Finding a better way

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Doing business as usual wasn’t working for Trattoria Roma, a small, family-owned Italian restaurant, when it moved from Morse Road to Grandview last June.

Business tripled within months of the move, and the busier location was turning familiar operation annoyances into problems. Handwritten orders could be difficult to read, for example, and sometimes required kitchen staff to take time out to ask servers to interpret them.

Servers didn’t use uniform shorthand for dish descriptions, causing order mix-ups, and charges for extras and substitutions weren’t well recorded. In addition, servers had to go to the kitchen to explain special requests.

“The manual way we were doing it wasn’t an efficient way of doing it,” says Shawn Mason, general manager of Trattoria Roma. “We knew in the first month that the manual system was just not the way to do things down here.”

So as of Oct. 2, all orders began being recorded electronically.

Mason says switching to a computerized system has simplified matters for servers and kitchen staff.

Although various programs are available, MICROS was selected by executives at the 10-year-old restaurant. Based on advice from business colleagues, it seemed the most appropriate, Mason says.

“The people who were using MICROS seemed to come back the happiest,” he says.

The fact that MICROS is available through a local company — Brolin Retail Systems — was a major deciding factor, too, according to Mason. He says he appreciates the 24-hour help line the Dublin company offers.

Introduction to MICROS included 16 hours of training — divided into two sessions — for the 48-person staff.

“Everyone here is really catching on very quickly, and it’s a very easy system to use,” Mason says. “We even kept our registers around for the first few days, just in case we ran into any problems, but we didn’t need them.”

While making day-to-day operation easier is a clear advantage, Trattoria Roma projects an added bonus: a 15 percent increase in productivity.

Mason says the estimate is based on expected time-saving in a variety of instances: Servers aren’t heading to the kitchen with special orders, since those can be noted electronically, and kitchen personnel aren’t tracking down servers because of illegible handwriting.

MICROS also saves time by keeping a supply inventory. And, it tracks the restaurant’s busy and slow times, so staffing schedules can be adapted accordingly.

Everything is just more efficient,” Mason says.

Ed Hechler, president of Brolin Retail Systems, says other MICROS capabilities include:

  • Timecard functions
  • Gift certificate generation
  • Accounting programming

“The system offers a complete revenue picture for the restaurant at any given time,” says Christopher DiPaolo, who — along with his cousins Rich DiPaolo III and Mark Mizer — is a Trattoria co-owner.

Although he would not disclose a purchase price, he did say Trattoria Roma’s system was “in the five-figure range.”

Hechler says MICROS systems range from $13,000 to $17,000, depending on the number of terminals. After the initial investment, expect to pay roughly 7 to 12 percent annually for system upkeep and continued technical support, Hechler adds. Leasing a system may cost $250 to $350 monthly, he estimates.

Trattoria Roma bartender Aaron Tinnerello says MICROS makes it easier to keep bar tabs, allows him to work more efficiently with the servers and gives him inventory updates. He used older MICROS versions at previous workplaces.

Server Stephen Smith, likewise, was accustomed to computer-based ordering; he used Digital Dining elsewhere. While Smith says he liked some aspects of Digital Dining over MICROS, he notes he is still learning the latter. And computer tracking, in general, beats the alternative.

“It’s better than hand writing everything out; it’s a lot less confusing,” Smith says.

Chef Jaime George agrees, saying there aren’t a lot of questions from the kitchen to wait staff because of unclear orders or unfamiliar shorthand.

“If they order something with no onions, there are no onions. It’s simple,” he says. How to reach: Shawn Mason, general manager, Trattoria Roma, 488-2104; Ed Hechler, president, Brolin Retail Systems, 766-1234

C.J. Cross ([email protected]) is a free-lance writer for SBN.