem due to outdated technology being used at the enterprise level; this technology limited insight into actual campaign performance until many weeks after critical milestone dates. As a result, the marketing team identified that there were campaign initiatives in which thousands of dollars had been spent on ads or promotions, without a clear picture of their effectiveness. In order to run a more cost-effective marketing organization, the leadership team needed a solution that could provide instant access to historical data, guest trends and cost analysis from the store and enterprise level without taxing the IT team with a lengthy report creating process.
In order to combat these problems, Lone Star turned to WhenToManage Restaurant Solutions, a company that specializes in Web-based software designed to simplify reporting, inventory management, employee scheduling and guest relations. By implementing and using the WhenToManage business intelligence platform, John Tanski, Lone Star Steakhouse’s IT field support manager, was able to provide the information that Lone Star executives needed to improve campaign execution through real-time knowledge of the success of established regional, national and pilot concepts.
Conflicting priorities
Prior to deploying WhenToManage, Tanski was faced with the difficult task of negotiating the delicate waters of shifting priorities: query reports or provide field-level support.
“When campaigns were executed, the marketing team would naturally want to know how the campaign was doing, says Tanski. “However, complying with this task was my IT team’s worst nightmare.” Each store had to be analyzed to access the performance of the program against the marketing team’s business expectations. This required multiple point-of-sale (POS) data extractions and the time necessary to accomplish this task was immense.
“We support our corporate users and we wanted to help. However, each store required about an hour of data extraction, and dozens of stores could be affected. Add that to the task of compiling the data into spread sheets and crafting the right report, and the hours just piled up,” says Tanski “It could takes as much as 10 hours to create a single report, so the requests, although necessary, would creating conflicting priorities. We would have to extract, run, and create reports, and at the same time, provide store personnel with the IT support they desperately needed in order to run their business. Needless to say, we were slammed and it was very difficult for my team. We knew that we had to find a solution that was easy to deploy, easy to use, and didn’t require extensive or difficult training. It had to be user-friendly for a variety of levels and by a number of departments, including marketing, purchasing, operations, management teams and our company executives.”
Analysis of alternatives
The size of Lone Star’s operations and the number of stores needing support, meant very specific business requirements. Beyond outstanding data reporting, the solution had to integrate with multiple applications currently being used at the enterprise and store-level, including the POS used by the company. After evaluating several solutions and even considering building an in-house system, the company uncovered a key requirement not previously considered: the selected system needed to be Web-based. It was determined that a client-side application would be difficult to deploy and secure, adding a significant cost burden in integration, launch and ongoing maintenance. A browser-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) product would be easily available to any store manager, company employee or executive working from home or on the road.
“At first it was a big jump to change how we were operating at the functional level, but the WhenToManage team realized this and made good on understanding our business requirements. What’s more, we learned that more than IT and marketing benefited from the application usage. The purchasing team was able to see how much they were spending on specific inventory items. The operations team could receive automatically generated reports based on many different metrics,” says Tanski. “Our teams began to take notice, and adopt WhenToManage for their own initiatives. New uses for the supplication seemed to grow organically out of departmental meetings and then when applied, helped immediately.
Cross-department benefits
Lone Star began a store-by-store implementation and in weeks had the initial sites up and running and has trained all affected sore manager. Once launched, the WhenToManage solution quickly developed into the go-to application by fundamentally changing how data flowed across the organization. By freeing Lone Star’s information, making it easy to utilize by employees, many immediate results and benefits were realized, including:
  • Because they were able to measure impact immediately rather than waiting weeks or even months for reports, the marketing team chose to eliminate all of the “loss-leader” campaigns that they had once assumed were just part of doing business. This alone saved the company thousands of dollars in just a few weeks.
  • By using the application, Lone Star was able to launch more test menus in new markets and perform immediate analysis on their effectiveness.
  • The operations team was able to run inventory reports and more effectively account for stock levels, decreasing the cost of sale tenfold.
  • The executive team used WhenToManage to create board reports with the real-time report creator. The report accuracy and timeliness provided invaluable during key decision-making points and provided the board with more pin-point data, leading to better decision.
By making fundamental improvements to information flow, the IT department at Lone Star has been able to:
  • Improve menu engineering: Lone Star is now able to run product mix reports before making updates, allowing them to determine sales, food costs and decide on adjustments in real-time.
  • Better promotion tracking: Lone Star can accurately determine which items in a promotion are working and quickly make product lineup changes and replace under-performing items with new selections.
  • More detailed testing: Lone Star can test and entire menu in a select group of restaurants by pulling tracking data weekly. This allows them to make decisions faster, which saves money and maximizes profit and customer satisfaction.
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