If you’ve ever sat in a busy restaurant with an open kitchen, you likely can appreciate the organized chaos that back-of-the-house workers have to navigate during any given shift. Food is simultaneously being prepared, cooked and plated in a synchronized dance as order tickets keep filtering in. Managers, busy overseeing this process, have to keep a watchful eye not only on the choreographed chaos of the kitchen, but also on everything that is happening in the dining room. This seemingly never-ending cycle geared towards satisfying the customer in an expeditious manner doesn’t leave a lot of time for food service operators to focus on the waste management needs of the facility.
That’s where companies like Columbus-based Elytus come in.
Elytus is a software company that provides web-based solutions to multiunit operators to help with waste service contract management, environmental sustainability and operational efficiency.
The company, whose customers include multilocation chains such as Hardee’s, Wing Stop and Applebee's, helps restaurants manage everything from hauler procurement, waste pickup schedules, bill auditing, container monitoring, waste tracking and reporting, and employee training.
According to Elytus President Matthew S. Hollis, this software allows restaurants to make data-driven decisions regarding instituting environmentally sustainable waste and recycling programs.
“We consider ourselves to be a third-party administrator or an agent/consultant,” he says. “And what our software does is it helps the restaurant keep track of all of their contracts, all of their equipment, all of their pickup days, and all of their service issues, as well as all of their waste diversion metrics so that they can get a holistic idea of what it is that they’re generating, where they’re generating it, and get a grasp on how to handle it.”
The obvious benefit of restaurants having better oversight and management of their waste programs is that it reduces the chance for health and safety issues to arise.
“I think the biggest issue that we see from a commercial kitchen perspective is that waste is directly tied to sanitation, which is a health department concern,” Hollis says. “So, at the end of the day, if the waste is not handled properly, or if it’s not picked up on schedule, or it’s not separated properly, then the health department can fine them or potentially shut them down. Also, poor waste management can lead to vermin issues, odor issues, those types of problems.”
Hollis says that opposed to retail locations, where the waste stream might largely be composed of cardboard, plastics, Styrofoam and other inert materials, the organic composition of restaurant waste leaves little room for error when it comes to proper oversight.
The increasing prevalence of organic waste bans and similar diversion-based regulations across the country further exacerbate the onus of waste oversight for these operators.
“The majority of regulations [pertaining to commercial waste] that have been coming down from cities, municipalities, counties and states are all about organic waste bans. Additionally, there are bottle bills for making sure that glass bottles are recycled in certain states and that type of thing. So, the restaurant has to comply with the separation of organic material. They have to comply with making sure that they get the bottles separated correctly and all their other recycled materials are properly sorted,” Hollis says. “On top of that, they want to keep a clean appearance and they’ve got the aforementioned health department considerations to be mindful of. If you look at all of these considerations, it’s clear why these operators can’t take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality to managing this waste.”
The application behind the app
Elytus was originally founded in 2007 to help haulers and waste brokers manage their businesses. However, after a chain restaurant executive came to Hollis looking for help getting a grasp on the company’s waste generation for its locations in multiple states, the company expanded its platform.
Hollis offers a real-life example of how its web-based platform and mobile app, WINstream, help make the job of customers easier: “Where we really start to make a difference is at the moment the waste is discarded. For example, it’s a busy Friday night, the general manager of the restaurant goes out to the back of the building and they find out that the bin is overflowing and they’re heading into the weekend. They need to get an extra pickup scheduled. That manager can drop what he or she is doing, sit on the phone and call the hauler, and then try to remember to follow up with the hauler if the pickup doesn’t happen in a timely fashion, or they can just take their phone, open the WINstream mobile app, snap a photo of the dumpster, it uploads it, and then we handle the rest to make sure the hauler gets it done. The restaurant doesn’t have to follow up on any of that.”
Beyond managing pickups, the Elytus software can be integrated with scales from different providers to provide information on the amount of food waste or recycling that a location is generating. Similarly, if the hauler is weighing these containers, the software can receive the weights of every pickup to assist in waste diversion reporting.
Elytus can also perform weight-based waste audits that let operators know what percentage of their waste stream is composed of the various materials they are generating.
Additionally, the company’s software can be used in conjunction with container monitoring sensors and cameras to gauge dumpster fullness and collection intervals.
Collectively, Elytus is then able to pool this data to generate easy-to-read and easy-to-understand reports.
The benefits of this reporting functionality become clear when considering Elytus’ clientele—Hollis says that the company’s restaurant customer base is comprised of chains that average in size between 50 to more than 1,000 locations. By being able to compile all the waste information from every one of these locations, Elytus enables company management to see data from both a macro and micro perspective at a glance. Moreover, this reporting functionality is able to be customized for each customer based on preferences.
“The industry has shifted where there are often excess yardage charges and contamination charges for waste,” Hollis says. “What our clients will say is that they might want one automatic report to be sent to the general manager at each one of its 50 locations every month that says, ‘This is how much you spent in excess yardage charges, this is how much you spent in contamination charges, and here are the information and photos to support that.’ Customers can then take corrective action or prioritize retraining for certain locations based on this data. This data can also be sent to the regional manager where they can see what the top performing restaurants were and what the bottom performing restaurants were to better focus their attention on how to address the issues. All this information is available on a dashboard. But every customer has a different [appetite for] what they want to see regarding data and reporting based on what their focus is.”
COVID crash course
Hollis says that the ability of Elytus’ software to handle its restaurant customers’ shifting waste management needs was put to the test beginning last March with widespread restaurant shutdowns and occupancy restrictions stemming from COVID-19.
“In March, when the whole world was shutting down, so were our clients,” Hollis says. “And we manage thousands of restaurant locations across dozens of chains and all of them were shutting down. Everybody initially thought this might just be temporary, so our immediate goal was to take all of the trash and recycling services of our clients and just switch pickups to be on an on-call basis so the customers were not getting any charges.
“It turned out to be a testament to what we were able to do for our customers because if you had 500 restaurants, maybe you have 100 suppliers—that was going to be 100 calls you were going to have to make. In order to do that, you’re going to have to go through every single account, ramp all of the services down, and then when the bills come in … verify that the hauler actually ramped it down and got the billing correct.”
Because of Elytus’ role in managing its customers’ waste services, auditing billing and verifying service changes, Hollis says the company’s workload skyrocketed as its clients were shutting down.
Likewise, as locations have opened up, Elytus has been able to help customers restart and manage their waste services on a case-by-case basis based on local restrictions and COVID case numbers.
“Nothing has been uniform. One state opens up while another is closing. Some restaurants are full dine-in while some have shifted to carryout-only,” Hollis says. “What we have really worked hard to do is align the services with the customer’s business based on where they are at that point in time. Whether that be through sales or guest counts, we are looking at metrics to say, ‘Where’s your business at? Don’t just turn your service back automatically to where it was prior to the pandemic because you might not be operating at that same level that you were prior to the pandemic.’ And we’ve been able to save the customers a ton of money by ramping all of those services down and then bringing them back up gradually as needed. … If we didn’t have our software to manage this, I don’t think we could have done all that.”