Foodservice by Design

Team members from PROFITALITY discuss how industrial engineering can be applied to the foodservice industry.

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The idea that foodservice lags behind other industries when it comes to adopting new technologies is nothing new. But the fact remains that automation and robotics will continue to become a bigger part of providing effective and efficient foodservice operations. That point was never clearer to me than after having spent a few days walking the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 show in Chicago.

Good news: Commercial and noncommercial foodservice operators have plenty of options at their disposal that can help their businesses weather this pandemic-induced storm.

Over the years, drive-thru as a sales channel has been the cornerstone of many successful quick-service restaurants. During the pandemic, though, the importance of drive-thru sales became even more important when this form of service became one of the only ways customers could get food from restaurants. While all of this may seem alluring to some, never lose sight of the simple fact that a poorly designed and poorly run drive-thru will impact a restaurant’s ability to generate revenue.

After a pandemic-induced, two-year hiatus, the National Restaurant Association’s trade show was back in business in Chicago. And, wow, did it feel great to catch up on some of the newest equipment innovations and, more importantly, reconnect with our great industry colleagues. There was so much to see and take in, but here are a few thoughts and observations.

When it comes to technological advancements, the foodservice industry has often lagged behind many major service industries, but the industry seems set to embark on a technological odyssey. 

Despite all the advances in off-premises options like delivery, full-service restaurants remain a great place for people to have a good time and enjoy great food together and for that reason this dining option continues to hold a special place in society.

Restaurant staffing has remained an issue since the start of the pandemic. A combination of increasing wages, unemployment checks and people trying to stay safe create a perfect storm for many restaurants, making it difficult to remain fully staffed with fully trained employees. To help foodservice operators alleviate their labor issues, here are 6 design and process-related tactics that can lead to doing more with less.

In a recent call to kick off a prototype design initiative, I was surprised the operator had all of its executives participate. Several times over the course of the meeting, the executives referred to themselves as “the village.”

As hard as it may be to imagine, the dark cloud of the pandemic did produce some silver linings for the foodservice industry. Two that come to mind immediately are the off-premises boom and customers’ willingness to use digital means to remotely interact with restaurants. While those trends were already in motion pre-pandemic, the pandemic accelerated them exponentially, generating faster growth than would have been the case under a more normal business cycle.

Speed of service represents a metric all foodservice concepts want to improve.

Change is inevitable. It’s a cliche we were all familiar with prior to the pandemic and the arrival of COVID-19 has only accelerated change for the foodservice industry. That’s because the industry must always change to meet customers’ ever-evolving demands, including updating menus and service styles.

Prior to the pandemic, with few exceptions, there was plenty of labor to go around. As a result, restaurants could deploy the right labor, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things.

Thanks to COVID-19 and customers’ cravings for convenience, operators now receive orders from a variety of means, and the way they fulfill these orders is more diverse than ever. And both the way operators receive orders and the way they fulfill these orders will continue to impact back- and front- of-the-house restaurant design.

Speed of service at the drive-thru declined over the past year, according to several published reports.

Life was easier for restaurants when guests had fewer choices. Going back several decades, the only decision we had to worry about was to determine whether the food was for here or to go. The first big change happened when drive-thrus came about for quick-service restaurants.