How the Restaurant CFO Role is Evolving

Until recent years, a restaurant CFO job description required accounting experience, street smarts and good character.  Today, the recipe also calls for strategic, forward-looking thinkers who have the ability to forecast market fluctuations, understanding of IT systems and knowledge of law. In addition to managing budgets and transactions, today's responsibilities for restaurant CFOs often include finding ways to streamline operations, managing risk and ensuring regulatory compliance, and more, requiring them to wear many hats and have a well-rounded knowledge of all facets of the business.

Between commodity fluctuations, new minimum wage requirements and regulations around menu labeling, it's important that CFOs have a firm grasp on external pressures and the potential impact of these pressures on their business. Planning ahead is also important, as CFOs must be able to anticipate challenges and work with other departments to prioritize where to allocate capital based on key business objectives—a job that has historically fallen to the CEO or board.

Increased collaboration between the CFO and other department C-level personnel is needed to make management decisions; conferring with legal teams on compliance issues; consulting with IT managers on POS systems and cybersecurity; and coordinating with the marketing team to plan public relations initiatives. In some smaller restaurant groups, CFOs are playing these roles themselves, and can often be found negotiating leases, making recommendations on how to implement the latest technology systems and serving as an important legal adviser. Without being a key collaborator and having a thorough understanding of all operations, CFOs may not be as effective in executing against the overall business' vision.

As my colleague Alexis Becker recently discussed with QSR Magazine, issues concerning CFOs increasingly go beyond the numbers and the books. These professionals must be able to make wide-ranging decisions quickly. When considering whether or not to go public, for example, the CFO is responsible for assessing the current state of the business, as well as understanding overall market conditions and determining the best course of action. 

Benchmarking against peers is a crucial element of the modern CFOs’ responsibilities, informing strategic decisions, ranging from marketing tactics to growth plans—including when and where is a good time to open and close stores.  Oftentimes, smaller or independent concepts don't realize the benchmarking tools that are available, but a restaurant's ability to gauge how its results compare to its peers plays a large factor in planning, decision making and ultimately, success.

There's no doubt that the differences between today's CFO and the CFO of the past are significant. How do you think this role will continue to evolve? Let us know in the comments section below!

Have questions about emerging CFO responsibilities? Contact Dustin Minton at dminton@bdo.com, and keep up with the Practice’s latest thoughts by following us on Twitter at @BDORestaurant.

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