By Charlie Lewis
Culinary Supply Chain Specialist/Consolidated Concepts
Amidst all the talk of tech and the online world we occupy today, the QSR kitchen is rarely mentioned. Make no mistake though, the kitchen and the people who make it work feel every twitch and shift that the our super-techy world delivers to quick-service businesses and probably more than any other area of operations.
It's not just the increasing rate of change or proliferation of LTOs at most QSRs, but also adapting to the operational challenges of preparing and presenting all types of quick-service menus under new, swifter, more demanding circumstances brought about by tech. That's why the following two points are worth putting on every QSR operators "to-do" list when it comes to considering changes in how your brand obtains, stores, prepares, markets and ultimately delivers it customers.
2. The 'off-premise' boom and its menu implications
All restaurants will be challenged to craft menus that work well as dine-in or take-out meals. This requires a close eye on portioning and side dish options, as well as temperature and moisture control. Quick-serve operators in every category would do well to become experts in which items "travel well" and which don't.
The wisest operators will be those who steer their menus to be take-home friendly or offer a separate set of offerings for the to-go set. Many restaurants who rely on atmosphere and plate appearance are losing customers to takeout or delivery offerings that just don't make the trip "home."
To-go packaging also is quickly becoming one of the most important categories of items in your weekly order. Not only must operators focus on packaging quality, but also know whether the chosen wrappings, boxes, bags and containers ensure temperature and food texture retention.
Likewise, restaurant processes and kitchen lay-outs must be factored in to permit the increased number of packaged items your brand is certain to deliver. Kitchens may need rearranging to accommodate storage, as well as activities like packing, holding, delivery and to-go order retrieval.
Furthermore, as the sheer quantity of third-party delivery platforms grow, QSR brands are being challenged to make new investments in technology infrastructure. And make no mistake about it, this is not an area to cut corners.
Technology requirements of various ordering platforms, POS systems and kitchen display systems must be taken into account, all while preserving the experience for dine-in guests. A reduction in front-of-house labor or dedicated space can diminish the guest experience and, ultimately, the number of guests themselves. And remember, dine-in guests may well turn out to be take-out clientele on off-nights.
3. Automation and your brand's 'end-point'
Customers, especially young adults, demand a smooth technological experience from restaurateurs these days. But it can be difficult to know where to stop.
For instance, if you have table runners and counter staff, are you prepared to allow tablets and technology to take their place or replace some of those now performing the aforementioned duties? The implications are not only far-reaching, but can be tough to fully understand without undergoing expensive testing in advance of decisions.
For instance, at your restaurant could tablets — with their capability to share great pictures and provide predictive recommendation algorithms — upsell menu items any better than a charming server with a set of well-honed sales skills? While many might argue that tablets can perform more consistently, overall profitability remains a big question mark.
The key then, with these types of issues, is gaining a full understanding of your restaurant's current demographic in order to offer technology that suits that population well. For instance, a family-oriented crowd at a pizza restaurant might most prefer the many time-saving and child-distracting benefits of an iPad. But an older and more "buttoned-up" dinner crowd would most likely much prefer a momre traditional approach.
And then there's thatever-present bottom line to consider. The technology investment is going to be costly upfront but amortizes well over time. After all, technology can't leave you for a better job or for a chance to follow its dream of a professional kite-boarding career.
But always keep in mind, that until you test that technology in a real, live restaurant scenario, there will always be some unknowns about whether the increase in tech will actually result in an increase in sales.
Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Catering, Customer Service / Experience, Delivery, Drive-thru Menu / OCB, Equipment & Supplies, Kitchen Display, Mobile Payments, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Services, On the Menu, Operations Management