Iowa Restaurants Turn to Technology to Improve Business

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — With razor-thin profit margins, never-ending competition and ever-expanding overhead costs, tri-state restaurateurs are turning to technology to keep their businesses sunny-side up.

Dozens of new point-of-sale systems and software programs descend on the market every year, each promising to reduce waste and automate ordering.

But, to a Dubuque restaurant leader, the most important thing is to keep your ordering practices consistent and thoughtful.

“What I find works best is to use your POS for reports on what is used and get an idea what your top sellers are (and) what’s not performing so well,” said Mike Bries, general manager at Barrel House in Dubuque. “Then use good, old-fashioned thinking when you make your orders.”

A recent Ohio State University study reported that 60 percent of new restaurants don’t make it through a year. About 80 percent are out of business within five years.

Bries, who has owned three restaurants and a bar, said the Barrel House averages about 3,000 paying customers each week. The business uses an inventory management system called Harbor Touch and pays for service on the system when needed.

“You pay a pretty penny for service on these (machines),” Bries told the Telegraph Herald ( ). “But when the system goes down at 6 o’clock on a Friday night, you’re not completely out of luck.”

He said keeping track of the fixed quantity of inventory that must be on hand for daily operations is key to making sure food isn’t wasted, as well as ensuring the business doesn’t run out of food.

“Even when I was an owner, I did the truck order because it’s the most important thing,” Bries said. “You cannot 86 (run out of) items in a restaurant. You cannot have someone take their valuable spare time to come see you to get that one thing they wanted, and then tell them, ‘Sorry, we don’t have it.'”

Not every eatery is alike. Teri Link, co-owner of American Bombshell sandwich shop located inside the Roshek Building in Dubuque, said she uses a pen, paper and clipboard to manage inventory.

“We have an app on a tablet that’s actually more trouble than it’s worth for us,” Link said. “So, what we use now is a checklist on a clipboard.”

Link, whose shop is only open for lunch on weekdays, said she orders her bulk items twice per week and supplements her order with a weekly trip to a local grocery store.

“They might only sell 10 gallons of milk at a time. Well, we might only use one gallon a week,” she said.

Link said she and co-owner Kathy Conway might have to use more technology in the future if they expand or open a new location.

The inventory management industry as a whole is getting more technology based. Many restaurants are moving away from inventory spreadsheets on clipboards and moving to tablet-based inventory systems.

Inventory Xpress, a national leader in inventory management systems, offers an app for Apple iOS- or Android-based tablets or smartphones.

Clients are able to set up inventory storage from top to bottom before simply going through with a tablet to find re-order counts. If package sizes and quantities change, a simple touch of a finger recalculates instantly.

Revel Systems, developer of an iPad POS platform, can take things beyond normal inventory management and include recipes with real-time POS data to manage stock.

Revel recently teamed with Peachworks, a cloud-based restaurant operations platform designed to streamline the business functions of running a restaurant.

“With this level of information, (restaurateurs) can make decisions that boost the bottom line, grow their business and help them succeed in their segment or market,” said Jeff Schacher, founder and chief product officer at PeachWorks.

Bries said no matter how inventory and ordering is managed, the most important thing is to have a consistent system.

“In theory, any new system should be able to spit out an order form without you even thinking,” he said. “In reality, I’ve never seen that happen.”