Next-Gen Kitchen Technology

By Christina Volpe, Associate Editor | April 08, 2010

They say that there are only two guarantees in life, but for anyone who has worked in the foodservice industry, there's a third that's nearly as certain as death and taxes: the likelihood that you will, at some point, have to deal with a customer who has had a subpar dining experience. From shoddy service to ill-prepared food, there are a million and one reasons why a guest will walk away from your restaurant with the intent of never returning. To reduce their chances of making such missteps, fine dining, family/casual, and quick service restaurant (QSR) operators alike are investing heavily in next-generation kitchen technologies that promise to streamline operations and keep guest satisfaction high.

"If you don't have a streamlined kitchen you won't be in business long," says Matt Silverman, executive chef and co-founder of Verve Hospitality Group. "As soon as you walk into a restaurant you will know by the guests' reactions. It all transcends from the kitchen; it has to be running smoothly for customers to get a full dining experience."
 
Verve Hospitality Group (www.vervehg.com), operator of three different restaurant concepts in Danville, Calif. (Stomp, Coa, and Laurus), is using Agilysys' InfoGenesis POS (www.agilysys.com) and Eatec Solution by Agilysys for inventory and procurement. Having this standard solution across locations can come in handy in more ways than one.

 "I oversee restaurants in Las Vegas and they have a different system [than the Danville, Calif, sites]," explains Silverman. The benefit is ease-of-operation in looking at the units side-by-side. I can look at entrée sales across the board instead of doing it separately. By having them all talk to each other it creates unlimited reporting capabilities." Think inventory and usage, employee scheduling against sales, etc.

What's more, the systems are flexible enough to accommodate the ebb and flow of customer traffic to ensure speed-of-service. "They have wireless capabilities and what's great is that the three California restaurants are [located] in the same shopping center. If I decide that one day one restaurant is going to be busy, I can take one of the terminals and re-categorize it and it will be in the next restaurant. I can walk it down there and put it in there so I can have more POS terminals in that restaurant."

Timing is everything
For the 15-unit, casual 54th Street Grill (www.54thstreetgrill.com), as with any restaurant, properly preparing orders and getting them out on time is of extreme importance. To make sure that this happens, 54th Street is relying on QSR Automations' (www.qsrautomations.com) Hospitality Automation Solution, including the ConnectSmart Kitchen (CSK) graphical software, eXpert hospitality controllers, and KP-4000 keypads.
 
"The timing router of menu items is a very good feature," says Michael Norsworthy, COO of KRM Restaurant Group, owner of 54th Street Grill. "If you have a well-done steak and it comes with a salad, it sends the steak to the broiler at whatever time that you specify. And when the steak is getting done, it fires the salad within a certain time range." The end result: menu items are prepared in the right order, to the right specifications, and arrive at the table timed perfectly.

"Each station in the back of the kitchen has its own monitor and bump bar, and the specific items that they are responsible for shows up on their screens," adds Norsworthy. "It takes a lot of the communication among the group, and focuses the environment on their core task, producing the items in a more efficient fashion."

54th Street's solution is also helping management to gauge kitchen talent through a reporting feature that times how long it takes for staff to complete orders. "With a manual system you don't know what your ticket times are, but now you have a verifiable time stamp on each ticket, which is by station," says Norsworthy. "If you have a cook that is not efficient enough, you can recognize your problems."

Environment flexibility
The Pan-Asian Canadian chain Spring Rolls (www.springrolls.ca) is in a unique position when it comes to streamlining restaurant ops: it has both full- and quick-serve locations (the latter called Spring Rolls GO). Spring Rolls GO is using ASI's Restaurant Manager (www.rmpos.com) and Crystal Mind's (www.crystal-mind.com) Kitchen Video Display Unit.

"Restaurant Manager we have been using for a long time; the kitchen display system is at one location," says Thai Hua, Spring Rolls' president. The KDS has enabled Spring Rolls GO to drastically increase kitchen speed and efficiency. "In the past we used a bill and they [employees] picked it up, would sick on the line, and start executing. With the kitchen display, it doesn't matter how far away you are, you can see it even if you are away from the kitchen display. You don't have to go back to your station."

Both of these solutions are flowing over to Spring Rolls' full service locations (Restaurant Manager already in use, with the kitchen displaying being tested).

Hua praises Restaurant Manager's flexibility in timing the delivery of food and meal-parting a specific order; in fact it's one of the main reasons why this solution was chosen. If a customer orders an appetizer and a main course, for example, servers can delay the preparation of the entrée based on the time it takes for their customers to consume their first course. "The key to fine dining is to have a lot of selections, but one of the challenges is, how do you get them to come out at same time? The timing of the product gives customers consistency of service and you can control different parts of the kitchen."

Order up
The Restaurant Company (www.arbysrva.com), a Richmond, Va.-based, 19-unit Arby's franchisee, operates five of the top ten Arby's restaurants by sales volume in the United States. The secret to their success: providing customers with a fresh product that is made-to-order.

"We have been a sales leader for 20-plus years," says Bill Lowe, The Restaurant Company's president. "It all comes back to our primary focus: to provide customers with a fresh product." To make that happen, The Restaurant Company relies on Posera Corporation's (www.maitredpos.com) CVM Kitchen Video Monitor and Maitre'D POS software. "We could not make our sandwiches to-order without CVM. The monitors are irreplaceable; it makes the backline more effective and more productive."

The system's on-the-fly feature allows staff to begin preparing food while an order is being placed. "That in itself pays for the whole system in my mind," says Lowe. "In most situations, the order is prepared and ready before the customer is done tendering the cash. This helps us to gain an edge."

Besides the on-the-fly feature, Lowe notes that the legibility of the monitors, in addition to the system's ability to display (and even consolidate) multiple orders at once, has helped take the stress out of working on the line during peak hours. The system also features a split screen mode that separates drive-thru from front counter orders.

"Turn over is probably the lowest in the system also," says Lowe. "There is tremendous value in that. Our focus is to make the job easier and more efficient by taking advantage of today's technology. As a result, our service will be faster and our associates will have less stress."
 

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