Let Industrial Engineering Be Your Guide on the Road to Foodservice Design Efficiency

Juan Martinez considers how industrial design principals can inform the design of foodservice spaces and operations.

It seems today that lots of restaurant chains continue to roll out updated prototype units or refresh their existing facilities — all in the name of being more efficient. Unfortunately, the real motivating factor behind many of these changes is to reduce costs or make only superficial updates that increase the brand's appeal. Unfortunately, these efforts can miss the boat on the real benefits of driving efficiency and can result in unintended and often negative consequences. In pursuit of driving efficiency, foodservice designers and operators should make the principles of industrial engineering their guide.

Efficiency represents the center of industrial engineering. You can say that it was the mother of industrial engineering. It goes back to Henry Ford's Model T assembly line. Some people refer to it as productivity. Present day, the concept of efficiency also manifests itself with the principles of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, as well as the more old-fashioned time and motion studies.

Keep in mind that the true efficiency metrics are the product of an equation that simply divides the output by the input. An increase in output or a decrease in input increases the efficiency factor. Conversely, a decrease in output or an increase in input reduces the efficiency.

Further, foodservice operators can only gain efficiency through some application of industrial engineering principles by impacting one or more of the operating parameters, in order to increase the ones that drive the top (like sales or throughput) or decrease the ones in the bottom of the equation (like cost).

Foodservice operators like to talk efficiency, but when it comes time to deliver it, many times this becomes only an exercise in cutting cost. So if foodservice operators only cut cost to drive efficiency, it is important to make sure top-line revenues remain intact. To be safe, it's probably best to make sure top-line revenues increase when cutting costs or driving efficiencies.

Often a restaurant chain's new prototype focuses on reducing the cost of the facility by reducing the footprint, equipment used and labor deployment. This often comes with unintended consequences, namely compromising the facility's ability to deliver throughput during its peak hours of operation. For the new prototype to be truly effective it must meet the cost reduction goal while keeping the equivalent or higher throughput capacity, thus allowing the facility to still deliver high production capacity.

Think of efficiency as a restaurant's silent partner. I tell my clients that nobody walks out of a restaurant thinking "that was an efficient experience I just had." But if the operation lacks efficiency, meaning long wait times or food that's not up to par, the concept runs a high risk of not getting that highly coveted repeat business.

When it comes to driving efficiency, no detail is too small to consider. Even the retail design, including the décor, which contributes to ambiance, has an efficient aspect of it. A chair is a chair is a chair, right? Wrong! When looking at the way the foodservice operation functions, some chairs will be more suitable than others and will contribute to such factors as maintenance and labor efficiency. Simply put, each detail comes with a cost and a customer impact.

So when designing a new foodservice operation or updating an existing one, scrutinize each detail by asking: Will this item drive more output than the cost (input)? This type of thinking will result in being closer to the (cost) target after building the initial unit.

This definitely applies when specifying foodservice equipment. Along those lines, it is okay for an operation to spend more on foodservice equipment so long as it drives more benefit in the area of quality, service, labor, space or other input metrics, which ultimately provides a return-on-investment.

What are your thoughts on driving efficiency? I welcome your perspective. Please send me an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In my next few blog posts, I am going to provide a glimpse of how industrial engineering principles can significantly impact the profitability and level of customer hospitality foodservice concepts can deliver in other areas. The only way to truly optimize a concept investment is through the methodical and disciplined application of these principles. I will touch on several topics including all the operating parameters:

  • Processes & Procedures
  • Platforms (Equipment)
  • Place (Layout)
  • People (Labor Deployment)
  • Products & Promotions

In the meantime, let's all strive to be more efficient on how we go about our business, keeping our eyes on both the input and the output sides of this topic. As consultants, suppliers or brand owners, we owe it to our shareholders. The application of true efficiency metrics and industrial engineering principles is the best way to drive investment optimization that will fuel brand growth for the concept.

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