Restaurants continue to reopen across the country, operating under a new normal where capacity for service is slashed and social distancing measures are in place to mitigate the potential and perceived risks of dining out.

As a business intelligence platform for restaurants, xtraCHEF exists to empower owners and operators with the data they need to make informed decisions for profitability. But how does our solution—and the many others on the market—translate when the industry as we know it has been turned on its head?

Recently, John Enny, our Director of Marketing, facilitated a roundtable discussion with four xtraCHEF customers and industry insiders to discuss the role that restaurant tech plays in the new normal. Here are some takeaways from their conversation, which you can watch in full below.

In with the new normal, away with outdated processes

All of our panelists have worked directly in or adjacent to the restaurant industry for many years. For all four, they see restaurant technology, like accounts payable (AP) automation, as a necessity to maintain modern standards and efficient processes in the back of house.

“Five, six, seven years ago, [bookkeeping for restaurants] was a nightmare,” said Terence Hanley, CPA and Owner of Find A Way Restaurant Accounting. “It was a whole day of the week spent just sitting there manually typing [invoices] in, and even then, depending on how good your staff was, you had to go in and check it anyway.”

AP for restaurants has “come a long way from mind-numbing data entry that leads to errors,” says Hanley. After having tried a number of solutions over the years, he has implemented xtraCHEF for all of his accounting clients to automate invoice processing, drastically decreasing both the time spent on and any errors associated with manual accounting.

“How quickly we forget the way things used to be!” Hanley remarks. “It’s time to ask, ‘What else can technology do for me?’”

Ease of use and implementation are key

Doug Hunter is the Director of Technology and Training for The Plant Cafe Organic. With tech at the forefront of his role, Hunter is focused not only on how it can help improve processes, but also if the tech is user-friendly.

“I really focus on ease of use for the end user [when it comes to choosing restaurant tech], says Hunter. “The reality is, a lot of my staff aren’t technologically inclined. They’re amazing servicepeople, they’re stellar communicators, but they might not be great at troubleshooting an iPad.”

“We want to use what’s easiest for them,” he adds. “There’s less error made by employees and less time required by me to be constantly training and rolling out these products.”

Using cloud-based software that easily integrates with existing restaurant management systems makes it easier and more cost-effective to implement and, subsequently, provide value to your team and your bottom line.

Utilize software integrations for clean exchange of data

When several pieces of software are used in a restaurant tech stack, they need to speak to each other every step of the way to ensure no data is lost. “When you’re considering tech stacks, make sure everything is communicating correctly,” Hunter says. He uses xtraCHEF to ensure that the data gathered from invoices automatically flows into CTUIT without any manual intervention.

In addition to being a CPA that services restaurants, Hanley is the new owner of a pizza shop. He uses Sync, xtraCHEF’s integration between Toast and QuickBooks Online, to automatically post daily sales data from point-of-sale software to his accounting system. “I’m hopeful for the first time ever that more and more systems are talking to each other, but there’s still some work to be done,” shares Hanley.

Now that Hanley operates with restaurant tech that cleanly integrates, he’s not even considering any other options. “At this point, if a new software doesn’t integrate, it’s a non-starter,” he says.

Be flexible in a shifting landscape

Hunter shared that The Plant Cafe Organic tried several options, including pivoting to groceries and meal kits, to become more profitable as their busiest locations closed. Groceries are now about 25% of their business.

However, “Groceries are essentially a separate industry. [We have to] price ourselves in a way that’s appealing to make sure that we compete with that market as well,” says Hunter.

“The issues are definitely with spiking of pricing of certain ingredients,” he continues. “As meat processing becomes a bigger issue in the US, how is that going to spike my chicken [prices]? We have to be way more responsive on those price fluctuations, because in grocery, there’s less of a margin and it’s just one ingredient and reselling it.”

By using xtraCHEF’s Price Tracker, Hunter is able to respond to changes in ingredient pricing within the same day. “I can make decisions faster than having to sit there line by line and go through invoicing. It’s been great for us and our flexibility to go in and change things almost immediately,” he says.

“Meat and dairy are my bigger concerns right now, so with xtraCHEF I can just isolate those two categories specifically and see each product and how it’s flowing in price.”

Cassidy Womack, Director of Operations at Sidewall Pizza Company, uses restaurant tech to dive into recipe management and see where margins can be improved as her restaurants are only open for take-out.

By using xtraCHEF, “We were able to see right off the bat that we had one pizza on our menu that didn’t have any cross-utilization of ingredients. That’s gotta go,” she laughs. “[Recipe management software] allows us to cross-utilize the things that we do have.”

Womack was able to make quick replacements for the pizza that got removed. “We’ve added a couple of stuffed pizzas to our menu, using ingredients we already had in house,” she says. “We were able to see through the xtraCHEF recipe module that our cost on those was going to be so low versus the price we could sell them for, and they hold up really well in a to-go box and hold their heat really well. That was important when we were considering changing our menu during this time.”

Sidewall has also been able to use xtraCHEF to resell ice cream made in-house. Rather than selling by the scoop as they would for dine-in customers, the team pivoted to packing quarts of ice cream for resale straight from their machine.

Womack also stresses the importance of flexibility in budgeting. “I was able to adjust the budgets based off of the first month of being take-out only to give our managers in the store a better idea [of where they should be],” she shares. “It’s important for them to be able to log on to that budget module and see what their updated allowance is for the week with what they’re ordering.”

Make data-driven decisions and changes quickly

Until the rise of restaurant tech, details from invoices took significant time not only to input, but also to analyze. Jamie Schrotberger, CEO of Spread Bagelry, noted that in a commissary model, time is of the essence to ensure he has the information he needs to make the right decisions for the business.

“The product that’s sold at the store has to be made a day earlier at the commissary, which means the product we need to get from the vendors is a day before that,” Schrotberger explains. “So having a real understanding of the pricing and inventory levels at the store so we can get ordering right from vendors is extremely important.”

Manually entering data from invoices takes long enough. But actually analyzing that information takes up even more time—which restaurants can’t afford to waste. By using xtraCHEF at Spread, Schrotberger is able to closely monitor the commissary’s inventory to know exactly when each item needs to be purchased, without running out of product or ordering too much product that could spoil without quick use.

Real-time insight into data was also very important for Schrotberger at the height of the pandemic, when vendors were put in a difficult position and requested a slower payment cycle from Spread. “We were able to know exactly what our accounts payable were—to the second,” says Schrotberger, who was able to support his vendors in their time of need.

“No matter what the size of your operation is, you have to make sure that the information you’re getting is as real-time as possible,” he adds.

Start exploring restaurant tech for free

Not quite ready to take the plunge into restaurant tech? xtraCHEF doesn’t want you leaving money on the table, so we’ve released a free version of our platform. It’s called xtraCASH, and it’s the restaurant industry’s only no-cost invoice processing solution.

Signing up not only gives you a taste of our full suite of restaurant financial and operations tools, but also offers access to cash back on the products you purchase the most through manufacturer rebates.

What are you waiting for? Start earning xtraCASH today!