Chuy’s is a growing full-service restaurant concept founded in Austin, Texas in 1982. The authentic and freshly prepared Mexican and Tex-Mex food is served in a fun, family-oriented atmosphere and appeals to diners across the nation. Chuy’s is currently in 17 U.S. states. Starting in March of 2020, Chuy’s was faced with the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, which raddled the entire industry. Despite many challenges and uncertainties, Chuy’s did more than survive the pandemic. In fact, during the third quarter of 2021, the restaurant chain was able to increase the overall restaurant level operating margin by 880 basis points to over 23%—as compared to fiscal 2019—and anticipates retaining approximately 350 basis points improvement—as compared to 2019—going forward as the staffing levels return.
How did Chuy’s navigate the uncertainty so well and surpass its peers in store level profitability? Director of Finance Natalie Harden gives the credit to the tenacity and resilience of Chuy’s operating team members with the help of Financial Planning tools provided by Workday Adaptive Planning. “Looking back, we were fortunate to have already deployed Adaptive Planning as a key part of our financial planning and management platform,” Harden says. “It enabled us to perform scenario planning around our cash needs throughout the pandemic as well as model our operating results in a constantly changing business environment across the entire operating footprint with limited financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals. Lessons learned during the pandemic as they relate to operational reporting and planning gave us tools to maintain and monitor this level of profitability as we move forward.”
Chuy’s (CHUY) is a publicly traded company. Harden recalls that the roots of Adaptive Planning’s deployment started back when she joined Chuy’s team in 2017 with a goal of easing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) quarterly reporting, Board of Directors quarterly reporting, and the store level budgeting process.
Timely SEC reporting as well as Board of Directors quarter presentations meant longer hours for the team, sometimes nights and weekends. “Clearly, we needed to change how we did our work and use technology to help us automate our reporting to improve our efficiencies. This became even more important after the start of the pandemic as many of our accounting and Finance team members were working remotely,” says Harden.
Adaptive Planning is really efficient, and I don’t have to even think about data consolidation anymore.
Director of Finance
Big helpings of forecasting flexibility.
To achieve these goals, the company chose to deploy cloud-based Adaptive Planning companywide. This included an integration with Chuy’s general ledger for consolidated financial reporting and integration with the company’s back-office application housing point-of-sale (POS) data at the restaurant level. Currently, Chuy’s is working on the integration with the payroll provider to allow for easy headcount planning and labor reporting.
Adaptive Planning is used by the Finance team, Chuy’s store managers, multi-unit managers, and the operations’ leadership team. This collaborative and integrated planning process ensures ownership at the store level with minimal time spent away from running the business.
One key reason the company chose Adaptive Planning was the forecasting flexibility the company would gain. This proved especially valuable in understanding and projecting trends in time of extreme uncertainty, constant change in consumer behavior, and business disruptions caused by the imposed restrictions over the operating capacity. “We were able to utilize Adaptive Planning to exclude specific time periods from forecasting if the data wasn’t relevant or predictive of future operational performance,” Harden says.
In addition, the team’s efficiency gains have been considerable, according to Jordan Cole, manager of financial planning and analysis at Chuy’s. “The reporting, planning, and budgeting work that used to take five people to do now takes just two of us with Adaptive Planning,” he says. “We’ve also cut two to four days from the time required for our operating and financial reporting.”
Cole adds that the data in Adaptive Planning has facilitated the Finance team’s budgeting process for individual restaurants, enabling quarterly as well as annual forecasting. “We can develop budgets for each location using the automated reporting and roll-up functions of Adaptive Planning, which allow each restaurant manager to revise their individual budgets, if necessary, based on the information available to them. Spotting abnormalities among trends in various data categories is easier with Adaptive Planning.”
The reporting, planning, and budgeting work that used to take five people to do now takes just two of us with Adaptive Planning.
Manager of Financial Planning & Analysis
Better planning, better guidance.
Adaptive Planning’s automation with a single source of truth provides the efficiencies Chuy’s needs to free up resources so it can add more value to the business and keep the stakeholders well informed. “We love the flexibility of Adaptive Planning because we’re able to slice and dice the same data in so many different ways,” says Harden. “We keep several models within Adaptive Planning: our store level operational budget, our street projections model, and a long-range, five-year planning model. All models are supplemented with Capex planning and balance sheet and cash flows projections.”
In order to communicate more effectively with constituencies, Harden and Cole use the OfficeConnect feature in Adaptive Planning to create high-quality reports, board books, and presentations with Microsoft Office applications. “Updating them with new data is just a one-click refresh,” Cole says. “Adaptive Planning with OfficeConnect lets just one person create amazing board decks. None of that would be possible without it.”
Because Chuy’s is looking to expand with more restaurant locations, Harden developed a unique real estate planning prototype model with Adaptive Planning. “We can use historical data to see how similar restaurants have performed in similar locations,” she says. “Since Adaptive Planning is cloud-based and comes with the OfficeConnect feature, we can use it out in the field scouting new locations with our real estate team. They can open their laptops, click on the prototype store they want to open, input known Capex investment and rent, and see an immediate forecasted ROI and cash on cash returns. This is just one of the many capabilities of Adaptive Planning that has really positioned us well for the future.”
Adaptive Planning helps us predict the profitability of a new location, which helps us understand the margins we’ll have as a company as we continue to grow.
Director of Finance