For a National Restaurant Chain, Maintaining Thousands of Business Licenses is No Piece of Cake
Nobody ever said that managing the day-to-day governmental requirements for hundreds of restaurants across America is a cinch. For the licensing department of The Cheesecake Factory, one of America’s best known restaurant chains, that workload is sustainable through the combination of high caliber legal professionals and The Business License Management System, commonly known as BLMS®.
The Cheesecake Factory is Everywhere and So Are Their License Requirements
As a staple of America’s casual dining industry, nearly 90,000,000 guests walk through the doors of The Cheesecake Factory every year and they do so in 40+ states in America. The company has a presence in diverse markets from Syracuse, NY to Lexington, KY. Their footprint is large, but not as large as their ambition as they work toward a stated goal of operating 300 company-owned locations in The United States alone.
Therein lies the challenge for their licensing department. As any business license professional will acknowledge, when you have a broad footprint, you have enormous licensing complications. Lightly regulated businesses must typically maintain a number of general business licenses for their locations, but it is incumbent upon restaurant chains to also acquire food and health permits. These are among the most heavily regulated permits in any jurisdiction. Since they serve alcoholic beverages as well, The Cheesecake Factory must also maintain liquor licenses, the bane of restaurant compliance.
“Some states are less complicated than others,” The Cheesecake Factory’s Arianna Slovacek readily concedes. “But other states, such as Massachusetts and Illinois, are extremely difficult. If we are not on top of our licensing, then in the best of circumstances, we’d be looking at fines of 10% to 50% of the licensing costs. In the worst of circumstances, there would be a hearing and probably a suspension of our alcohol sales in that location. We’d probably have to cease liquor sales. The damage to our reputation would be devastating.”
Even that’s not all! As jurisdictions across America impose new rules and regulations, the variety of compliance requirements continue to multiply. Many locations demand that a restaurant possess an environmental permit, security permit, outdoor structure permit, alarm permit, boiler permit, etc. The list goes on.
All together, The Cheesecake Factory’s 189 existing locations require thousands of active governmental licenses and permits to operate legally and that number will grow substantially as the company continues its aggressive expansion into new markets. It’s a heavy workload which rests on the shoulders of one department and requires both advanced technology and an accurate knowledgebase to stay in the game.
“I can’t think of a realistic way of tracking 1,500 licenses and permits without software like this.”
BLMS® Guarantees They Don’t Miss Filing Deadlines
Not every restaurant chain is prudent to employ seasoned business license professionals, but even fewer are prescient to equip their staff with dynamic software that guarantees their business license compliance. BLMS® offers a variety of features designed to accomplish this very goal. For The Cheesecake Factory, one key ingredient makes an especially big impact on their licensing workflow.
“It’s their business license calendar,” says Sarah Benjamin, a dedicated Onboarding and Customer Support Representative at Business Licenses, LLC, the provider of their software. “The system proactively informs them every time a license and/or permit is about to expire, but it’s even more than that. BLMS is smart software. It’s a workflow tool that tells them when they had better start a filing and/or renewal process in order to meet a firm deadline.”
Alerts and reminders are a significant benefit to the restaurant chain since they ensure that their locations never slip out of compliance due to inattention.
“It’s very important to us that we get reminders 60 days and 30 days ahead of a renewal deadline,” says Slovacek. “Some of our licenses – especially the alcohol and liquor licenses – require a lot of time to get right. We give them priority whenever we get one of those alerts.”
The Cheesecake Factory Makes Daily Use of Pertinent Business License Data
Given how often rules change on the state, county, and city levels, instant access to regulatory information is one of the crucial components that make up a contemporary licensing workflow. BLMS® addresses this need through a variety of means, from daily news alerts to The License Determination Tool, a comprehensive database of business license requirements in every jurisdiction in America.
Since BLMS® is closely aligned with Barlap, the country’s leading system integrator of ABC regulatory knowledge, the licensing staff of The Cheesecake Factory has access to a treasure trove of useful information related to their liquor permits. Their BLMS® dashboard proactively shows them laws from all over the country and saves them valuable time too. Whereas many liquor laws can exceed 80 pages in length, through the BLMS® dashboard, they can read quick summaries of the laws and move forward in confidence that they are on top of the latest news.
The Cheesecake Factory Works with Business Licenses, LLC to Trim the Fat of Their Compliance Portfolio
Business license professionals talk a lot about the dangers of being under-licensed, but being over-licensed carries risks as well. Case in point, no department wants to get bogged down with licenses, permits, and tax registrations that they don’t actually need. To help alleviate this burden, Business Licenses, LLC offers auditing and research services to help identify excess licenses. In 2015, however, The Cheesecake Factory’s Licensing Coordinator already knew what licenses they didn’t need.
“We were buried under random ATF permits that no longer existed. We also had spreadsheets full of false alarm permits which are important, but in our case, are maintained individually by location managers throughout the country. We don’t want to be distracted by requirements that aren’t essential to our operations.”
This is an area where Business Licenses, LLC’s consulting expertise made a big impact. BLMS® dedicated Customer Support Representatives are themselves licensing professionals. Whereas most software providers offer mere technical support, Business Licenses, LLC offers licensing support, a critical distinction when nuanced work needs to be done.
“We offer a couple of options to our customers in situations like this,” says Meir Lowy, VP of Technology at Business Licenses, LLC. “BLMS® allows users to deactivate licenses and obviously users can permanently delete them too. We had Sarah Benjamin, our dedicated representative, consult directly with the customer and together they decided that it made sense to just delete the unnecessary licenses en masse. But nothing that’s done en masse is ever easy. You have to take great care to not delete data that the customer will come to regret losing. You hand that task over to a tech support person at your own peril.”
Business Licenses, LLC helped identify and dispose of hundreds of extraneous licenses and permits, all the while guaranteeing that they didn’t lose anything valuable in the process. This vital undertaking not only allowed the professionals at The Cheesecake Factory to focus on the work that mattered to them, but also created a blueprint for future improvements to their business license workflow.
The Cheesecake Factory Has a Healthy Reputation for Compliance
As they continue to expand into new markets and their existing locations continue to prosper, The Cheesecake Factory’s business license compliance challenges will not get any easier. But even though their portfolio of health, food, alcohol, and environmental licenses – some of the most heavily regulated licenses known to the restaurant industry – has already surpassed 1,500 active permits, they have not gone out of compliance even once since adopting The Business License Management System and they show no signs of breaking this perfect record. That achievement speaks highly of the dedicated staff they employ, the carefully considered procedures they set in motion, the partners with whom they associate, and the cloud technology they bring to bear on their business license portfolio. It’s a fine recipe for success.