Second opinions and credit card fees

QUESTION:

My current accountant doesn’t provide restaurant advice, and I feel like I’m missing out on something. Without hurting his feelings, how can I get a second opinion?

ANSWER:

If you are at this stage with your current accountant, who may even be a family member, you owe it to your employees, your staff, your family and everyone affected by your restaurant operation’s success to challenge the advice being given to you. Most accountants don’t specialize in one area of accounting or taxation. Many bookkeeping firms take on any client who is willing to use QuickBooks or the like and pay a monthly fee. A restaurant operation is a unique animal, and you need someone who understands “paid-outs,” “cash over/short,” “tips” and “employee theft.”

With the economic times that we’re in, you need to make that tough call and get a second opinion. Start by getting a current engagement letter from your accountant. This is a document that an accountant provides a client detailing exactly what services will be performed and when, and the associated fees. Once you receive this letter, review it to see if all of the tasks are being performed on a timely basis, and that the fees match the services. Next, ask another restaurant operator or another business owner that you respect if you can speak to his accountant. Tell the new accountant you are looking for someone in the restaurant industry that you can bounce ideas off in addition to your current accountant, and possibly switch if the right match comes along. Ask for his rèsumè and a few customers to contact for references. This process may take some time.

Once information is gathered about how other accountants service and charge their restaurant owner clients, a decision can be made in regard to the fees, services and products currently being received. Ultimately, a checkup is always a healthy way to keep your current accountant on his toes and acquire knowledge about the competition.

QUESTION:

My credit card fees are just too expensive. How do I compare rates?

ANSWER:

I have learned that credit card fees change like monthly cellular telephone charges and plans, and if they go unchecked, they will continue to change until challenged. I have my clients perform a rate analysis check with a competitor every six months to determine that rates being charged are in line with the industry. Credit card fees have become a commodity, and once the installation has occurred, not much is done to control the costs or charges; it becomes automated with an 800 number at that point. Therefore, the devil is in the details, and it’s appropriate to compare your statements. There are many companies willing to make a comparison of rates with you very quickly. Once this analysis is received, the next step is to contact your current carrier and ask for a reduction in fees or rates if appropriate. It never hurts to ask.

Inquire about whether or not all of your transactions are available online for viewing and backup. Find out which company the promoter processes all of its transactions through, and see if you recognize that back-end processor. Contact your accountant to confirm whom you are processing your transactions with, and contact your bank for a second opinion. Ask questions. Get to the bottom of the major fees charged and how your restaurant’s current volume of transactions stacks up with different credit card processors. The credit card industry is known for not having transparency, so during your investigation you may come across some land mines—i.e., individuals who won’t provide information or get offended by due diligence. I recommend that you keep digging and asking questions.

If a decision is made to switch, make sure that termination fees from your current carrier are considered, and negotiate these types of fees with a new carrier in the future. Be aware that the original contract you signed may have many termination clauses that need to be checked before a switch is made. After a little investigation, it’s amazing what one will learn and uncover.

Michael J. Rasmussen is the owner of Rasmussen Tax Group in Conway, Arkansas. Visit rasmussentaxgroup.com for additional insight into restaurant-specific tax strategies and technology programs.