Why More Restaurant Brands Should Embrace Virtual, Collaborative Auditing

Why More Restaurant Brands Should Embrace Virtual, Collaborative Auditing

Why More Restaurant Brands Should Embrace Virtual, Collaborative Auditing

By Kari Hensien, President of RizePoint and Johnny Tellez, Vice President of Operations & Training for Focus Brands International, a division of Focus Brands LLC.

Whether you’re the operator of a single, independently owned restaurant or you’re part of a global brand with thousands of locations, you must ensure that each restaurant consistently follows the strictest safety, quality, and compliance protocols. Restaurant brands must regularly audit locations to determine whether there are any noncompliance issues and, if so, make immediate corrections to fix them.

Historically, restaurant brands have conducted in-person, onsite audits with an impartial third-party inspector. The audits were often infrequent – sometimes just once or twice a year – with inspectors visiting a location to find what was wrong and how to fix the problems. Restaurant operators often felt like these audits were punitive. The inspectors told them what was wrong, but didn’t work with them to make improvements, engage them to find solutions, or educate them about the protocols. When the auditor left, they assumed the operator made the suggested changes but didn’t follow up to find out, and wasn’t in touch again until the following year’s inspection.

A new, collaborative approach to auditing

Focus Brands International, a division of Focus Brands LLC, has shifted the auditing model, making it more collaborative, engaging, and interactive.

Focus Brands International used brand, safety, and quality auditing to maintain consistency and high standards across all locations. But with such a large global presence – seven iconic brands across more than 1,850 locations in 60 countries – it was challenging for the organization to have auditors visit each location annually. In fact, until 2020, they were only able to visit about 10% of their locations per year.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and travel restrictions made in-person audits unfeasible. The brands still needed to ensure that their locations were complying with best practice safety and quality standards without physically visiting them. Out of necessity, they pivoted to virtual audits. And since they wanted a more collaborative approach, they created a coaching model for store reviews, launching their Customer Experience Center of Excellence (CECE) and Operations Excellence Reviews (OERs).

This new system was a radical reimagining of what continuous improvement and feedback can look like. Under the new system, staff at each franchised location worked with an online coaching team, who provided collaboration and support, engaging employees to consistently follow best practice protocols. The organization developed a well-defined, tiered review system that gave coaches and franchised location operators clear standards on what they’re reviewing, how it’s being evaluated, and what comes next.

The new system provided more frequent (quarterly) contact with all franchisees. Using video calls, coaches provide brand updates, review the location virtually, offer positive reinforcement, and highlight opportunities to improve. The coaches don’t just tell the teams what needs to be fixed. Instead, they define corrective actions and training for each identified improvement opportunity, engaging the teams to be part of the solution. All reviews, checklists, corrective actions, and reporting are handled through the RizePoint application.

The Results

After implementing the new, collaborative auditing approach, Focus Brands International experienced the following benefits:

  • Time spent per review is 65-75% lower compared to in-person reviews.
  • Costs of virtual audits are a fraction of in-person reviews.
  • They can visit more stores more often. They had 126 in-store inspections in 2020, and more than 2,000 virtual visits in the first three quarters of 2022. Before pivoting to virtual audits, they could only visit a tenth of their locations per year. Now, they work with all locations once per quarter.
  • Improvements in compliance.
  • Franchisees are happy to get more attention and support.
  • Locations within the same market are adopting information from each other’s reviews to progress more quickly.

Rather than replacing in-person visits completely, Focus Brands International is using virtual visits to make in-person visits more impactful.

The future of auditing is collaborative

Collaborative, virtual auditing offers significant benefits and unmatched ROI vs. a traditional, third-party auditing approach. As outlined above, brands can visit locations remotely multiple times per year to provide the ongoing support that their franchisees need. Additionally, brands will save significant time and money using virtual audits instead of in-person inspections. And this new approach boosts safety and quality compliance to keep brands – and their customers – safer.

Moving forward, the trend will be to embrace a more frequent, collaborative auditing model, which will drive continuous improvement and operational excellence.

Brands would be wise to:

  • Rely on digital auditing solutions to maximize successes.
  • Build a collaborative culture, using coaches who will help locations improve their safety, QA, compliance, and overall operations.
  • Inspect locations remotely, in the language and time-zone of their store operators.
  • Capture valuable data to measure against store performance.
  • Establish a single source of truth for a brand’s safety and quality specifications, standards, and compliance documents.
  • Use search-driven analytics to sort through data, drilling down to each specific location, issue, and trend.

Focus Brands International prioritizes operational excellence and has developed a best-in-class program to ensure all locations adhere to proper safety, quality, and compliance standards. They’re a great example of a company that is providing exceptional support to their brands’ global franchisees so customers can experience brand consistency at every location. Now, other brands should embrace the collaborative, virtual approach, and enjoy the many benefits of doing so.

Kari Hensien is President of RizePoint, a technology leader in the food safety, quality management, compliance, and social responsibility space. RizePoint’s quality management software solutions help companies, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Marriott, and more, keep brand promises through their quality, safety, and compliance efforts. Customers gather better data, see necessary actions earlier, and act faster to correct issues before they become costly liabilities. Check out RizePoint’s new website to learn how these solutions can help your company.

In his capacity as Vice President of Operations & Training for Focus Brands International, Johnny Tellez has undertaken the task of advancing the level of operational management, guidance and support provided to the franchise teams abroad. In consideration of time, language, geographical, and financial boundaries; a new approach incorporating technology and virtual capabilities needed to be developed. The result became the Customer Experience Center of Excellence, a centralized coaching center from which operational reviews are conducted virtually, around the clock and in the local language. Leveraging his career in food service and passion for innovation, he is eager to share a look at Focus Brands LLC’s solution to leading operational excellence in an increasingly virtual world.