Customer Story | Craft Brewery & Restaurant Group
How Karl Strauss Pairs Hand-Crafted Beer with Automated Accounts Payable
Microsoft Dynamics GP
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In the mid-1980s, the modern American brewing scene was in its infancy. Decades of homogenization in the US beer market was slowly giving birth to an underground movement of homebrewers and microbreweries — the big bang of what we know today as the world of “craft beer.”
During this time period, college friends Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner went backpacking through Australia and came across a brewpub that opened their eyes to the potential of local, handcrafted beer. The two friends were inspired.
They decided to bring that vision back to San Diego, a place that hadn’t seen a new brewery open since Prohibition, and give the city a beer culture all its own.
To get the project started, Chris enlisted the help of his cousin: a man named Karl Strauss. A recently retired master brewer, Strauss was a German émigré whose family had brewed beer in an old-world style for generations. For the previous twenty-five years, Strauss had mastered modern industrial methods in his capacity as the Vice President of Production for the Pabst Brewing Company.
When Karl decided to come out of retirement to help the young entrepreneurs, he got to work: designing the brewery, creating recipes, and building the ultimate capstone to a life of craftsmanship.
The Karl Strauss Brewing Company opened in San Diego on February 2, 1989. Over the next three decades, the company and the industry grew together. Today, the Karl Strauss Brewing Company is the elder statesman of San Diego’s world-class beer scene, and honors the legacy of its namesake by sponsoring growth and collaboration among brewers in the city now known as “the Craft Beer Capital of America.”
A hand-crafted invoice process
Over the years, Karl Strauss has grown into a large operation. In addition to a bustling manufacturing and distribution business, the company operates its primary brewpub alongside seven microbreweries, each of which includes a restaurant business.
And while a commitment to slow, manual processes might set its beer apart, it was drowning its Accounts Payable team in paper.
Karli-Mae Ochoa, the company’s Senior Accountant and primary AP master, recalls that for a long time, the company received, approved, and paid over a thousand invoices a month entirely on paper.
“We were getting along with a team of people just hand-keying all of these daily invoices into our Great Plains software.”
But the manual AP system had its flaws. For one thing, the people doing the coding were mostly employees who would rather have been focusing on the guests.
“The GM or the head chef were really the only people who coded things,” says Karli-Mae. “Those invoices needed to be hand-coded or written out between what accounts it needed to hit. They used to have to hand-key all of those separately and do all of those manual calculations, write it on the invoice and then sign it.”
Doing calculations on paper invoices didn’t make the task any easier.
“Judging by the scribbles and the checkmarks and the math written out on the invoices, I think it took them a while to do. Frequently you would get errors; things that didn’t add up. There was a lot of back and forth with the brewpubs to try and get things coded correctly.”
One oddity brought about by the paper-based system was how invoices would get from the restaurants to the central office.
“Our drivers made twice-a-week deliveries of our beer to the brew pubs, and when they did that, they would drop off the keg and pick up a packet of invoices. The restaurants were supposed to have a packet ready for every delivery with their invoices.
“We had a couple of situations where the driver lost the packet. So that would be, you know, like 50 to 100 invoices that were just gone.”
Even when they did show up, many of the invoices were illegible.
“Sometimes the invoices would come in looking like they had dumped it in whatever they had laying on the counters in the kitchen,” says Karli-Mae. “Especially with the carbon copy invoices, those were easily destroyed. A lot of times we had to go straight to the vendor to ask for readable copies of invoices.”
And all of that only described the challenge of getting a thousand invoices a month into the processing phase.
Approving and paying them was its own struggle. The CFO couldn’t quickly get approvals from the managers she wanted, and getting sign-off for payment — via paper checks, of course — was a daunting task.
“We would drop a pile of about 100 checks on our CFO’s desk every week,” recalls Karli-Mae. “If she was too busy to sign, the pile would go off to the side and she’d get to it a few days later. It was a challenge to get her the time to sign the check.”
The team often needed the full net 30 to pay an invoice.
On a normal invoice, it probably took two weeks to get a check cut. To get it signed could easily be another two. We paid a lot of invoices right on time — if not a little late.
