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Scheduling made painless

Former servers develop online tool for restaurants

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A Winnipeg company run by a couple of 30-something former restaurant workers has developed an automated tool that effectively eliminates one of the most time-consuming and frustrating parts of managing an eatery -- staff scheduling.

Jason Wagenaar and Kris Edwards, a couple of former servers at Moxie's Classic Grill, launched the service, called Ameego, about four years ago.

This week, management of Denny's restaurants in Canada said they will implement the web-based service across the entire 46-location, 2,700-employee chain.

The company has been growing at a pace of more than 50 per cent annually and should hit $1 million in annual sales this year. It has corporate and franchise customers from many of the major Canadian chains like Moxie's, Earl's, Boston Pizza, The Keg and Tony Roma's as its customers.

"It is an amazing program," said Deborah Gagnon, vice-president of operations for Denny's in Canada. "We see an impact on operations after only four weeks of using it in a location. It takes so much of the frustration out of the scheduling process."

With growing acceptance in the Canadian industry, the company has just opened a Minneapolis office with a reseller and is about to wade into the much larger, more competitive U.S. market.

It operates as an online, software-as-a-service model that features modest licence and start-up costs and monthly fees of between $2.50 and $5 a user.

The recurring revenue is a recipe for long-term success and Ameego's ability to make upgrades without requiring customers to pay for a new version every time a change is made equals a strong retention rate.

Gagnon said while staff scheduling used to occupy managers for four to six hours a week, using Ameego it's down to about one hour.

"That means our managers are able to spend more time with guests and coaching employees," she said. "I see the impact in comments from guests about the quality of services after we started using it. There is a real return on investment."

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he's glad to have Ameego as a member of his organization.

"We have 160 members and it's great to have a service like Ameego's as one of the buffet of offerings," he said. "The service is such a great fit. It makes life a little easier for our members."

Originally the two founders set out to build a full-scale hand-held restaurant order management tool.

Although they both had education and training in the computer field, after about two years of working on the project they realized they bit off a bit more than they could chew.

"We had this behemoth system," Edwards said. "We realized we had to simplify things."

Part of the work on the original project was a back-office suite focusing on staff. "We had to get something out or we wouldn't survive," Wagenaar said. "So we stripped out the scheduling piece."

Their connection with Moxie's was a big break for the start-up. Moxie's management heard about what they were doing and invited Wagenaar and Edwards to make a pitch. Moxie's said if a few modifications and features could be added, it would go with Ameego.

"We were fortunate to get that break," Edwards said.

They have focused on the restaurant business because of what they believe are specialized challenges that it has -- the predominance of part-time staff, the reality of two different busy periods in the day during lunch and dinner and the range of skills that need to be met each day.

"Doing the schedule can be one of the most onerous tasks, especially for a 24-hour per day operation," Gagnon said. "This system makes it all just about a push-button solution."

The fact that just about every employee across the country now has the ability to go online everyday makes the use of this type of online service economical and possible.

Part-time workers who also have to schedule other part-time work or time to go to class, or even trying to schedule a social life, can easily make their availability known on the system.

Gagnon said communication among employees and management and throughout the enterprise is so much better.

The Ameego partners take seriously the impact on work-life balance that their system has on their clients' business.

The company maintains an office in the Clarion Hotel, but most of its employees effectively work from home.

"Productivity is so much better," said Wagenaar. "Who said we are all at our best between nine and five?"

What Ameego does

Ameego's workforce solutions automate and decrease the time involved with a number of traditionally manual processes, including:


-- sales and labor forecasting / reporting

-- employee schedule creation

-- time off / vacation requests

-- shift trade / change requests

-- information flow via POS integrations

-- event and weather tracking

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2011 B5

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