Kitchens on Display

By Lindsay Elkins • Assistant Editor | May 01, 2006

Many restaurant operators know that the key to running efficiently is good communication, whether it is between guests and employees, or employees and managers. Picture a busy Friday night, with a long wait in the dining room, and it quickly becomes clear that without proper communication, the operation would collapse. In response, operators are turning to sophisticated technologies, such as kitchen display systems, to ensure that food gets out on time and at the right temperature, and servers don't have to abandon guests to know what is happening in the kitchen.

A visual cue
BJ's Restaurant and Brewery in Huntington Beach, California is a fast-paced restaurant and brewery and knows that communication between the kitchen and servers is key to keeping on top of flow of food to make sure that guests receive their orders in a timely manner. BJ's Restaurants utilize QSR Automations' ePic (qsrautomation.com) Kitchen Display Software (KDS) and according to Brian Pearson, vice president of information services, half of the company locations have implemented the solution.

"We looked at a lot of solutions, but QSR had the largest footprint in the industry," says Pearson. "It's POS independent--it doesn't matter what POS the system is attached to."

Of all the ways to leverage KDS, one of most powerful features of the system is a visual statusboard, which gives the ability to walk through the kitchen, look up at the screen and quickly understand what's going on. "There's no hiding it when you're running late," says Pearson. "When you talk about communication it's the visual piece that's most powerful; you can readily see where there's an opportunity to improve."

Now, there is no food sitting in the window; all items are ready at same time and go out, according to Pearson. For example, before BJ's implemented the QSR KDS solution, if one guest ordered a steak, and another at the same table ordered a salad, the salad would be ready right away, and sit in the window getting warm, while the steak was still being cooked.

"Now the salad hits the window the same time as the steak," explains Pearson. This means that the guest will be served a hot steak, and the salad will be served cold at the same time.

Virtual Kitchen Systems (virtual kitchensystems.com) is a restaurant software provider that developed the Kitchen Operations System (KOS) used by Harry's Essential Grille, based in Vienna, Virginia. Harry's POS links directly with the KOS, which coordinates all the items on an order, taking into account things like relative cook times, product mix and kitchen capacity, to help ensure a fast ticket time and not sacrifice accuracy or completion of the ticket. The KOS utilizes a graphical icon system allowing servers, managers and employees to have a visual cue and know when food is ready, which reduces hold time and gets customers' orders to them faster.

Quick-service kitchen
While much of the interest in kitchen display systems has come from table-service restaurants, a few quick-service operators are awakening to the opportunity to boost productivity and reporting. Arby's Restaurant Group, for example, has recently implemented the Logic Controls Logic Net (logiccontrols.com) kitchen display solution in more than 230 Arby's corporate-owned restaurants: the rollout took place over the course of three months last year.

The system was deployed along with software from xpient Solutions, (xpient.com) and allows employees at Arby's to automate and track the communication of orders from the point-of-sale terminals to the kitchen, which helps servers stay in the loop of what food items will be ready and when, ensuring that guests receive their orders on time and at the right temperature.

According to Gilbert Reyes, vice president of information technology, Arby's restaurant group, "The Logic Controls Logic Net solution has proven to be a very reliable and effective system for us. We can fulfill customer orders more quickly and accurately, which improves customer service while lowering our operating costs."

In the long run
Kitchen display systems not only provide instant gratification and information for servers and managers, but also long term benefits at the corporate level. In fact, the ability to look at employee productivity and develop real-time reports are helping to drive the growth of KDS."Potentially over a longer period of time [the system will] impact the way you approach things," Pearson says. "The most powerful is putting real-time information in hands of the operations group, people who will make the difference from moment to moment."

Pearson adds that the display system has benefited BJ's in ways the restaurant expected, such as improving ticket times and reducing comped food, but also in ways the restaurant hadn't anticipated, like providing a much more seamless experience for the guests. Pearson says that if guests have to think about the process, then it isn't running efficiently. "Guests shouldn't be thinking about the food getting out on time, all things for guest should be an afterthought."

Not having to worry about the food getting out on time is also a benefit to servers, because it allows them to have more face time with the guests and create a better environment. The system also takes the guesswork out of preparing the food, making the cooking process run more smoothly.
"Before, timing of kitchen was so reliant on cook's experience and knowledge, whereas now when an item comes up you cook it; it takes guesswork out," says Pearson. "If you want french fries to be hot alongside steak and ribs, it really takes a lot to judge when the cook should start cooking this product." But the visual nature of KDS and ability of anyone to walk back and see what ticket is remedies this problem by making it clear which items is currently cooking. "Overall it simply organizes our business processes in a very coherent way," he adds.

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