Getting the Order Right (Now)

By Vicki Powers, Contributing Editor | March 03, 2009

Casual dining was late to adopt kitchen display systems, according to John Doyle, director of IT restaurant systems at Ruby Tuesday, but significant enhancements in the last few years have made it a much more viable and preferable solution for the Tennessee-based chain (www.rubytuesday.com) and other restaurants, compared to a paper and printer solution.

The new enhancements coming in just recently, Doyle says, relate to driving business logic to business applications. One specific application that falls into this category is the coordination of food prep for menu items, particularly those with varying cook times.

"In our world of running off kitchen display systems, the prep line has no concept of a check or what food items go together for a table," Doyle relates. "They begin items as the display tells them to, and because the business logic is handled by the system, all the items for the same table come up in the window at the same time."

All of this has drastically reduced the training time needed in the Ruby Tuesday kitchen in place of the previous manual process. Doyle says that QSR Automations' (www.qsrautomations.com) ConnectSmart Kitchen graphical software also provides much better execution, efficiency, and quality of food. As a Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) user, Ruby Tuesday runs its solution on Windows XP Embedded controls, which provides an open architecture to customize as needed.

"With the system managing the timing, the screen tells employees what the next action item is for preparation," Doyle says.

Kitchen technology, be it display screens, electronic menu cards, or timers, offers restaurants a number of benefits. What follows is a snapshot of the top benefits restaurants receive from implementing this technology.

Improved communication
Ten years ago, kitchens inside Ruby Tuesday were noisy places, according to Doyle.  All the business rules handled by the system today were handled by the staff then.  Employees had to shout between stations to coordinate menu items and group orders by table. 

"There was a lot of volume, so this caused confusion and mistakes," Doyle says. "When a large party came in the restaurant, the kitchen was in complete disarray."

Doyle saw results in action even on the first day of implementing ConnectSmart Kitchen.  When a large group of 40 people walked in the restaurant and ordered, the kitchen staff had no idea a large party was there.  Items continued dropping on the screen for preparation one at a time, and the decibel level in the kitchen was tremendously less.

Kalamata Greek Café (www.kalamatagreek.com) in Troy, Michigan offers fast casual Greek food with an average serving time of less than two minutes. When the new concept opened in August 2008, co-owners and brothers Dennis and Tom Chinonis had no idea whether the kitchen display unit technology would really work.  So far, Dennis says, it's been a big success.

"Speed and order accuracy are paramount to what we're doing as a concept. We couldn't do it without kitchen technology; it just wouldn't be feasible," says Dennis.

Every workstation maintains a video display unit running on Menusoft's Digital Dining (www.digitaldining.com) platform for transfer of information.  The cashier takes the entire order, which must be translated down the line. With typically 50 to 60 people in a line going out the door at lunch, Dennis says employees would be shuffling paper more than interacting with customers without this technology. "Trying to keep track of orders would be a nightmare," Dennis relates.

Increased speed
When Jim Osborn opened The Original Pancake House (www.originalpancakehouse.com) in Orange, California, in May 2008, he wanted to be more technologically advanced than others within his franchise. Some locations still write tickets to place on the wheel in the kitchen, some use POS systems, but not many use kitchen display units. Osborn worked with system integrator One Solution (www.onesolutionaz.com) to install a OnePOS (www.onepos.com) point of sale that supports QSR Automations' kitchen display system. Osborn came from the corporate side of the industry before opening his location so he knew about this facet without actually working in the store. 

"The kitchen display system is a big component in getting food out as efficiently as possible," Osborn relates. And that's especially important in a fast-paced environment that serves breakfast where folks are rushing to get to school or work.

Reduced costs
Chad Tomlinson, owner of Green Day Café, stresses the importance of technology as food costs rise and minimum wage increases by 80 cents/hour in Florida.

"You can only raise your menu prices so much," Tomlinson says. "It comes down to efficiency, and technology can pick up the slack and perfect human inefficiencies in the business."

Orlando-based Green Day Café (www.greendaycafe.com), an environmentally friendly, healthy alternative restaurant open since September 2008, runs Revention (www.revention.com) software on its registers and three kitchen display monitors.  Orders come up on the monitor as they are typed at the register so assembly can begin right away.  The total time from order to concept is less than two minutes, 30 seconds. 

Tomlinson's new concept café is twice as efficient as any fast food store he's seen, which says a lot, given that his YUM-branded store earned recognition as the third most efficient location in the nation. A general hiring rule, according to Tomlinson, is staffing one person per $1,000 in sales/week. Green Day Café staffs one person per $2,500 in sales/week.

"We're able to cut labor percentage in half due to how simple and efficient our kitchen system is," he remarks.

Relying on kitchen display units versus printers and paper certainly fits the environmental mode of operation at Green Day Café as well, with its straws and cups made out of corn and its bathroom walls made of 85 percent recycled products. Ultimately, Tomlinson wishes for his environmentally friendly restaurant to bring environmental awareness to the community.

Ruby Tuesday cut its costs $500,000 annually by adding electronic menu cards as part of its kitchen technology in place of printing, laminating, and shipping hard-copy recipe information to more than 850 locations around the country.  

"Of course there are recipe tweaks all the time, so we incurred a pretty significant expense and delays to implement these changes in the past," Doyle says. Today if Ruby Tuesday experiments with a new recipe or adds a dish, the update can be communicated and in place by the next day.

Improved accuracy
Domino's Pizza (www.dominos.com) aims for fast and accurate orders after customers call in their specific pizza needs.  Wayne Pederson, vice president of information systems at Domino's, says its proprietary POS system built on Microsoft development tools enables its thousands of locations to create accurate orders as quickly as possible. The Microsoft-based solution uses technologies such as Microsoft Windows Server System, Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, Microsoft Forefront, the 2007 Microsoft Office system and Windows Server Terminal Services.

"When employees used handwritten receipts, we'd see mistakes in the order or spills on the receipt covering important information," Pederson says.  He notes the pizza company reduced errors on pizza orders by 15 percent when moving to its kitchen display system.

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