Hospitality Technology (HT) hosted the fourth installment of the 2018 Restaurant Accounting Innovation Council on July 19, 2018. Members of the council, sponsored by Restaurant 365, took part in a candid discussion about what they believe to be persistent trouble spots for restaurant accounting and shared ideas on what is needed to improve what the industry is offering.
Integration woes present a top obstacle for restaurants — even those with not particularly complex technology stacks. Bill Valentas, vice president of finance, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, admits that even though his company only runs five different systems, none are integrated at this point. He contends this is because they selected best-in-class systems that function as they were intended; however, he struggles with what to do with the data from those systems. Having automated some processes through available technology systems, without integrations he finds there are still manual processes that have to happen along the way.
“We have to be careful how we feed it to our end-users,” he says. “In many cases, operators are slow to adapt to new technology because they are ingrained to a certain way of doing things. We have automated a lot of steps and can get information from anywhere at any part of the day, but how do I make it useful to the end user and deliver it in the way they want to see it … because everyone wants to see data in a different way.”
Steven Song, chief financial officer, Luke’s Lobster, agrees that the lack of a universal standard for integration is troubling and bemoans the tide of “Frankenstein systems” as companies build their own customized systems stitched together across the tech stack. Song admits he would like to see the creation of a USB port-like device that could be plugged in to facilitate any integration.
“The missing link is universal standards to allow anything to plug into anything and have it work,” Song says.
The larger issue with integration is getting systems to communicate appropriately. Scott Gillman, chairman of Mascott Corporation, points out that different systems interpret data in different ways. He contends that asking vendors if systems integrate is just the starting point.
“How to attack integrations is the question you want to ask up front, because you get systems connected but they don’t perform the way you thought,” he says.
Michael Lubitz, CFO, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Worldwide, also finds it confounding that data exists in multiple systems, but they are not best in class for reporting. “The biggest challenge is having to maintain multiple platforms just to get what you need to run the business when it exists in several places,” he says.
Lubitz also voices consternation about the inaccessibility of data, saying that in today’s cloud-based hosted environments, solutions do not provide the level of access he desires. Gillman admits that reporting remains the biggest challenge he faces trying to help his clients fashion efficient back-offices and struggles with disparate systems.
“If you can get 80% under one roof, you’re better than if you had 100% under five different roofs,” he says.