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Ask the Expert: Rick Webb of Backbook

Q: As a restaurant owner, I struggle to manage the back office elements of my business. My focus has always been on the front of the house: the menu, customers, and point of sale. How can I integrate what’s working in the dining room into the back of the house?


A: Every restaurant owner I know has experienced this very issue, and there is a myriad of innate elements that present a challenge. The food and beverage industry is fast paced, both inside the restaurant and out. On the inside, restaurateurs work hard to provide a unique product and a memorable experience in the space of a couple of hours to guests with very different ideas about what that looks like. And on the outside, the industry is incredibly dynamic—constantly changing in terms of trends and people. It’s a tough business that demands skill, efficiency, flexibility and consistency—all of which must be choreographed daily to be a success. The bottom line is, time spent in the back office is time we could be spending with customers.

But by the same token if you’re not coordinating the back of the house with the front, you’re creating more work for everyone. And if you are a smaller operator with a lean staff, technology is one answer to streamlining your operation so you can get back to the business of being hospitable to guests. 

For instance, vendor ordering is time consuming and complicated. Vendors tend to have their own preferences about how to communicate. Some will want to use email, while others require logging into a portal. Because a restaurant can have as many as 25 vendors being ordered from in a typical week, that doesn’t work for smaller restaurateurs. And yet, the back-office solutions on the market tend to be designed for bigger businesses, such as chains and franchises. 

Here’s what I found smaller restaurateurs need to coordinate front of the house with the back: 

A simple-to-use software solution for integrated vendor ordering and real-cost inventory insight. 

A software program that allows the user to control how he or she orders and takes inventory. For example, purchase orders go out to vendors, invoices come back, items are automatically associated with the right accounting category, and all the information is in a searchable system. 

Access to accurate, timely financial reports. 

Here are some of the key benefits my restaurants saw after adopting the software Paul Lundberg and I created:

Using a cloud-based application eliminated software updates and automatically secures data, and reduced the number of keying errors;

The simple tablet- and mobile phone-based tool allows staff to accomplish more back office admin in fewer hours, increasing their time with customers in the front of the house. 

As an example of how the right software works, take beverage ordering at Zelo and Ciao Bella. We’re saving at least 45 minutes every time we order, since we no longer need to hand-key invoices or look up prices, and since we can access information on a tablet from anywhere, we’re dealing with a lot less paper and filing. In addition, we’re seeing more consistency and accuracy because the software is driving a streamlined process. 

In an industry that has notoriously high attrition rates, providing tools that reduce time and streamline processes is invaluable. Also important is to install software that is simple to learn and use, so your teams are experiencing the positive impact of spending less time working in the back office and more time with customers. 

Rick Webb is the owner of Zelo and Ciao Bella restaurants in Minneapolis, and also the founder, along with software engineer Paul Lundberg of Backbook a cloud-based vendor-ordering and inventory-management software company based in Minneapolis. He created the company when he couldn’t find a product on the market that was as simple to use as his smartphone apps. Rick can be reached at rick.webb@backbookonline.com.

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