Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

One to Watch

Steak Escape cooks up a way for franchisees to monitor their restaurants.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Just as your mother told you, it's impossible to be in two places at once. For a franchisee, especially one with multiple units, that fact can be bad for business. What if your employees aren't trustworthy? What if customer service is slipping? Without you being there, how can you be sure things are running properly?

"In the restaurant business, the more the owner is on site, the better the operation is going to be," explains Jeffrey Fix, vice president of operations for Steak Escape, a cheesesteak franchise. Knowing there are times when franchisees can't be in store keeping tabs on everything, Steak Escape introduced a new program linking in-store surveillance equipment to the company's intranet.

The program, introduced last August, was created with the help of iBeam Technologies, a Canal Winchester, Ohio, Internet service provider. "We asked them to find a solution for us, so a franchisee would be able to access their surveillance technology at home," Fix says. The company first looked into satellites, hoping to beam surveillance footage from the store to the franchisee's home, but that was too expensive. Developments in software allowed the company to transfer footage to its Web site for 24/7, worldwide viewing.

Franchisees log onto the intranet at Steak Escape's Web site and type in their screen name and password. Once recognized by the server, the franchisee can access the surveillance from each of their stores any time of day from any computer. "We're putting [the franchisee] on site much more often," Fix says. "We feel that increases their ability to generate profit, increase sales and get a great return on their investment."

Steak Escape has no hard data proving the addition of the Web-connected cameras is saving franchisees money, but Fix has seen an improvement in employee productivity. "Our crew is much more aware there are four cameras throughout the restaurant and, at any given time, any one of the owners could be watching what's going on," he says.

Web broadcasting surveillance footage is just one part of a technology initiative Steak Escape is rolling out over the next year. The company wants to make all store and system data is available to franchisees through its intranet.

Currently, four Steak Escape franchisees have set up the Web surveillance system in their stores. Another 10 have signed up to participate in the program. While Steak Escape has no plans to make participation mandatory, Fix believes all franchisees will want to join in. "There are enough advantages in it for the franchisee that we don't need to require it," he says. "Really, this is all about trying to enhance their ability to make profit, so it's not something we benefit from necessarily. It's all for the benefit of the franchisees."