Tech that Raises Kitchen I.Q. and ROI

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, Contributing Editor | December 12, 2013

Intelligent kitchen software holds the keys to many service conundrums. The latest technologies offer solutions to such problems as: how to ensure that all elements of even very large orders are completed at the same time; how to make sure that front- and back-of-house staff know what&rsquo;s cooking, what&rsquo;s waiting and what orders are ready to be dropped; and how to stock<br /> inventory based on historical demands.<br /> <br /> While the adoption of these types of systems has been strong among major restaurant chains, small- to mid-sized restaurants have not yet been quick to adopt, in part because they don&rsquo;t have the IT bench strength of larger chains.&nbsp; For operators in these settings, a look at what some chain restaurants are doing can be instructive. These technologies have been around for a number of years and costs have come down while functionality has exploded. This may be the optimum time to explore the many possibilities afforded by intelligent kitchen technology. In the following case studies, two very different concepts are utilizing smart kitchen technology to improve day-to-day operations as well as customer service.<br /> <br /> <strong><img alt="" src=" /getmedia/87ba6e22-17ea-4e1f-907b-8a1f55b8a65e/DSCF0501.jpg" style="float: left; margin: 8px;" />SUCCESS STORY #1:</strong><br /> <strong>Driving efficiency and service</strong><br /> The good news for restaurants of all sizes is that not only are there more technology options available than ever before, but the cost of these options is accessible for even small stores. In fact, Dan Stanaway, owner of Twin Lakes Dairy Queen <a href="http://www.dairyqueen.com">(www.dairyqueen.com)</a> in Federal Way, Wash., decided not to use technology available through corporate Dairy Queen, in favor of Maitre&rsquo;D POS <a href="http://www.maitredpos.com">(www.maitredpos.com)</a>. He chose the system based both on cost and ease of use; in particular he liked the touchscreens. Whether orders are taken at the window, in line, or at the counter, they are delivered wirelessly to the kitchen, eliminating illegible orders and guiding food preparers with recipes and images to make their jobs more efficient. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s ten times faster than what we used to do,&rdquo; says Stanaway, who admits that he has barely scratched the surface of the capabilities that the system could provide. He doesn&rsquo;t currently use it for inventory management, for instance, but that may come down the road, he says. He does use the system&nbsp; for labor management, appreciating the ability to determine the level of staff required based on historical demand.<br /> <br /> The system generates a number of reports based on orders entered and processed from clients per hour, to meals per hour, to sales by category and menu item. Reports can also be produced to indicate theoretical usage of ingredients based on quantities sold, usage reports and waste history.<br /> <br /> Stanaway&rsquo;s selection of Maitre&rsquo;D was driven by both his relatively basic needs as a QSR and by cost &mdash; he was also drawn to the system&rsquo;s use of touchscreens and the ease of use. Staff quickly learn how to enter and process orders through the use of clear icons and large screen kitchen displays. Orders are presented to kitchen staff, along with recipes and color images of the finished meal to ensure proper presentation.<br /> <br /> <strong><img alt="" src=" /getmedia/2ded50d6-b979-4ef6-be9e-4b60ed15b656/GraniteCity-Exterior-copy.JPG" style="float: left; margin: 8px;" />SUCCESS STORY #2:<br /> Improving quality, accuracy &amp; speed</strong><br /> Bob Scheidecker is an investor with Granite City Food &amp; Brewery <a href="http://www.gcfb.com">(www.gcfb.com)</a>, with 28 restaurants in 13 states. Scheidecker heads their operations services group, which includes the IT area. Granite City started implementing the ConnectSmart solutions from QSR Automations <a href="http://www.qsrautomations.com)">(www.qsrautomations.com) </a>in mid-2011 &mdash; a combination of kitchen and table management systems to help run the entire process from start to finish. Granite City uses graphical kitchen display software (ConnectSmart Kitchen) along with kitchen display hardware and recipe viewer software (ConnectSmart TeamAssist). QSR&rsquo;s eXpert controller is used as table management hardware at non-mobile stations.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> In the casual and fine dining realm expert preparation is a must and that&rsquo;s what the QSR system enables says Scheidecker. Table service restaurants need to prepare all of their items at the same time, even when some items &mdash; a well-done steak, for instance &mdash; may take longer to prepare. Before technology simplified the process, it was left up to individual cooks and expeditors to do their best to pull things together effectively &mdash; perhaps easy enough with a couple of tables, but for&nbsp; larger restaurants with staggering table counts &mdash; a near-impossibility.<br /> <br /> QSR enables Scheidecker&rsquo;s Granite City restaurants &mdash; and its Cadillac Ranch properties &mdash; to route and display orders at the item level, taking cook time into consideration along with temperature modifiers. Screens in the kitchen display the orders based on operator preference. The data captured by the system ensures accuracy in terms of estimating prep times, rather than subjective cook times based on preparers&rsquo; perceptions.<br /> <br /> At Granite City, the items ordered by a particular party are entered into the system which determines the optimum cook time to ensure the order is completed at the same time. Orders are displayed at each station &mdash; e.g. grill station, bake station, fry station, etc &mdash; when it&rsquo;s time for them to be prepared. Chefs working at each of those stations only need to worry about what they see on the screen. There is no need to coordinate with other chefs, the system ensures that everything completes at the proper time.<br /> <br /> The assemblers, runners and managers are also aided by the system so that everyone is informed of what is happening with the orders as a whole. The technology allows products to be cooked in a methodical manner, boosting the ability to effectively serve groups of 10, 20 or even 30 patrons. &ldquo;It enables us to cook so that all of those products come up in a sequential order,&rdquo; says Scheidecker, who also notes that a positive side effect is stress reduction. &ldquo;It makes our staff in the kitchen happier because it takes some of the guesswork out of it,&rdquo; he says.

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