Megan Brauch, manager of Dollop Bakeshop, can tell you the real-time food costs of each pastry the bakery makes, or whether croissants at its Hyde Park cafe are selling better than in Ukrainian Village. All it takes is a swipe or two of her finger.
Her ace in the hole: SimpleOrder, a digital inventory management system developed in 2012 by an Israeli startup. "It has a really great function where you can link to your vendors, upload your recipes, and it will cost them out exactly. It was really giving me a headache trying to figure it out with pen and paper," Brauch says.
SimpleOrder opened its U.S. headquarters in Chicago in 2015 and will expand its staff here from eight to 20 in the next few months as it embarks on an aggressive push to triple its North American customer base next year. It isn't the first such automated platform for restaurants—but it's one of many businesses that has popped up to help restaurants with the decidedly unsexy yet essential process of managing inventory.
"[SimpleOrder] sits between your suppliers—US Foods or Sysco or your bread guy or fishmonger—your accounting platform, and your point-of-sales system on the front end. We're able to to harness all that data and let one filter into the next," says Jeremy Goodman, the company's head of sales.
The way a restaurant or food business typically handles its inventory process is "shockingly manual" and potentially wasteful, says Goodman. "If you think about what creates a lot of waste for restaurants, it's not having a good understanding of what their inventory is in real time.”
Through SimpleOrder, a restaurant can keep tabs on, say, how many heads of Romaine or tins of anchovies it has at any given moment and automatically order more when it's time. On the flip side, says Goodman, each time a diner orders a Caesar salad, the system deducts those ingredients from the inventory, allowing a kitchen to manage its stock and food costs in real time.
The company claims the platform can save a restaurant on average between $200 and $300 a week, according to a recent press release announcing its North American expansion. In the Chicago area, Goodman says 33 locations, including Centennial Crafted Beer and Eatery in River North and Brightwok Kitchen in the Loop, use it.
Dollop's Brauch starting using SimpleOrder in early summer after hearing about it from a consultant. She uses it mainly to cost out recipes and monitor inventory, not to order from vendors. "I personally enjoy working with a lot of my reps face-to-face," she says. "That being said, it was really nice to use it last night for my flour orders. It took three seconds. Send it off and be done."