The Karl Strauss team wanted to do something about their manual AP process, but they feared a solution would be out of their price range.
Then, based on the recommendation of someone in the company who had previously used it, the Karl Strauss team found Plate IQ — and everything in AP changed.
Automating a dream invoice workflow
“We did some cost analysis and decided that Plate IQ was a more cost effective way to manage our AP,” says Karli-Mae.
When she saw Plate IQ for the first time, what jumped out at her was the simplicity of the system.
“It just made sense intuitively. I liked that you didn’t really need any instructions. It’s clear: okay, invoices are here, reports are here, statements are here. There’s just not much to think about. It’s easy.”
But with ease of use also came the flexibility to implement approval policies that were never possible with the paper workflow.
Plate IQ gives our VPs and managers the opportunity to review those invoices before they go to the next person. They can look to make sure that the pricing is right, that the credits are there, or whatever it is that they’re looking for. We could never do that before. If our regional brewpub manager is at the home office, he’s not gonna be able to see the paper invoice that the AGM is approving. Now he can get into the workflow and review them before they get paid.
The advanced approval rules eliminated a huge headache from the bill pay workflow. Before, it used to incur a major delay when the CFO tried to ensure that an invoice was approved by the right people.
“When our CFO held up approval of a check, it was frequently something like, ‘Maybe Matt should approve this first.’ And then she would send it to Matt. It was just an extra step.
“In Plate IQ, if she wants Matt to review all of those invoices, we can just set that up automatically. She doesn’t have to chase people around for additional approvals.”
Not only did Plate IQ automation guarantee better and faster invoice approval, but it also gave the CFO a simple sign-off process when it came time to send payments.
“She reviews some of the invoices that are up for payment, looks at the approval history, and checks for flags. She can still send copies over to me or my coworker if she has questions, but she can just approve the bills from there and the payments get sent out.”
The Plate IQ features putting efficiency on tap
With Plate IQ, Karli-Mae and her accounting team were able to move from a paper-based process for receiving, approving, and paying invoices to a sleek, automated system. But their AP evolution didn’t stop there.
Karl Strauss was able to go even beyond that level of efficiency when they started leveraging a few key features they discovered within Plate IQ.
An electronic data interchange (EDI) is the most seamless way to receive invoices from a vendor: with the transfer of pure invoice data. No paper, emails, or PDFs.
Once an EDI connection is set up, the vendor’s computer system simply sends data into Plate IQ, which formats a version of it that you can process as usual.
Karli-Mae learned about Plate IQ’s EDI connections early on.
“During the onboarding process, Plate IQ supplied me with a list of vendors that already had EDI established with Plate IQ. I think all we needed to supply was our vendor name and the account number. The Plate IQ team CC’d me on the emails to make sure I was in the loop, but other than that I didn’t really have to lift a finger.”
Karli-Mae prioritized two types of vendors to set up on EDI: big vendors like Sysco that had long, complex invoices, and the small vendors that were previously the bane of her existence:
“As soon as we started shifting invoices to EDI, I was like, okay who has the carbon copy invoices? Because I can’t read any and carbon copies really don’t scan very well. So EDI eliminated that issue.”
EDI invoices have been a big improvement for the location managers especially.
The restaurants love EDI, obviously, because that’s less they have to scan. The data comes in as this invoice template that the Plate IQ team created. The items are already mapped and, really, the restaurants just need to take a glance at it before approving it.
Karli-Mae also says EDI has helped the restaurants get vendor credits faster for deliveries that formerly didn’t have invoices at all.
“Drop ships — the ones that are on-demand or on-the-go, like deliveries that we need in an emergency situation — the restaurants never used to get those for some reason. In the back office we would see them uploaded to the platform we had with Sysco, but the restaurants would never get them. So we’d have to go in and manually catch it and send it to the restaurant. Now, everything’s just uploaded, whether it’s a drop shipper or a normal invoice. So we never have to worry about that.”
Automatic GL coding
In the process of digitizing invoices, Plate IQ automatically tags each line item with the proper GL code, eliminating the need for hand-entering invoices or, as Karli-Mae used to see, scribbling math in the margins. It’s made lives easier across the company.
