Transitioning Your Restaurant to a Paperless AP Process: 6 Steps to Success

A pile of shredded invoices.

We've established the benefits of going paperless for restaurant accountants. We've explained the role that Plate IQ can play. But one large, lingering question remains: Given that most restaurant accountants aren't actually in the kitchen receiving deliveries and the invoices that arrive with them, how can they get the back of the house and the back office to work in sync?

In this post, we'll walk you through some best practices when transitioning to a paperless workflow, especially in situations where invoices, processing, and payments are handled by different teams.

Step 1: Understand your new role

Last week you might have been a mild-mannered AP manager. But as soon as you took on the task of implementing a paperless workflow, your role changed: you're now a process manager, cheerleader, and AP manager. 

That means it's your job to help ease your coworkers into a new normal and encourage them to view the new process/technology as an improvement, not an interruption to business as usual. You may also discover that you're now the de facto expert on the new software, so keep your account manager's email address handy as you get started. 

Step 2: Identify stakeholders

For most restaurants, reducing the paper in their AP workflow has implications for multiple roles:

  • BOH employees who receive invoices
  • Accounting/bookkeeping/finance team members who handle data input, reconciliation, and payments
  • CFO and other execs who review business data 
  • Purchasing managers who want to optimize their spend

Making sure that each of those stakeholders understands how your an online invoice processing system is key to getting buy-in. A GM who currently shoves paper copies into an envelope and sends it off may bristle at the idea of being responsible for scanning and uploading invoices. But if that GM understands the change as one that provides greater visibility into their spend, they may be more motivated to use the system.

Step 3: Establish a workflow

You know who'll be impacted, now it's time to collaborate with them to establish new workflows.

In our experience, the restaurants that get the most value out of Plate IQ are the ones that evaluate their existing procedures for invoice processing and adjust them to take advantage of all the features we offer. 

In contrast, restaurants that attempt to integrate accounts payable automation into their existing workflows tend to be less efficient and less satisfied than their peers. For example, restaurants that use the software for invoice capture but persist in hand coding items to GL codes—something Plate IQ does automatically—not only unnecessarily duplicate work, but miss out on a key benefit of the system.

It goes without saying that this is a great moment to identify and attempt to ease existing pain points. But you should also work to clarify roles, handoff points, and internal SLAs (service level agreements). For example, a GM may be responsible for uploading invoices, but who needs to approve them? And how quickly does that need to be done? If there's a dispute with a vendor over an invoice amount or late payment, who should handle it? 

Figuring out those details in advance makes it easier for all parties to collaborate more effectively and to understand how their role intersects with everyone else's.

Step 4: Train users on online and offline workflows

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to work with software you don't understand. Just as exasperating, though, is when you belatedly "discover" some feature that could have saved you hours of trouble. 

For example, plenty of Plate IQ customers scan invoices in preparation for upload. Simple, right? Sure. But customers who know that they can scan a batch of invoices into a single file—and without having to insert separator pages—save time and hassle in comparison to those who painstakingly scan each invoice separately.

And although we're focusing on going paperless, because most invoices are received on paper, top users establish procedures for managing those paper copies. One suggestion is to have a designated inbox or file folder to put invoices into prior to upload and a second folder for uploaded invoices. Why bother? Having a system in place ensures that: 

  • Every invoice received is entered into the system
  • Invoices aren't uploaded multiple times (which duplicates effort and can cause processing delays)
  • Once digitized, paper invoices can be disposed of in a timely fashion

Relevant stakeholders also need to know how to access information in your online invoice management system. For GMs, that might mean pulling up digitized copies of invoices. For purchasing managers, getting ahold of Spend Analysis reports might be more important. Letting users know what's available and when will help manage their expectations and avoid confusion.

Step 5: Enforce the process

Enforcement is nobody's idea of a good time, but it's crucial when you're asking people to change the way they work. Set a drop-dead date for manual invoice processing and keep an eye on how people are transitioning ahead of it.

If you see that a particular restaurant or user is slow to adopt, find out why that is. In some cases, you may find that they're just reluctant to do things differently, but in others you may discover roadblocks (perceived or actual) that are keeping team members from making the switch.

Step 6: Reassess, refine, repeat

After a few weeks of trying the new paperless process, check in with users to see how it's going. Make sure to ask whether the new procedures are working and listen carefully to their responses. Work with users to figure out whether their complaints are temporary inconveniences that come with learning a new system or if they'll be ongoing irritations that need to be addressed.

Next, take some time to refine your procedures to optimize workflows. Even the best-laid plans can go awry when executed in the real world, so there's no shame in making adjustments. Just make sure to share the new process with everyone involved so they know what to expect.

And if you haven't already, it's time to roll out the process to a wider set of users. Many of our customers prefer to start with a small-scale pilot, working out the kinks with a crew they trust, then expanding usage more broadly. 

Finally, remember that adjusting to a paperless workflow may be a challenge, but it's well worth it. But don't take our word for it—see what Tender Greens has to say!

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.