Southern Comfort

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted December 01, 2001
By Amy H. Blankstein

For a complete list of this year's SBC 50 businesses, see 'The SBC 50,' December 2001 SBC.

Horseradish Grill
Employees: 70
Location: Atlanta
Principals: Steve and Renie Alterman
Business: Restaurant chain
Tech: Online reservation tool enables the staff to track and share information on guests' preferences.
URL: www.horseradishgrill.com

Steve Alterman knows all about running a big business. He worked for his family's chain of supermarkets until it was sold in 1980, and later started the Tex-Mex chain Rio Bravo with a friend. But his vision for his current venture was radically different.

Alterman opened the Horseradish Grill in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood in 1994, with an eye toward providing guests with both a neighborhood atmosphere and a menu devoted to regional southern cooking. The offerings change seasonally, and the chefs use fruit and vegetables that grow in the organic heirloom garden in the backyard. The original restaurant is located in a historic building - wild oak and cherry trees flank the dining patio, which overlooks a flower garden and a nearby horse farm.

Alterman recently opened a second location in nearby Alpharetta. He and his partners, including wife Renie, rely on a mix of technology to make their efforts to cater to their customers appear to be an effortless extension of native southern hospitality.

The restaurant began using OpenTable, a Web-based reservation system, last year. Although only a handful of customers actually make reservations on the Web site, the staff uses it to record all reservations and to make extensive notes on guests' preferences and past experiences. Regardless of which manager is on duty or which hostess takes the reservation, all the information they need to make their customer feel welcome is at their fingertips. Because it's Web-based, Steve and Renie can check reservations for the evening from their home office, and add special notes if the need arises.

'We put it in, in essence, as an electronic maitre d',' he says. 'We can take note of anniversaries and birthdays. If they had a bad experience, we can make sure we do everything we can to give them a great experience this time.'The system also enables them to reduce customer no-shows, which Alterman says are an issue for all restaurants. 'When we opened, our reservation system was a sheet of paper,' he says. 'It always got messed up. People would forget to write in phone numbers for confirmation.'

Taking his experience from running a chain, Alterman invested in technology to manage back-of-the-house functions. 'I decided when I opened this restaurant that I was going to treat it as if it were a big company.' And that, of course, leaves Alterman and his staff ample time to attend to the real business at hand, which is welcoming guests to the table.

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