|At Cherokee Town & CC, item management is a key component in keeping the menu mix organized and fresh, says Michael Wheeler, General Manager.|
Software systems in the right hands can bring new creativity and efficiencies to key tasks such as menu pricing, food costing, and inventory control.
Because producing a $1 meal for $1.30 isn’t going to get you far in these economic times, food-and-beverage teams are turning to technology to help keep costs under control—while still providing cuisine their guests clamor for.
There are many industry software programs that can help you stay well-stocked and plot the perfect menu. In the last two decades, a plethora of point-of-sale (POS) systems has also emerged that allow wait staff to digitally communicate with the kitchen to get orders right and bills printed efficiently. But regardless of whether the software is designed for the front or back of the house, it’s important to remember that any program is only as good as the user allows it to be.
“Garbage in, garbage out,” still applies, says John McKeel, F&B Cost Controller for Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla. While it’s important that a program doesn’t take “16 screens to request extra sour cream,” McKeel notes, you also don’t want to underestimate the skills of your staff so much that you “dumb down” the required data and diminish
SUMMING IT UP
Software is only going to be as effective as the people who are trained to use it.Reporting is a big part of being able to analyze what happens in each outlet.
Make sure the systems you choose can provide sufficient detail, especially for revenue and costs.
“It may be easier to punch in ‘domestic beer,’ but one extra button will tell us which brand of beer it was,” he explains. “Servers will learn how to get through anything. If you make it too easy, you might miss out on good information.”
Reporting is a big part of being able to analyze what happens in each outlet, agrees Michael Wheeler, General Manager of Atlanta’s Cherokee Town & Country Club. “Items must be trackable by meal period and if there is a cost differential, the system must be able to handle this as well,” he adds. “Item management is the key to making sure you don’t have duplicates—I can remember at one club, we had 15 different macadamia-encrusted sea basses in the system.”
Better Taste Through Technology
Freezers with better insulation, fryers that extend oil life, griddles with more consistent surfaces—F&B teams are always on the lookout for equipment that will make prep time more efficient and cost-effective, while still being big on taste.JoAnna Schillaci, F&B Controller of Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., says that when her facility’s kitchen was renovated recently, the team was inspired by what they saw at local and national restaurant shows. They now have computerized controls that automatically turn lighting, heating and air conditioning on and off.
The club also invested in new equipment, including a stainless-steel, flat-top rotating grill—for making pizzas. “When I first saw it I said ‘Pizza? On a flattop?” Schillaci laughs. “But it cooks on one rotation—and is every bit as good as coal-burning stoves.” Even better, she adds, it’s a visual selling machine when located in the dining room.
Convection and combi-ovens have become must-haves in today’s kitchens for their space-saving benefits, points out Michael Wheeler, General Manager of Atlanta’s Cherokee Town & Country Club. “Kitchens are a lot smaller than they used to be, and it makes sense to have one piece of equipment instead of multiple pieces,” he notes. “In addition, moisture can be added, so there is less shrinkage and more yield in the content.”
Sigi Osicki, F&B Director and Executive Chef of MasterLink Club & Hospitality Services, notes that German technology has created small-footprint ovens that broil, roast and cook, but keep the roasting pan cold. “It’s exciting, because who hasn’t burned their hands when taking a pan out of the oven?” he says. “And it only takes up as much space as a microwave.” However, he notes, these ovens won’t be common sights in commercial kitchens until the current price tag of about $8,500 comes down.
“In this economy, a lot of facilities need to learn how to fully utilize what they have right now,” Osicki adds. “I’m an old chef—all I need is a convection oven or two!”
To avoid such confusion, Cherokee institutes this rule for price look-up codes, or PLUs: One recipe equals one cost equals one PLU. “If you add or change an ingredient, which is adding or subtracting costs, then there is serious consideration for another PLU,” Wheeler explains. “For example, adding crab on top of a Caesar salad makes a different PLU than just a Caesar salad.”
