7 Ways Automating Digital Reporting Could Make Restaurants Better

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Recently, Chipotle received some very positive press for an internal improvement program it implemented that emphasized promotions from within and resulted in higher performing restaurants and happier employees.

The company has been employing a smart combination of store data and sound human resources principles to promote the top-performing employees and thus improve the restaurant chain from the inside out. Chipotle IPO’d in 2006 and had $3.2 billion in revenue last year, and its growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Companies looking to improve their own restaurants in a similar fashion would do well to follow Chipotle’s lead and focus on the data. But it’s not just important to look at the numbers. It matters how you do it.

For years, restaurants have relied on manual reporting techniques to ensure compliance, measure store performance and track improvement over time. The problem is that much of the information that does get captured in physical logbooks is never read, much less actually put to use.

Physical logbooks are easy to lose, difficult to manage and ultimately an ineffective tool when it comes to improving your restaurants’ operations. That said, digital reporting tools can make all the difference in consistently capturing data and turning that data into helpful insights and action. Here are seven ways that automated digital reporting can make restaurants better:

1. Ensure Food Safety

This is the baseline aspect of running a restaurant that you have to get right. Every year one in six Americans gets sick from food or beverages, and around 50 percent of those cases take place in restaurants.

Digital reporting can help avoid serious food safety mistakes. Checklists can be created that help workers recall the details of cleaning procedures and enable managers to verify that tasks have been completed. Digital tools can also help when it comes to training, by codifying important food safety procedures and ensuring that every new employee is exposed to them.

Finally, digital reporting can help ensure food safety by automating temperature checks in refrigerators and freezers. One of the easiest ways to avoid foodborne illness is to make sure that foods are always stored at the correct temperature, and digital reporting can help you make sure that they are.

2. Staff Appropriately

Digital reporting can also help restaurants to staff appropriately during the holidays. Many restaurants are unsure whether they should be staffing up or cutting back around the holidays. On the one hand, sometimes the holiday shopping rush drives people in the doors. On the other hand, many people leave town or hole up with their families to celebrate, leaving your restaurant a ghost town.

Knowing how many people to have on staff at any given time during the holidays is important to store performance. A digital reporting tool can help you with this by measuring how your stores have performed in past years. It can also help you keep track of when big sales are happening at nearby stores and other events that might impact your restaurants’ traffic.

Finally, a digital reporting tool can help managers keep track of schedules in a more organized fashion, ensuring that any changes in the usual staffing are clearly communicated.

3. Order the Right Amount of Inventory

Another key area where it’s important to get things just right is inventory. You don’t want to have too much food, meaning so much that some of it goes off and money is lost. But you also don’t want to run out of a favorite dish during the fever pitch of Saturday night service.

The key to striking the right balance and right-sizing your inventory is to use digital reporting tools to carefully track how much is being ordered by customers each night (and how much food is being wasted because it’s not consumed in time.) You can then compare this data to historical trends and predict how many roast chickens you’re likely to need over Christmas and how many hams you should order at Easter. Getting your orders right can save tons of money in the long run.

4. Measure Employee Success

As Chipotle clearly demonstrates, measuring employee success and rewarding it appropriately can have a very positive effect on your bottom line. The key to realizing these benefits lies in tracking and analyzing employees’ activities.

A digital reporting tool can be very helpful for district managers who may not be in all of their restaurants every day to supervise and monitor each and every one of their employees. Instead, they can empower their managers with checklists that map out expectations and track employees’ ability to meet them.

When you have a clear system of record for measuring employee performance, you will be well-equipped to determine who deserves a raise (and who needs a performance improvement plan). Making those decisions with plenty of data in your arsenal is key to improving your restaurant’s performance in a logical and methodical way.

5. Predict Demand

As we mentioned above, a digital reporting tool can be a very effective way to predict demand, which can help you with everything from staffing to inventory decisions. Ultimately this will help you achieve success as a district manager.

But it’s vital to note that if you don’t track sales and service data on a regular basis, you won’t be able to accurately predict demand. A digital reporting tool with custom-built forms that allow managers to record key service metrics will go a long way.

Even better, if you can tie point of sale data to your digital reporting workflow, you’ll be able to automate this process completely and avoid human error while also driving top-line growth.

6. Catch Small Mistakes Before they Grow

Another key benefit of digital reporting solutions is that they can help you catch small errors or slip-ups before they morph into something more difficult to handle.

As a district manager, you may not have time to carefully monitor each of your restaurant locations on a daily basis. So if something is going wrong, it’s entirely possible that you won’t notice it on your own.

With a digital reporting solution in your toolbox, you’re much more likely to spot anomalies in the data or ongoing negative trends before they become a problem for your business.

For example, if you notice that closing checklists are not completed on a regular basis, you can check in with employees to ensure that they are wiping down work surfaces, storing leftover food properly and locking up the store each night before they leave -- and remind them that part of their job is to complete checklists each day.

These are small mistakes that may not be a big problem at the time, but can easily grow into a large issue for your restaurants if left unresolved.

7. Save Managers’ Time

Perhaps the most important benefit of a digital reporting tool when it comes to restaurant management is the time it saves employees, particularly highly-paid managers and district managers. The more time you can save on the front end, the more money you’ll be able to save on the bottom line.

Digital reporting tools save time by allowing managers to check individual store data without having to go to the store itself. All important data is stored in the cloud and readily accessible from wherever they happen to be, whether at home or in a different restaurant location.

Additionally, digital tools can help managers automatically spot problems, run analysis and draw up clear improvement plans for their locations as needed. All of these activities can save time in the long run.

As you can see, digital reporting tools like Squadle can help improve restaurant performance in a myriad of ways. From increasing efficiency to identifying problems to accurately predicting demand, automated tools are the key to tracking your business’s health and taking measured steps to improve it over time. They can save money and increase your return on investment dramatically if you invest in them early and often.

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