Because everything is mapped in Plate IQ, all the items go where they’re supposed to go. I spend 10–15 minutes in the morning going through the invoices that got caught overnight — mapping new items that the system doesn’t recognize yet, duplicates that the system catches, invoices that people didn’t upload correctly — and clean it up in Plate IQ. Then the restaurants basically just review the invoice and approve it. And that’s it. They don’t have to think about the line items.
In the old workflow, Karli-Mae never had an easy way to get to the bottom of missing invoices. She would have to hear from a vendor, check with the duplicate ledger the locations made, and often request a new invoice.
Plate IQ’s Vendor Statements feature handles all of this.
“The statements side of it is great. That was one of the main things that drew me to Plate IQ. I thought it was amazing.
I used to have to take a ruler, go down, hand-key them in, then highlight the ones that were missing, and then request it from the vendor. Now all we have to do is push two buttons to get an email sent to our vendor automatically. So that has saved us a ton of time.
Fast, cash-back Bill Pay
At first, Plate IQ’s Bill Pay portal helped Karli-Mae replace the check cutting and signing process with an automated process that still resulted in a check being mailed on her behalf.
Pretty quickly, however, she realized that Plate IQ offered additional bill pay options in ACH and virtual card — the latter of which earns cash back on the total spend amount.
“People like being paid quickly, obviously. So the ACH was great to start sending to some of our more high-frequency vendors. That way they get paid quicker and we can continue to get our product. With the virtual cards, same thing. It does help that we get that rebate, which is great. That’s a great incentive.”
Food cost insights
Plate IQ’s Insights feature gives businesses like Karl Strauss a way to see changing item costs in a few simple dashboards. If two locations are being charged differently for the same item, or if the cost of a particular item is changing over time, Insights will show that clearly.
At Karl Strauss, it’s helped the restaurant staff understand their costs in a new light.
“Our head chef and the assistant head chef and the group of district manager — really all of the higher-end brewpub staff — love that information, absolutely use it. They go in and see the price fluctuations and things like that. They have all of the reporting.
I see the emails where our head chef says, “Yeah, coffee has risen over the past couple months,” or talks about the fluctuations in the price of meat and other more expensive items. So I know he’s looking at it, because he can get that data straight from Plate IQ.
Karl Strauss’s new hit IPA: Invoice Process Automation
In the time since its rollout across the Karl Strauss locations, Plate IQ has taken the invoice, bill pay, and reporting workflows from paper to efficiency and beyond. Some of the results thus far have been:
- One person can now manage the AP work that took three people using paper invoices
- The invoice process that often took thirty days or more now happens in convenient, bite-sized segments that require about 10 minutes per day and provide much greater oversight.
- The team has nearly eliminated paper. They plan to store 6% of the paper this year that they did last year.
“We still do have some paper at the office. But this year, instead of sending 80-something boxes to storage at the end of the year, we will send maybe 5. We are still cutting some manual checks at the at the home office, but again, nothing like we used to. Everything’s in Plate IQ now.”
Plus, Plate IQ is a hit with the rest of the Karl Strauss team, too.
I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our chefs. It saves them a ton of time. There’s an app on their phone, they can just go in and approve invoices at home on the couch, when they have down time. They don’t have to take up time at the restaurant.
“I know the GMs love that they can see everything we do remotely. They know where to see if an invoice has been paid, and even find that check image to send to the vendors. They’re like, ‘This is amazing. This is going to save us so much time.’”
For the Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Plate IQ has been a key to connecting their locations, managing the business efficiently, and establishing better relationships with their vendors. In a business built on the marriage of old-world patience and modern technology, Plate IQ has given them much more control over where they do — and don’t — spend their time.
“Plate IQ has been phenomenal,” Karli-Mae says. “It’s saved time for us — not just in accounting, but also at the restaurant level and for the managers as well.
“No more paper shuffling back and forth, no more packets coming in from the restaurants, and no more coding because everything’s pre-coded. So it saves everybody time. We all love it.”
To learn more about San Diego’s famous Karl Strauss Brewing Company, visit KarlStrauss.com. To learn how your brewery or restaurant group can spend time on the things that matter, request a demo of Plate IQ using the form below.