8 Benefits of Paperless Workflows in Restaurant Accounting

A stack of restaurant invoices with a stamp and paperclips on top.

Anyone who wrangles restaurant accounting knows: the sheer volume of paper associated with the job is immense. 

Getting rid of it—or better managing the paper that's absolutely required—is the answer. Here are 8 reasons you should take your AP process paperless:

1. Save time

One of the top frustrations for accountants is the inefficiency of manual sign-offs when paper is involved. A 2013 AIIM survey found that requiring physical signatures tacks on an average of 3.1 days of additional processing time, delaying both payments and reporting.

Handling approvals digitally can decrease that time significantly as users are automatically notified about pending items and can approve them with a click.

But giving up paper doesn't mean giving up a paper trail: the best AP software not only automatically routes items to the right people for approval, but also records who signed off and when so the information is readily available if questions arise.

2. Find invoices faster

Waiting for approvals is just one way paper throws a wrench into a well-oiled workflow. In fact, an Aberdeen Group survey found that 29% of respondents identified "difficulty locating/managing paper-based documents" as a major challenge for AP professionals.

It may seem like a rare occurrence, but large organizations reportedly lose a document every 12 seconds. (We were floored by that number, too.) Even a quick search can result in a half hour of wasted time, followed by an inevitable email to a supplier and the requisite wait for a reply.

Going paperless puts an end to filing (and the papercuts that come with it). Instead, AP automation software organizes invoices for you and makes them searchable, something that more than half of the respondents in an AIIM survey cited as a key driver of paperless processes.

Searchability makes disputing vendor charges easy. So when Sal's Salumi Emporium tries to charge you for a pound of soppressata that the kitchen refused delivery on, you could dig through the filing cabinet in hopes of finding the original invoice. Or you could just type "Sal's" or "soppressata" into a search box and pull up a digital copy, annotations and all.

3. Cut costs, not corners

Let's not even talk about how much it costs to fill a filing cabinet. Or to store it for years. Or to have someone manage those paper files. (Though if you'd like to see those numbers, the North Dakota state government covers everything but the cost of the actual paper.)

Instead, let's focus just on how much it costs to process those paper invoices. In a 2014 survey of accounting professionals by The Institute of Financial Operations, nearly 43% of respondents said the average cost to process electronic invoices was $2 or less, while only 18% of respondents could claim the same of paper invoices.

In a Journal of Accountancy roundtable, Mike Sabbatis of CCH stated that a paperless strategy can result in savings of 30% or more, citing a customer that recouped $14,000 in two years on paper alone. Add in the efficiency gained by implementing paperless workflows, and you've cut costs without cutting corners.

4. Improve your data

Of course, accuracy is a key challenge when working with paper invoices. They can be difficult to read (check out this beauty), which makes data entry a chore, but if your systems aren't synced, you've got even more trouble. Double entry bookkeeping shouldn't mean keying invoice data into both your accounting and inventory software, a process that doubles the potential for errors. 

A paperless solution that integrates with your other restaurant management software reduces errors by reducing your data entry. Plus, such software may include smart validations that automate essential tasks like cross-checking invoice totals against the sum of line items or that notify you when information that seems to be in error, such as an item being coded to the wrong general ledger account. 

5. Share data with ease

"Which sheet are you looking at? [pause] Those are last month's numbers. Hang on, let me get you this month's..."

If you've never been in a meeting where those words have been spoken, we envy you. Sharing data with multiple people or across multiple locations is tricky, and the legacy systems built to manage paper invoices often aren't the best ones to tackle the needs of a networked company.

While going paperless won't fix all the problems related to sharing data, it definitely makes things easier. Centralizing data lets everyone—everyone you give access to, at least—work from the same information. The result? Greater cohesion, better decision making, and no more unproductive pauses during meetings.

6. Access info anywhere, any time

We've all been there: Ready to cross off a to-do list item only to realize that a key piece of info is trapped at work or in someone else's laptop. Or quietly cursing the calendar while attempting to coordinate appointments or days off around payment due dates.

Digital workflows can help. While on-prem solutions (software that's installed and runs only on specific computers) may still require you to be in the office to get anything done, cloud solutions let users log in from anywhere—including the tropical beach you've been dreaming about. 

7. Protect your data 

Whether it's a broken pipe, a hard drive failure, or something even more dramatic, there are plenty of disasters that can endanger your data. Add the potential for fraud to the mix and it's enough to keep you up at night. 

While paperless on-prem solutions won't stand up to fire or flood any better than paper would, housing paperwork in the cloud handles those issues for you. Along with programmatic changelogs and backups, most cloud-based document management software companies store encrypted data on multiple servers in multiple locations to ensure that it's secure regardless of local weather patterns. 

As far as security goes, limiting access via user roles is standard among most software solutions with document management capabilities. Many solutions allow you to build rules that make enforcing best practices (such as having different individuals approve and manage payments) easy. Switching to online payments can also be a boon, as there's no physical check stock laying around for fraud-minded employees to pilfer.

8. Save some trees

Of course, we can't close a post on going paperless without mentioning the environment. Even if you're unable to completely transition away from paper, cutting down on unnecessary use is a win. A 2011 survey by Kyocera found that while office workers had significantly reduced the number of pages they printed, a whopping two-thirds of those pages (3,720 pages per worker, mind you) were wasted. Being mindful of printing duplicates, using double-sided prints whenever possible, and simply thinking twice before hitting the print button can go a long way.

And, of course, adopting paperless processes can make a difference as well, if people adhere to them. AIIM's study found that 16% of respondents admitted to printing out PDF copies of invoices and then scanning them in for capture, a habit that we've seen from some of our customers (and that we gently discourage in favor of more efficient and environmentally-friendly options). 


Regardless of why you decide to go paperless, the benefits are clear. As Lisa Traina of Traina & Associates says, "What we've seen is that once people start to eliminate the paper, everything else falls into place. "

And when that happens, it's likely you'll be feeling something like this: 

Baby Groot dances in his pot, feeling the joy of paperless restaurant accounting.


Up next: How Restaurants Can Create a Paperless Back Office with Plate IQ

Cyndy Willis-Chun

Cyndy Willis-Chun

Cyndy works in marketing at Plate IQ. When she's not behind a keyboard, she's probably hanging out with her schnauzer.