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March 10, 2022 | Tom Ballard

PrepWizard brings efficiency and cost savings to restaurant industry

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Have you thought about how much time it takes for employees who are preparing food at a restaurant to create manual labels with accurate information about what each container holds and what the expiration date should be for each food item?

Those who know my culinary skills would guess that I had not considered that question either, but then I don’t do a whole lot of food preparation. Yet, I was shocked to learn the answer for a typical restaurant would be between 50 and 100 different food containers, and the time to prepare the labels by hand is probably 30 minutes each day or more than 180 hours a year.

That’s time and money that could be allocated to activities that generate more revenue and profits.

Now, add to the equation two other elements. One is the fact that hand-written labels might produce illegible information, such as expiration date, meaning the food has to be discarded when it might still be current. And, there are the challenges of the past two years that COVID-19 has placed on the restaurant industry and how, as establishments try to recover, they are dealing with shortages of workers, retaining those they have, and addressing job satisfaction and pay issues. It’s a lot for restaurant owners and managers to address.

As the old proverb reads, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and that philosophy is behind the creation of PrepWizard, winner of the second annual PYA-sponsored “Ballard Innovation Award” competition and the $50,000 prize package of cash and in-kind services.

“In May of 2019, we began noticing the incredible amount of time, food, and money spent on the tedious task of food prep label creation in the restaurants we operated,” said Doug Harris, a longtime Knoxville business executive. He is President of Harris Enterprise Group LLC which, among other ventures, owns three dozen franchised restaurant locations across the South but not in Knoxville.

That firsthand knowledge of the innerworkings of the restaurant business, coupled with previous experience creating apps for equipment tracking and hiring, led Harris to join with his two sons to develop PrepWizard. Cole, the oldest, serves as President of the start-up, while Eli is a Co-Founder and technical lead for the patent pending system.

We had the opportunity to interview the three at their Bearden Hill office last week and learn more about the system that can produce a 6X to 7X return on investment in the first year. The initial outlay is a one-time charge of $250 for the printer and $80 annual fee, but the first-year savings can be $2,700 in employee salaries if the average time per day is 30 minutes, and the salary is $15 an hour. With more restaurants upping starting salaries to compete for scarce workers, the savings could be even higher.

PrepWizard offers a 14-day risk free trial.

As described in this YouTube video, the system was designed with the user in mind, meaning anyone on a restaurant’s team can start using it in a matter of minutes once the data are pre-loaded into the system. The restaurant’s products and shelf life data are loaded into the database so that employees don’t have to spend their time learning tedious, time-consuming procedures.

PrepWizard is driven by an app on the user’s mobile device that connects via Bluetooth to a thermal printer the restaurant purchases. That allows one or multiple employees to be able to access the printer. Other features include:

  • The ability to print unique labels for three product life cycles (unopened, prepped, and production) and a “2-in-1 prep label” that allows the customer to move prep products into production with a single label.
  • The ability to print multiple product labels with a single click, adding to the labor savings.
  • The calculation of “use by” dates automatically rather than having to determine those for each product.

Today, just three years after launching the product, PrepWizard is used by more than 4,000 restaurants, and that number continues to increase almost daily. Well-known brands whose franchisees use the system include Burger King, Denny’s, Domino’s, DQ, Firehouse Subs, KFC, Papa John’s, Sonic, Subway, and Taco Bell.

“We could see exponential growth in users in the next few years,” Cole Harris says. In order to accomplish our business goals, however, creating back-of-the-house systems with the most advanced technology and features has been extremely important. Keeping our administrative costs lower allows us to invest more in marketing and drive top line revenue.

Efficiency and cost savings are what are driving the adoption rate, spurred on more recently by the additional challenge of finding workers and avoiding the “Great Resignation” that characterize the COVID-19 recovery period. Turnover rates in the restaurant industry were around 100 percent before the pandemic, and they have certainly not declined.

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