The winning pos systems, which are PC-based, costs about $20,000 per store to install. It is well worth it, according to Heaton.
“We can get sales at any point in time, by the hour or quarter-hour,” she says. Managers can find out the product mix at any given time; run out reports of servers’ sales and average checks; and obtain an entire-store financial statement. Store-to-corporate-office E-mail and inventory functions will soon be available.
As fantastic as the new system is, the logistics of setting it up were mind-bending, Heaton says. The touch screen, she explains, contains icons on a flat surface–one for each menu item. Instead of turning in a paper order sheet to the kitchen, servers press the icons and the order comes up in the kitchen. “You’ve seen a Denny’s menu,” Heaton says. “What are they, nine pages? Imagine putting that on a screen.”
Indeed, learning the menu layout is proving to be the most difficult part of the system for servers. After a two-hour tutorial, they’re picking up the technical end in about 20 minutes of practice, Heaton says.
Upgrading The Upgrade Is Huge
Touch-screen systems might be new to AFR, but they’re old hat at Arby’s, which back in the late 1980s was one of the first chains to use the restaurant pos software technology. Now, The Bailey Company, a 60-unit Arby’s franchisee based in Denver, is installing the next wave of touch screens–both customer- and cashier-operated.
There are a few technical differences between the old system and the new one, says Joe Morian, director of operations for The Bailey Company. The hardware is an upgrade to 386 megabytes of memory from 286 megabytes, and the cashier’s screen, formerly a PC monitor, is now an LED screen. Because of the hardware upgrade, everything–from sales reports to customer ordering–gets done faster. “It’s not unusual for a customer to be handed his food as he’s opening his wallet,” Morian says. Indeed, speed is one of the reasons the company decided to upgrade.
Later this year, however, the company will make an upgrade to the upgrade, one that customers will really notice: The words and pictures representing the food will be real, clear-as-a-bell photographs. “It’s a big difference from colored squares,” says Morian. “We will have a problem with people drooling on the screen.”
Other than the wow factor–and the higher sales that the company forecasts–the new system handles a variety of managerial tasks. Among them is scheduling. “We used to have 13 pages of paper for the schedule,” says Morian. “Now we have three.”
The stores can also order food and supplies through the computer; track inventory; and pull up-to-the-minute sales reports. These features help the company save labor hours, another reason for the switch, Morian says.
While touch screens are hot items for chains, debit systems are popular in institutions because they speed transaction time and cut the amount of cash employees have to handle. They also get customers to spend more money.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va., has seen the student participation rate rise to 74% from 63% since it inaugurated a debit account for students on the meal plan in 1991, says July Wesel, manager of the Hokie Passport ID office (the hokie, a fictional bird, is the school’s mascot). “Students were getting more sophisticated,” Wesel explains. “They were raised on retail and wanted those kinds of choices.”
The plan has three tiers:
* A meal plan with the choice of 10, 12, 15 or 19 meals a week, which students can eat at traditional dining halls or the school’s two food courts/retail markets.
* Dining Dollars, discretionary money students can spend at the food court/retail markets.
* And a supplementary Yes Card marketing plan that gives meal-plan participants a 10% discount at retail areas.
The magnetic strip on the Hokie Passport ID tracks both the meals per week and the Dining Dollars, Wesel says. If students choose to eat a meal at a retail market, the math gets a little complicated: The price of the meal is deducted from the price of the traditional dining-hall meal. Because retail meals are more expensive, the student ends up owing money, which is taken from his or her Dining Dollars account.
It’s complicated, but it’s a hit with students, Wesel says: About 14,000 of the total 23,500 student population have some sort of meal plan. (The 8,500 who live on campus are required to, she adds.)
When employees at Norman Regional Hospital, Norman, Okla., pay for meals at their newly refurbished cafeteria this fall, the money won’t be deducted from a debit card, but from the employee’s paycheck. “We’re upgrading the in-house payroll system, and that system and ours will be net-worked together,” says Paul Pape, director of food and nutrition services at the 240-bed facility. The debiting will work the same way–through a magnetic-strip card, he says.
The reason for the change? To speed up service, Pape says. “Right now, we’ve got tremendous lines,” he says, adding that the cafeteria is extremely popular with employees.
In addition to reducing the amount of cash handling, the system might induce customers to spend more money.
Hold The Gizmos
While some operators swear by the labor- and time-saving devices POS systems offer, others consider them super-fluous. At least that’s the case for Don Weissmueller, who owns Keegan’s, a 150-seat, casual-upscale “neighborhood place,” and Dan Ryan’s Sports Grill, a 300-seat bar and grill, in Phoenix.
Weissmueller, who recently replaced the hardware and software in his stores, did so not to upgrade operations, but to save money and get better service. The company that had handled his system was sold and “service got terrible,” he says. Plus, because 50% of his sales are put on credit cards, he was interested in finding a lower discount rate–that is, the amount the bank charges to process the credit- or charge-card transactions.
He ended up going to his own bank and getting a 1/2-point lower discount rate. “It doesn’t sound like much, but with the other, they were charging one fee for corporate cards and one fee for other cards,” he says. “This is the same flat rate.”
The new software, made available by a well-known credit-card company, is similar to American Family Restaurants’ in that it can manage the entire restaurant. But the speed with which it processes transactions was the biggest selling point for Weissmueller. The other features he can do without. “It can issue more reports than I want,” he says of the system. “But the information is there, and if I want it I can get it.”
What he doesn’t want is anything that keeps servers away from the customers, “including the remote printer on the cash register,” he emphasizes. “It’s my general philosophy that I’d rather have servers with customers than standing in front of a machine pushing buttons.”
That philosophy extends to the entire restaurant: Weissmueller has the restaurants’ bookkeeping done out of house so the managers can spend more time on the floor.