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How to cut time spent on administration

Taking some time to adjust your processes and installing the right technology can go some way to reducing the hours spent dealing with paperwork says Caternet's Jerry Brand

Jerry Brand of integrated technology provider Caternet suggests ways hospitality managers can cut the hours they spend dealing with paperwork after research it commissioned showed that 86 per cent of food and beverage managers were spending too much time in 'admin hell'. 

I have to say that while I knew that paperwork was a problem for many hospitality managers, the size of the problem has surprised me. The real worry however, is how many are willing to make changes before it’s too late? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic to these findings to a degree - we all know how easy it is to get embroiled in the admin detail, it can even get comfy after a while.

Admin overloads are often blamed on an ‘issue’ with the IT system, or perhaps there was no system or process in place at all which only makes managing admin that much harder, but if you don't take control early on, things can spiral and before long, you find you’re spending whole days, even weeks, flicking through reams of paper. This can steadily blur your focus on what you should really be spending your time on, which is: forecasting margin and reducing overspend, improving quality supplier relationships, managing staff retention, developing sales and marketing new products and services. 

After all, spending every working hour on admin won’t pay the bills and sadly, it’s at that point that we start hearing about failed businesses in the hospitality sector. If more than half the week is comprised of shuffling bits of paper rather than focusing on aspects that will increase your bottom line profit how can businesses expect to survive long term in a sector where cash is undoubtedly king? 

F&B managers need to significantly reduce the hours spent on paperwork and regain control of their business operations if they are to boost their profitability, but facing such a prospect is daunting; undoubtedly it will mean change and nobody likes change do they?  We are inherently conservative and we also don’t like conflict and confrontation and that is why few people will question why we do things the way we do them. However, there are ways to change and leave 'admin hell'. 

Get the right system in place

Bad systems and processes are one of the big culprits for leading us down the path to ‘admin hell’. We should be shifting towards a paperless environment and using integrated, online end-to-end systems if we’re ever to find our way back to a ‘paper/admin-free’ life. Other common culprits that lead you into the depths of admin hell are things like lack of delegation and process and unnecessary duplication of paperwork, which is usually down to a lack of communication between teams and departments. 

Time management is also an issue as it is a human trait to avoid the jobs we don’t like doing in the first place (then the paperwork escalates). In short, much of this is down to bad habits and bad management.  

But all of these things can be resolved and stopped in their tracks if you make an action plan now and actually do something about it.

These three additional steps go some way to helping: 

Understand what technology you have now, and in doing so, find the problem.

When technology is used in a non-integrated format, for example a stand-alone stock system that doesn’t link to the procurement system within the business, we have an increase in the time it takes to manually ensure that prices and values are updated, items are booked in, and so on, which leads to more admin hell.

In these cases, using technology actually works against people in an online community, but many years ago, it was all that people had access to, so in many respects they have got used to the extra admin that they now need to operate their systems (which remember, needs updating daily as food & beverage hits deadlines every day). 

Establish your ‘service triangle’ for your live-priced supply chain.

This will engage your suppliers, users and finance team, and give you 100 per cent control over the price creep that you will currently be experiencing. The service triangle really closes the supply chain, so that the user can establish control over their agreed suppliers, the items they buy, and the cost of those items.

 The user will want to order online so they can then get an integrated connection to their stock systems and also advise the finance team when they have received their order. The supplier will want to know the orders are coming through, and the system you use should stop them from changing prices unless the user accepts the changes. This practice stops the ‘price creep’ because in my experience an average user will have between 700 and 1,500 items they buy regularly.

 The finance team also need to pay the supplier, and so they need to get the confirmation of what was ordered and received. Plus, if there are any differences there needs to be a credit and they can then reconcile the monthly statement and pay the supplier.

Allow staff to get used to the service triangle and identify the quicker adopters who can help the slower users.

This way you can decide how best to deploy the planning, operational control and reporting tools that combine together to forecast what you are going to do. This puts you on an operational footing where you have done the hard work, and the reporting of what happens at service time is a very quick feedback to show you what you achieved and where you need to get to. 

By quick adopters and slow users I mean how quickly members of staff pick up the system.  Usually, one finds that in a community of users, there will be some people who are very confident with IT and move forward ‘quickly adopting’ the systems, while others will not be so confident, so managers will need to allow them more time to get used to the systems.

 The design and intuitive nature of a system’s workflow are paramount to helping all users adopt the system, and that is why it is really important to find a system that takes into account the end-user's needs. With commercial based systems (i.e. those systems that help run the company rather than general office style systems such as Word, Excel, etc…), there will be more focus on the operational requirements while with chefs, you want the ordering system to be as quick and simple as possible, so their time is reduced from being on the telephone manually ordering.  

If you’re really serious about keeping on top of admin, achieving these three simple steps will reduce your ‘admin-hell’ significantly and eventually it will go away and turn into a real force for good in your business. It will give time back to your people so they can build dynamic recipes in advance, forecast trade so there are no financial surprises, shop quickly and easily and automate P&L reporting, payroll and HR tasks.

To be successful in the long term, business operations need to squash this excessive admin bug, and quickly.

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