Sigi Osicki, F&B Director and Executive Chef of Naples, Fla.-based MasterLink Club & Hospitality Services, which manages several resort properties, notes that it’s also important to still train on “old-fashioned” methods, should technology fail during the peak dinner hour on a Saturday night.
“You need duplicate checks, you need people who can use paper and pen to seat and wait on guests,” he says. It’s also important, he adds, to have tech support for your systems available 24/7, so any blip can be handled quickly, with minimal impact on service: “You never want to have to tell guests, ‘I’m sorry, but our computers are down,’ ” Osicki stresses.
One Person, One Shift
JoAnna Schillaci, CHTP, F&B Controller of Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., works for a property that’s so large, it’s important to ensure personnel isn’t being double-scheduled on a shift. A scheduling system that was actually designed for a hospital environment has served her facility well in the past few years.
“We have three clubhouses that work independently of one another,” Schillaci reports. “However, the staffs can be moved around among the clubhouses as needed.” When those needs arise, she says, “Each manager can access the system and see who is scheduled where. It allows for a given employee to be placed in a variety of scenarios, just as a doctor might be in the ER, surgery or making rounds on a given day.”
Boca West’s dining reservation system is fairly sophisticated as well, Schillaci says, because the club’s General Manager, Jay DiPietro, values the importance of using technology efficiently. With members dining on-site several times a week, she notes, it’s important to be as fair as possible to everyone. The club’s customized system ranks a given member’s number and request against historical information for all requests received for similar times.
“This way, everyone has a fair shot at getting the high-demand, ‘peak time’ reservations,” she explains. “It also helps for events when there are only 800 seats for a special activity or holiday meal, and there are twice that number of reservation requests. The system makes reservation availability fair to all the membership, and is used in both the F&B and golf departments.”
A custom-designed software program that Ocean Reef Club uses to design its frequently changing menus, says McKeel, offers the ability to easily respond to a customer’s request of “Wow, can I have this recipe?” “We simply hit ‘print,’ ” he says.
Knowing What’s On Hand
In a club setting, a menu has to be vast and ever-changing (or, as Osicki succinctly puts it, “The Ladies League doesn’t want a spinach salad every Tuesday.”). Here, too, a good software program can help weigh the costs of individual ingredients and manage what’s in stock, so a club kitchen is never caught short-handed.
Electronic inventory control also has a huge historical benefit for menu-planning and budgeting purposes, notes Wheeler. “Knowing what we paid for a 101 tenderloin a year ago versus what we are paying today, and also being able to track this trend without having to call the vendor, is powerful when reporting to our Boards and Finance Committees,” he says.
The current program at Cherokee Town & Country Club will put groceries out to bid online and let the F&B team know where the best prices are. Of course, Wheeler adds, “We always have the choice to override the system because of other mitigating circumstances or considerations.”
Schillaci, who is often a speaker at industry events on the topic of F&B cost control, notes that her facility tends to weather the storm when it comes to wildly fluctuating market prices. Unless there is a definite trend in an increase for fish, for example, Boca’s fish menu prices will remain at the selling price point of that restaurant.
“We want to stay on budget, of course,” she says of her member equity-owned facility, “but we also want to ensure our guests get value. We want to retain their loyalty.”
One drawback to today’s technology, notes McKeel, is that report and analysis functions must rely on an assumed flat inventory. “I would love to have perpetual inventory, where if I started with 10 pounds of ground sirloin at 8 AM and sold x hamburgers that day, it’s updated to tell me how many pounds of sirloin I have on hand at 8 PM,” he says. Availability of such a function, he believes, is not too far off.
For now, Schillaci offers this advice about finding the ideal technological solutions for an F&B department:
“Make sure the systems you choose can do a multitude of things, especially regarding revenue and cost,” she counsels. “A system should let you know exactly what is selling, and be able to update costs easily. It should have lots of activity capabilities, flexibilities, and a variety of reporting options—entrees versus appetizers, for example. And it should be easily accessible and, if necessary, customizable to suit your needs.”