vicki powers
freelance writer

The Franchise Friend

Broadband connections are redefining restaurant communications

Hospitality Technology, June 2005

by Vicki Powers

Restaurants with multiple franchise locations understand the struggle to communicate across town or across the country with its franchise owners. Communication needs not only to be consistent but also timely and relevant. Restaurant owners are now using broadband connections with its franchisees for corporate intranets, prioritized feedback, and faster transactions for credit cards and inventory management. These three examples provide a glimpse of the variety of options.

Intranet success at Nick-N-Willy's
Scott Adams admits his company barely needs a mailroom now that it moved its communication system online. At Nick-N-Willy's World Famous Take-N-Bake Pizza, the intranet has turned this Colorado-based pizza chain into a virtually paperless company.

Before the technology arrived, Nick-N-Willy's relied on memos and snail mail to communicate and distribute information to its franchise locations. This cumbersome process took too long and wasn't effective. Two years ago, Nick-N-Willy's worked with IFX International ( to design a customized intranet solution. Now its 56 franchise locations have access to corporate information 24/7.

"This has substantially increased the amount of communication we have with franchisees," says Adams, CEO. "Now we post stuff in the [online] library that may not have been done in the past because of time and the cost to mail."

This new system, dubbed NickNet, houses the operations manual, discussion forums, news items, corporate documents library, and e-mail communication between franchise locations. One of the side benefits of this system is new employees can go back to the online archives and news to learn what the company is all about. Adams believes the intranet adds a lot more depth of information with thanks to its easy search function.

Franchisee feedback is another powerful option through the intranet system. Once or twice a month, Adams polls franchisees with a question to garner specific feedback on topics ranging from marketing ideas to operational procedures. In one example, the question could be as simple as "name the fastest pepperoni maker in your location." This reveals the speed of processes in different locations to ensure consistency. Adams says if one person completes it in four minutes and another in two and a half minutes, a discrepancy is occurring in the process.

Moe's knows its customers
What do organizations do once the feedback starts rolling in? Moe's Southwest Grill, an Atlanta-based fast casual restaurant, is implementing a customer-needs management system that gathers the feedback and then ranks it. This is critical for Sonny Crumpton, Moe's VP of franchise development, who receives about 85 e-mails a day from its more than 220 franchise locations.

"At the end of the day you can't calibrate e-mails," Crumpton relates. "This is a tool that allows us to focus on the needs of the community that are most pressing. Usually the squeaky wheel gets the attention, but everyone will get their own share now."

Moe's selected IdeaScope by Orasi ( for its ability to proactively capture, prioritize, and centrally manage customer preferences. Franchisees, for example, submit ideas to their department head. Moe's gathers these ideas and sends them back out in a survey format for franchise owners to rate the ideas. This allows Crumpton to naturally discover the priority item based on their feedback.

In the past, Moe's received franchisee feedback through phone calls and e-mail to different corporate departments. These one-off requests often proved challenging to determine where to begin. Crumpton says supporting the franchise community is the biggest challenge in the industry. Communication and support are key factors, in creating a strong relationship between a restaurant franchisor and franchise owner.

Flexibility at IHOP
IHOP is in the beginning stages of providing an Internet virtual private network (VPN) for secure communication between its restaurant support center and 1,400 franchisees throughout the United States. This Retail Connect VPN from Netifice ( operates through all the major cable, satellite, and DSL access providers for flexibility at the IHOP franchisee level.

"The biggest change for franchisees will be simplified and centralized access to information," says Tom Peterson, director of IT infrastructure. "This will provide more real-time access to make business decisions based on current data and valid resources."

Franchisees will also have flexibility in selecting the individualized services needed at each location. Netifice's SmartWorX online provisioning system allows franchisees to order, receive, and pay for the specific services they want, though the entire network solution is standardized and capable of supporting IHOP's point-of-sale, inventory, and credit card processing applications. A number of value-added services are available, such as the Managed Wi-Fi Hotspot Internet access, for locations to tailor services exactly to their needs.

This technology transition is rolling out internally at IHOP this year and will begin full implementation in early 2006. The transition requires adding an extranet portal to provide access to a variety of corporate resources such as HR forms and e-mail. The convenience of accessing information from one source is expected to improve productivity.

For Captain D's the desire to find a single solution to connect all its more than 500 units led it to Direcway ( satellite broadband solution.

"We are looking at expanding internationally and were impressed by the fact that with satellite, we can use the system anywhere without a problem. With DSL, it was hit or miss," explain Chris Crabtree, vice president of information services. The system allows Captain D's employees to train staff remotely utilizing the company intranet.

High-speed network connections can provide plenty of benefits for franchise-owned restaurants. It's a critical technology that ultimately benefits customers as well as employees.

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