P.F. Chang's has long been known for offering a unique twist on Asian fusion recipes — especially the lettuce wrap! In addition to their hand-prepared, scratch-cooking approach, the bistro restaurants focus on creating the perfect environment for their guests. "We want to elevate hospitality and be a place for celebration," says Jim Upchurch, chief information officer at P. F. Chang's.
Creating that environment requires constant improvement and change, even when the circumstances aren't so convenient. That's where P. F. Chang's found itself in 2020. But that was a situation that couldn't have been predicted even a year before. That's when the company determined that their financial system was at its end of life and needed to be replaced. The HR system was newer and was cloud-based. But when it was implemented nine-years earlier, it required customizations that now limited some of the platform's usability, such as the ability to implement a mobile app for employees, Upchurch says.
At the same time, the restaurant wanted to develop talent and improve the employee experience — knowing that an improved employee experience elevates the customer experience. Those improvements needed to reduce inefficiencies to focus time on sales and customer service, enable self-service and break down siloed processes.
P. F. Chang's determined that a single solution for HR and Finance would simplify the technology landscape and that Workday was the platform that would do the job. P. F. Chang's signed the contract and the collaborative period began. Months later, however, the pandemic forced the project not to just slow down but stop, as most companies shut down their in-office operations.
Moving forward, despite the unknown
With so much uncertainty, it would not have been unthought of for a business to wait for more clarity before continuing with the implementation, but in June 2020, as soon as it was feasible, P.F. Chang's and Workday continued with the process, going live in January 2021. "There was no consideration to pausing it any longer. This was a long-term play for the restaurant's leadership team and ownership," Upchurch says.
Although switching to a new platform remotely — and doing it during a pandemic — was complicated, the change opened up the future, he adds. "Being able to survive and come through stronger is a definite asset. We wanted to get this done because we wanted to grow our business. There was never a point when we considered not moving forward."
Delivering against strategic goals
Using Workday, P. F. Chang's increased efficiencies across functions, Upchurch says. Having that one stop shop for restaurant managers allowed them to access real time data that sped up hiring and employment decisions — a must in a highly competitive labor market. Restaurant managers had immediate insight into operational data, which was a critical advantage in making adjustments as needed, particularly as the business temporarily pivoted from in-store dining to curbside pickup and delivery.
Workday helped streamline processes and it also impacted how people envisioned the process, he says. "Workday has changed the way we think about workflows. We have a Workday-first mentality. When we have a new workflow, we now think, how do we get our documentation on Workday, because that's where everyone goes? It has definitely improved our data delivery and insights."
Preparing for the future
Not only has the restaurant business experienced tremendous change, the pace of that change also accelerated, Upchurch notes. Technology has been an essential element for staying ahead of the curve. "Technology helps us adjust for the lack of labor in the front of the house. QR code and touchless payments, and tablets for order placing help servers work more efficiently."
The technology needed to stay ahead isn't just for enhancing business operations. Like most restaurants, P. F. Chang's is vying for candidates, and Workday has been instrumental in creating a competitive advantage by making it easier for employees to perform their jobs, get desired training and have more scheduling flexibility. As Upchurch explains, "It's tough competition. We're revamping all of our benefits. We want to ensure our benefits package, competitive pay and fun environment make candidates want to come here."
P. F. Chang's decision to forge ahead with the implementation of Workday during the pandemic gave the business the agility it needed during a crucial time. Being able to curbside pickup and delivery and back to on-premise dining was a strategy for the bistro's success, and using Workday made the process clearer.
The pandemic was a disruption, but it's not the last one hospitality companies will face. The key to weathering them is to have the information distilled into insights so that decisions can be made quicker and more accurately.