The Paperless Office

    Can the sustainable and time-saving practice of going paperless be feasible in the limited-service industry?


    Capriotti’s Jason Smylie says cutting paper out of the corporate atmosphere saves time and money while improving efficiency.

    Talk of an all-digital future where paper is nothing but a distant memory has been around for decades. But thanks to the rise of cloud applications and devices that keep everyone constantly connected, the dream of a paperless office is now becoming a 21st century reality—a reality that can work wonders for the environment. In fact, for every ton of paper that isn’t used, roughly 7,000 gallons of water and 12 trees can be saved, says Michael Oshman, founder and CEO of the Green Restaurant Association.

    But going paperless is about more than just being green. For quick-serve restaurants, eliminating paper can provide space, lower storage costs, and improve access to information.

    Barry Nelson, vice president of operations for Pancheros Mexican Grill, says technology is in place for the brand to inexpensively reduce or eliminate much of the need for paper.

    “We have gone to an electronic reporting procedure for much of what we are collecting from both our franchise restaurants and company-run restaurants,” he says. “This includes sales, costs, inventory information, and payroll, among other things.

    “In some instances, we are using simple electronic reports and e-mailing them, while in others, we are using our ability to collect information automatically from our POS system,” Nelson adds. “For times that we must use paper, we have made an effort to consolidate several items to reduce the amount of paper used.”

    Paperless operations also provide an easier way to find important documents, saving valuable time. “The time savings allow us to take on new projects and initiatives to move the business forward more quickly,” Nelson says. “Additionally, it allows a faster turnaround on information to the field. The increased accuracy has been an advantage that has decreased the amount of work to track potential accuracy issues.”

    It may not be realistic to go 100 percent paperless in the store, as many customers still want receipts and there will likely always be some need for hard copies of documents on hand. It is possible, though, to cut paper to almost nonexistent levels on the corporate side, says Jason Smylie, chief marketing officer, chief information officer, and executive vice president of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop.

    The Las Vegas–based brand, which has 87 restaurants throughout 12 states, recently transferred its paper manuals over to digital files and documents with live links.  

    “We have also begun providing new franchisees with iPads to encourage the use of the device over printing out the materials,” Smylie says. “At our corporate office, we have recently made all of our weekly meetings paperless by displaying all documents on the screen in our conference room via laptop. It is more efficient than printing out copies of each document for everyone present, which will only be discarded after the meeting anyway.”

    Smylie says having a living document on-screen allows team members to collaborate and edit the original document directly, and is an easy way to share data instantly. “Going paperless is not only a smart move for the environment, but also saves our company money [and] time, and also improves efficiency,” he says.

    Emile Haddad owns 10 McDonald’s restaurants in New Hampshire and found he was overwhelmed with the expanding dependence on physical documents. With each foodservice delivery, inventory report, or payroll run, his filing requirements were growing and his physical storage space needs were mounting.

    “We need to do a lot of paperwork, and a lot of it we need to keep for anywhere from three to seven years,” he says. “We have to rent places and manage boxes and label everything properly. Paperwork breeds paperwork and becomes a nightmare.”

    Haddad got help from a hybrid cloud storage enablement company, CTERA Networks, which provides McDonald’s franchisees with general accounting systems to automate business operations and helps them go paperless.

    “One of the challenges of a franchisee in a quick-serve environment is that you’re going to have a lot of paper—foodservice orders, accounting, invoices—and you are required to report a lot of this to the home office,” says Kara Montgomery, senior manager of channel marketing at CTERA.

    To help with his storage challenge, Haddad updated his accounting system to automatically back up all data to an off-site cloud service. This helped him reduce operational costs, ensure end-to-end data protection, and eliminate the traditional filing cabinets that often line office walls.

    “This was a safe way to back up everything, and all our documents are now scanned and their images are stored automatically on an off-site cloud service,” Haddad says. “If there’s ever a serious disaster or a system problem, all that information isn’t lost.”

    Montgomery says it’s important that quick serves understand the benefits that the cloud can offer. “Sometimes people think the cloud can be scary, but as long as the franchisee and business owner know it is a reliable technology, … they will see a technology that is more robust, less complicated, and very secure,” she says.

    While paperless operations may be a solution both at the corporate and unit level, the biggest challenge often comes down to getting people accustomed to it, Oshman says. Breaking the habit of pencil and paper in hand is tough, especially for older generations.

    “Our initial challenge has been managing the transition,” Pancheros’ Nelson says. “Training our restaurants and our office team to work with a new process has been the most obvious focus. However, we decided to roll the process out in stages so that we could reduce the strain of managing the transition, and that has helped significantly.”