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Accounting help can save your restaurant time and money.

Does Your Restaurant Need a CPA?

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How and when to hire professional financial help

By Sean Dawson February 2017 Vendor Bylines

Entrepreneurial restaurant owners are great at juggling priorities ranging from pleasing demanding patrons to hiring staff, but one ball that often gets dropped in the juggling act is the financial side of the business. Smart owners know when they need help, but they often don’t know how to find an accountant or what questions to ask.

Not sure if it’s time to find a professional? Ask yourself these two questions:

Do you spend too much time trying to understand what your financials are telling you?

If you are stressed out at the thought of having to review a financial statement or if you are uncomfortable making major financial decisions, it’s time to find help. You also need to decide how much help you need. Are you ready to delegate your payroll to an outside provider? Do you just need help with tax returns, or do you need help from an experienced accountant who can identify potential tax issues?

Are you ready to delegate?

As an owner, you have control over your restaurant’s operations. Delegating your financial affairs to someone else can be uncomfortable at first. At some point, letting go of the stress that comes with managing your restaurant’s financials can free you up to focus on what you’re really good at, like keeping customers coming through the door.

If the answers to these questions are yes, you need an accountant. Use these tips to find the right one:

Do you need a bookkeeper or a CPA?

There is a difference. A CPA can audit financial records and provide more in-depth operational or tax consulting. And if you’re looking to borrow, banks generally require certified financial statements which only a CPA can provide. A bookkeeper generally handles tasks like posting journal entries and accounts payable, payroll taxes and other tasks.

Do you have clients who are restaurant owners?

If the accountants you’re talking to have restaurant owners or clients in your industry, that’s a good sign. You’ll save precious time by working with an accountant who knows how restaurants operate both in the front and back of the house.

What recommendations do you have?

We’re not talking food here, but rather your financials. An accountant who is interested in your business will want to review the previous year’s tax returns and financial statements. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask the accountant to give you feedback on your restaurant’s financial status. Also listen to the responses you receive. Are the explanations clear or full of accounting jargon? Did you get any immediate red flags or suggestions about your financials? Does this person seem genuinely interested in helping you?

How do you set your fees?

Accountants bill in a variety of ways including hourly, monthly retainer, fixed fee, or a combination. Be certain to ask up front about hourly rates ranging from the partner/shareholder level to staff accountant, which will certainly be different. Also ask if you should anticipate a charge every time you call to ask a quick question or send an email. For example, if your request involves having to do research or reviewing a tax return or other documents, there will be a charge. A good accountant will encourage you to communicate as often as you need to.

How do you share client files and other documents?

Tech savvy firms provide a client portal where you can easily upload and download financial information.

Who will I work with?

Just like your restaurant, an accounting firm has both the back and the front of the house. Will you have access to the shareholder or partner working on your account? Who are the managers or staff assigned to your account?

What other services can you provide?

At some point, you may decide it’s time to lighten your load by delegating routine tasks like managing payroll, or you might be considering opening additional locations. Ask for examples of how the accountant has helped other restaurants facing similar challenges.

How can you help me in the future?

Are you considering selling your restaurant at some point, or expanding your restaurant? Will you be hiring new employees? An accountant who knows your goals can help you plan for them long before you reach them.

How can you help me stay on top of ever changing tax laws?

Ask about how the firm communicates with clients. Do they send out a regular email with updates about tax law changes or ideas to help your restaurant run smoother?

Finding the best accounting professional for your restaurant takes a little time. But knowing the right questions to ask can save you time and your sanity. 

Sean Dawson
Sean Dawson is a CPA and shareholder at Mize Houser & Company’s Hospitality Services Group, which provides tax, accounting, payroll, bill payment, and consulting services to restaurants nationwide.