5 Ways Restaurants Can Improve Speed of Service

Whether it’s new restaurant technology, better training resources, or even just slowing down for a second, every eatery can streamline its operations with a few simple changes.

There is nothing worse than spending the first 20 minutes of a 30-minute lunch break trapped in a line of cars waiting to order, pay for, and receive food. Quick service restaurants and a growing number of fast-casual and table service ones are becoming known for getting guests in and out quickly, but it isn’t always pretty.   

Sometimes orders get messed up. Employees can get frustrated with the systems in place. Maybe the complex menu catering to everyone’s tastes becomes an anchor that sinks your kitchen at the worst possible time. No matter the case, it can transform a smooth lunch rush into a slog with long lines, angry customers, and long service times.   

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Restaurants have options at their disposal to reduce wait time, speed up service, and quickly delight customers. Whether it’s new restaurant technology, better training resources, or even just slowing down for a second, every eatery can streamline its operations with a few simple changes.

Invest in the Right Restaurant Technology

Having the right technology can make or break a restaurant, especially during critical peak times throughout the day. If the technology isn’t working in harmony, it can make it more difficult for staff to take orders, cooks to prep and make the food, and servers to get it to guests quickly. No matter your restaurant segment, there are several pieces of tech that can take your brand to the next level, regardless of how busy it may be.   

Tablets:   

Drive-thrus saw a massive uptick in overall spending last year, rising from about 67% in 2019 to more than 82% during the pandemic-impacted year. Even with dine-in guests coming back, the drive-thru will receive the bulk of restaurant orders, so you should be ready to support your staff when lines get long.   

rugged restaurant tablet can survive drops and spills while still giving employees the power to line bust during lunch breaks and other peak hours. Several brands have been able to do this incredibly well, including Chick-fil-A and Fazoli’s.   

Kitchen Display Systems:   

A KDS is the easiest and most effective way to connect your front-end staff with your kitchen. It helps speed up communications, reduce mistakes, and increase overall restaurant speed of service. Additionally, the system can help with organization, kitchen routing, creating workflows, and preventing orders from getting lost.   

Point of Sale:   

If your restaurant technology stack were a football team, your point of sale would be the franchise quarterback. The entire point of a POS system is to ensure restaurants can position themselves to make as much money as possible. It keeps everything running smoothly, helps you easily take orders and get them sent to the kitchen, track daily reporting, implement and support a loyalty program, track inventory, and so much more.   

Cloud-based POS options are table stakes in the restaurant industry at this point and are critical for concepts that want to scale quickly, innovate fast, and stay at the top of their game 24/7/365. 

Better Inventory and Labor Forecasting

Few things can hobble a restaurant faster than not having the right pieces in place when you need them the most. From running out of ingredients for your top-selling menu item to having the wrong staff members working during your peak hours, accurate forecasting for both inventory and labor plays a role in the overall success of your business.   

There are plenty of integration partners available that use data from your point of sale to create detailed reports tracking everything from recipe management and predictive ordering to analytics and vendor integrations. These helpful apps make it easy to keep an eye on your products without constantly having to stop to take physical inventory numbers.   

Additionally, many of these tools have labor management built-in. More states are cracking down on labor compliance, so you need to make sure your team is taking breaks and lunches and aren’t being scheduled incorrectly. There are apps available to help you schedule your team efficiently, track results, and get the most out of your staff each day.

Simplify Your Menu

Complex orders have more steps, more ingredients, and take more time to make. By simplifying your menu, you take pressure off your staff, limit the number of recipes they need to memorize, organize kitchen operations, and speed up service.   

Smaller menus are great for guests too. With fewer options to peruse and a scannable menu, guests suffer less from analysis paralysis, allowing them to order and get consistently high-quality food faster.   

If you’ve been concerned that removing menu items will upset guests, consider this. During Red Robin’s Q1 earnings call, President and CEO Paul Murphy III said reducing the number of menu items available was a benefit to the chain and something that would become part of their ongoing business plan.   

“Our execution has also been enhanced by a simplified menu with one-third fewer items yielding little to no negative guest feedback,” Murphy III said. “Reducing our menu by 55 items has facilitated improved back of the house speed and efficiency as restaurants have adjusted to reduce staffing levels and has improved food quality with consistency.”   

The same can be said for the recipes themselves. Menu items with a lot of steps are going to bog down service, especially if you have a drive-thru. Recipes should be simple, scalable, and designed to get great food out to hungry guests as quickly as possible. Bonus points if that same menu item can be packaged well for drive-thru and to-go orders!

Get Orders Right the First Time

Several years ago, it was found that between 4-10% of food purchased by restaurants never makes it to guests. As a result, restaurants lose about $1,000 of revenue per 3.3 lbs of food waste. The problem here is that food waste is a large umbrella and includes everything from consumer waste and leftovers to improper storage and incorrect products.   

While we can’t say anything about the guest whose eyes are bigger than their stomach, making sure they get the food they ordered can go a long way. Simply reading the order back to the customer is enough to catch many incorrect meals and improve order accuracy. Another possibility is to remove the middleman and allow guests to order the food themselves.   

Digital ordering gives guests complete power over their meals, allowing them to choose what they want to eat, along with add-ons, sides, drinks, and everything else. They’ll see their order every step of the way and be able to make changes if they realize they added something or left something off their order.   

Similarly, having a misfire or re-fire option on your point of sale can help keep track of mistakes and provide opportunities for more staff training.

Better Employee Training and Cross-Training

The restaurant industry is constantly changing, so ongoing training should always be part of any staff retainment plan. If employees aren’t receiving the right training or enough training in general, they will make more mistakes. Mistakes slow the process down, and worse yet, can cause good employees to quit.   

Good training and cross-training opportunities do more than ensure your staff knows what they’re doing. Employees who are engaged and feel like they can grow with the company are less likely to leave. Their experience will also trickle down to new employees, shortening the training cycle and increasing overall performance. Having people who can fill in for another team member is also nice if someone gets sick, goes on vacation, has an emergency, or quits.   

If you don’t have a training system in place yet, don’t fret. There are plenty of resources online to help you do everything from creating staff handbooks to operating a POS system.

Speed of Service is a Constant Battle

There are countless ways to improve restaurant speed of service, or at least more than we could include in this article. The point is that restaurants can see a surprisingly good increase in their speed of service by making a few minor changes to their operations.  

Complex menus and old-school ordering practices are going the same way as the punch-key cash register. With a few small steps to shore up the ordering process and a well-trained team that asks the right questions and is invested in their work, any restaurant can be humming in no time.

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