K&W Cafeterias, a chain of 33 cafeteria-style restaurants based in Winston-Salem, N.C., has been operating for nearly 71 years with a paper-based system for ordering food and other supplies. Tom Hutchens, senior PC/network support technician, tells IncTechnology.com that secure virtual private network (VPN) technology enabled each cafeteria to place orders directly into the company’s purchasing database.
Elizabeth Wasserman: How does a chain of cafeterias use information technology?
Tom Hutchens: Within the cafeteria, we do a lot of work with point of sale hardware and software. We have networks both internal at the stores, internal at the home office, and a wide area network encompassing the stores and home office. We have security surveillance systems in the stores and real-time reporting on sales and item counts.
Wasserman: What led you to install VPN technology?
Hutchens: The reason we turned to VPN was we wanted our stores to be able to place orders to our suppliers pretty much directly into our database without having to call up like in the old days. Each store used to have to call up to the purchasing department or do a paper order and fax that in. The purchasing department would then have to key those in to our IBM AS400 database server, which holds all of our accounting databases. We wanted to get rid of having to use paper and we wanted to streamline our ordering system. The only way we could do that is to let stores input orders into the system directly.
In about half of our stores, we also have a closed circuit TV system, CCTV. It’s a digital-based DVR system that basically means you have a bunch of cameras and they record onto a hard drive and then you’re able to save a great quantity of data. It’s larger than video tapes or CDs. It has a Web interface on the back end and you can go into each one in each store and see what’s going on in the store. We can do this from home or the office. We log in to our VPN and go to each store to track incidents and accidents.
Wasserman: What did you decide to do?
Hutchens: The way we figured it would work best was to use VPN so that our stores could connect to the K&W network. For the cost, that was the best technology and, we’re finding today that it’s still the best way to continue to do our ordering. We turned to a local company, Secure Design, which does all of our managed services work, for the VPN service.
Wasserman: What have the results been?
Hutchens: It’s been great for us. The orders now come in over the computer. The time involved as far as ordering everything has been greatly reduced. We don’t have to worry about having someone keying in anything anymore. We’s been able to cut down on paper and on work hours at the store levels. Our purchasing department is only a two-person department. Most of their time now, where an order is concerned, is spent fixing mistakes — you know when someone with a fat finger puts in a wrong number. It’s definitely cut down on the time it takes to get these orders done. It’s cut down on mistakes and misreads. And it’s cut down on a lot of theft and insurance claims. Through the security systems, we can catch accidents that happen or catch people stealing from us. It’s paid for itself.