How Is A Mobile Solution Helping Cafe Chain Au Bon Pain Bring In The Dough?
By Susan Nunziata
A smartphone solution is enabling field directors at cafe chain Au Bon Pain to respond to market forces in real time, resulting in increased sales.
Giving its area field directors real-time access to critical sales and
labor information was the primary goal for Au Bon Pain when it deployed
a series of smartphone-based applications this year.
Each area director is responsible for overseeing operations in six to
eight restaurants, including making sure the restaurants are
appropriately staffed and stocked. They were previously using laptops
to access daily P&L information, but the nature of their work,
often conducted in the cramped back rooms of restaurants, made the
laptops cumbersome to use. Many were using their laptops as de facto
desktops, and printing up daily reports each morning to take with them
into the field and taking down information on pen and paper. "The
problem with that is you don't have what you really need, when you need
it," says Randy Burkhart, VP of I.T. at Au Bon Pain. "Our first
objective was, could we deploy information on a smartphone so they had
a smaller, unobtrusive form factor that they could carry with them all
Burkhart details several challenges:
- Could the company's critical applications be used effectively on a smartphone?
- Could the applications be formatted for the smartphone in a way that the area directors found beneficial?
the area directors, who were hired for their restaurant operations
ability not their technical savvy, learn how to effectively use the
- Was it possible to achieve a level of security that would protect sensitive data such as daily store sales?
The chain found a partner in Enterprise Mobile
that could help it answer all those questions with a resounding yes.
Enterprise Mobile built a mobility strategy from scratch customized for
Au Bon Pain's needs and meeting its security requirements. Burkhart
says Au Bon Pain preferred to work in the Windows Mobile format.
Enterprise Mobile is a Watertown, Mass-based startup whose founder,
Mort Rosenthal, was personally tapped by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer to
advance Windows Mobile in the enterprise
For the initial pilot, Au Bon Pain chose to mobilize its daily cafe
P&L report, an application for which it had data readily available
but was going to have to reformat from a user-interface perspective to
fit the smartphone. "We wanted to see how much effort that was going to
take us," says Burkhart. Within three weeks, Enterprise Mobile worked
with Au Bon Pain to reformat the app.
The eight-week pilot began in July 2007 involving nine area directors who had varying degrees of technical acumen.
"The group we started with is all local, so it was very easy for me to
bring them into our office," says Burkhart. "With Enterprise Mobile we
provided them the rollout of the devices and the training on the
The area directors were given several different smartphones to try out, and they settled on the Motorola Q
as their device of choice.
The solution was rolled out to the chain's 45 area directors in spring
2008, and additional applications were added on. First was a
forecasting application that predicts cafe sales. Next was an
application that compares how those forecasts are stacking up to daily
sales. The third app helps manage labor resources, by comparing actual
labor to forecasted labor.
Now, the chain is working on developing processes to get the area
directors actively involved in affecting the results as they're
happening in real time, as opposed to just looking at historical data,
"In our labor scheduling application, we actually poll the cafe to find
out how much labor they need by the hour," says Burkart. "Our
particular area of concern is what we call guest-service labor, those
people running the cash register, and those people who make sandwiches,
where demand is driven by people walking into the cafe. If you walk
into an environment and there's a long line you walk away. So the
objective is a high level of customer service."
The next piece going into place is an application that will send an
area director a text message whenever labor demand in a given cafe is
out of line with where it's supposed to be. "They will have the ability
from their smartphones to pull up an application to show them exactly
how much labor is in place at a cafe and what are they doing. This lets
them look at real-time sales as well as real-time labor. So if sales
are exceeding forecast, and you need more labor, the area director can
potentially move labor from another cafe to help out, they themselves
can go help out. On the converse side, if for some reason sales are way
off, they can make adjustments in labor to bring labor down."
Adds Burkhart, "Our focus is not just when sales are down how do you
reduce labor, but how do you ensure that you're providing the right
level of service. As you do that, your sales actually go up."
While he declines to reveal specific sales results, Burkhart says the
company is seeing sales go up along with a corresponding reduction in
percent of labor, even though the chain is leveraging its existing
labor better than it previously had been.
In addition to realizing efficiencies for its area directors, the chain
also saved money by consolidating what had been a piecemeal system of
individual cellular contracts and myriad devices to one that used a
single device under a single service plan with Verizon.
Historically our users could have either been on a corporate contract
or on an individual contract, and they expensed their phones," says
Burkhart. In fact, some were walking around with cell phones,
BlackBerrys and wireless data cards for their laptops.
"We did a study of those that were being expensed, found out how much
money we could save by forcing them all onto corporate contracts, and
put in place a new policy that everybody would be on corporate
contracts." The result? "We were able to pay for the new devices and
data plans at no incremental costs."