How One San Francisco Restaurant Mastered Cash Flow, Forecasting and Vendor Management

by Irene Malatesta5 Min Read

Gary Driscoll, who handles accounts payable for popular San Francisco restaurant Flore, overcame challenges keeping its 20 vendors happy while taming invoicing and cash flow chaos.

Flore is a restaurant located in the heart of San Francisco’s vibrant Castro neighborhood. Popular for brunch and dinner, the restaurant has been in business since 1973.

In the hustle and bustle of running a restaurant, Driscoll knows that success sounds like silence.

“When I have a quiet Saturday afternoon with my family, and not an emergency call that the such and such vendor didn't get paid or that somebody forgot to send in the power bill,” he explained. “That's the most satisfying part of the job, when things run smoothly.”

Though Driscoll has since moved out of state, he continues to manage the books for the restaurant remotely, using cloud-based software, email and online tools to keep information organized, send invoices and payments, and coordinate with the local team.

The Challenge: Unexpected Costs and Old School Invoicing

With that said, he knows that putting out fires comes with the territory in his role. “There's always crisis when running a restaurant,” Driscoll said. “Pour grease down the wrong drain? That’ll be $3,000. The restaurant’s old pipes spring a leak? That’s an extra $2,000 on top of your usual water bill.”

As the Accounts Payable Manager, Driscoll tracks Flore’s recurring expenses with its 20 regular vendors, but also must plan for the financial surprises of running a restaurant. Without proper forecasting and carefully managed cash flows, an unexpected bump in the road could throw the whole business into financial disarray.

Flore

When Driscoll took over, an outdated invoicing process Flore’s expenses were hard to track. For starters, many of Flore’s vendors left a paper invoices with the restaurant manager in San Francisco, while Driscoll manages the business’s accounts payable from Little Rock, Arkansas.

The restaurant manager had to reliably collect and send the invoices to Driscoll, and with so much happening in a restaurant, paper invoices would get lost. Since some of the restaurant’s invoices were due 15 days after they’ve been issued (also called Net-15), Driscoll needed to get that information into his system as soon as possible to stay on top of every payment.

Between lost invoices, faded carbon copies, and duplicate invoices, Driscoll had his work cut out for him. He estimates that he used to spend 20 hours per month chasing and processing invoices. That was valuable time he can now spend forecasting and helping Flore weather the challenging cash flow demands of the restaurant business. 

No Room for Error

Tracking down invoices and dealing with unforeseen expenses may simply sound like a nuisance, but in reality, these are high-stakes responsibilities. A late payment could mean refusal of service from a vendor.

What would happen if the restaurant didn’t get its delivery of food or alcohol, or if the health inspector shows up and sees that the sink is leaking?

Driscoll has found himself in these situations before. One Mother’s Day, for example, he got a call from a harried Flore manager in San Francisco. “Our supplier is here, but we can’t get our wine order,” said the manager in a panic. “They say we owe them $1,500 and they need a check right now or they won’t deliver.”

“Those are sticky, ugly situations,” Driscoll said. “That unexpected cost now becomes an emergency that we have to fix as soon as possible. Those are the moments that can really hurt your business, all because I didn't get the paper bill.”

Firefighting with Financing

Driscoll’s role at Flore has two parts: 1) making sure Flore has enough money to cover its costs, and 2) keeping their vendors happy. But with all the uncertainties in the restaurant business, he couldn’t always do both. Accounts payable managers like Driscoll have to prioritize every expense and allocate the business’s cash on hand to cover the most pressing.

“Especially when you’re first starting a restaurant—redoing the roof, getting new tables and chairs, installing a POS system, rebranding—you’re going to be bleeding money,” he notes. “If you have that, plus your day-to-day operations, without some sort of financing, it's not going to be possible.”

That’s the tough reality of business-to-business (B2B) payments, where the seller and the buyer generally have limited access to credit and financing. Ripple effects run up and down the supply chain whenever either side faces a crunch.

Luckily for Driscoll and Flore, he has a tool in his arsenal that many restaurants don’t: the option to finance his vendor payments while his vendors get paid right away.

Finding Financial Breathing Room

While Driscoll calls the previous state of his books “a nightmare,” Fundbox helped his team straighten everything out.

“I took over administering [Fundbox] and it was easy. There’s nothing to get lost. Everything is there in the system,” he says. “Anybody doing accounts payable can easily look and see.”

Fundbox Pay helps vendors get paid right away, while buyers like Flore can take their time paying. Fundbox Pay brings the power of a credit card to business-to-business payments, creating a win-win for the vendors and the restaurant.

Driscoll has been using Fundbox most often to finance invoices from his food distributors. With Fundbox Pay, restaurants can take more control of their cash flow. Approved businesses using Fundbox Pay get up to 60 days to pay for purchases, while their vendors get paid right away. This means sellers don’t have to bear the risk of extending 60-day credit terms, but buyers like Flore can still enjoy the flexibility of those 60 days to pay with no interest.

Those 60 days have a dramatic positive impact on Gary and Cafe Flore.

Each week, Gary collects the restaurant’s cash flow information from the week, including costs, payments, payroll, sales taxes, and upcoming bills. Next, he’ll head over to Fundbox to check on his invoices and financing. If the restaurant needs some extra liquidity, he can find it in his accounts receivable.

“It gives us some extra breathing room,” says Driscoll. “We can pay something that came out of the blue that we didn’t forecast, and I don’t have to worry about [losing a delivery]. It’s basically like using credit cards. It’s a great way to be able to have financing.”

Now, the best part of Driscoll’s job is the assurance that his restaurant is successful and business operations are running smoothly under his watchful care, even when he’s miles away. It’s still true that there’s always a crisis here and there when running a restaurant, but, according to Driscoll, “I don’t have to worry with Fundbox. I don’t get a phone call [late at night] because something isn’t paid. ...There isn’t a crisis with Fundbox.”

Next on his wishlist: using Fundbox Pay with more vendors to leave payment hassles and cash flow emergencies firmly in the past. “Fundbox Pay is like a credit card–it’s a great way to have financing, which is one of the most important things in the restaurant business.”

Founded in 2013, Fundbox uses big data analytics, engineering and predictive modeling to help optimize cash flow for small businesses and freelancers with outstanding invoices. As of 2015, the company had raised a total of $107.5 million in funding from 11 investors.

Irene Malatesta

@fundbox | LinkedIn | Website

Irene Malatesta is a business content strategist with Fundbox, She is passionate about working with entrepreneurs and mission-driven businesses to bring their stories to life. Fundbox is a technology company dedicated to helping small businesses grow and improve cashflow by providing better access to credit.

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