Foodservice by Design

Team members from Profitality-Labor Guru discuss how industrial engineering can be applied to the foodservice industry.


Honey I Shrunk the Footprint: How to Embrace Smaller Restaurant Sizes

Our society definitely values speed of service and convenience. Nowhere is this more evident than in the foodservice industry. There has been a huge industry trend to get food to the people, whether it’s via online, delivery, catering, or other methods.

You can blame the Millennial generation if you want, but remember that when you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you. In other words, it’s really all of us consumers that emphasize speed of service and convenience. And who can blame us? What could be more convenient than restaurant-quality food brought to you in the comfort of your home or office?

As a result, one of the foodservice-related design trends that I see and deal with more frequently now is driven by the dynamic that if the customers don’t come to the restaurant, then concepts have to figure out how to get the restaurant to the customer. One natural outcome of this phenomenon is to shrink the physical location to provide a concept with greater flexibility in terms of site selection. Doing so allows the restaurant to operate from nontraditional locations which often brings the concept closer to its customers.

Simply trying to cram the restaurant’s base design into smaller locations, however, may not be a cost-effective approach. Instead, restaurant operators need to redesign their units to allow for efficient execution with good unit economics in trade areas where the volume of a typical location would not be as high, due to having less guest demand. So, what do concepts have to do? Borrowing from that infamous movie starring Rick Moranis: Honey, they have to shrink the restaurant.

When trying to shrink a restaurant, the project team needs to ask a series of questions, but the two main ones are:

  • What do you shrink?
  • How do you shrink it?

Let’s start with the first question; what do you shrink? Well the obvious answer is the back of the house. Start with a back of the house that measures one square foot. Then, as you add more space and equipment, you can make sure to add value at every step. Obviously, this principle is not intended to be taken literally, since designing would take forever, but you get the point: only that which adds value has a space in the new, smaller back of the house.

As you undertake such a challenging initiative, look around and you will see many sources of inspiration that can lead to a smaller kitchen.

Now on to the next question. This one’s a bit more challenging. How do you shrink the back of the house?It’s not a matter of making everything smaller. For example, you can’t simply shrink the cookline by using half as much equipment. The goal should be to reduce the size of the back of the house while leaving the restaurant with the capacity to drive sales and peak hourly throughput. In other words, allow the restaurant to achieve high volumes within a reduced space.

One way to deliver high volume in reduced spaces is to “right size” all the resources in the back of the house. One industrial engineering technique that can help achieve this goal is capacity planning. This process includes correlating yearly sales to peak sales and then defining how much equipment capacity is necessary for each piece of equipment and back of the house resource. In doing so you need to consider the item velocities that staff need to cook and assemble, based on the product mix. Speaking of product mix, while going through this process, concept should also challenge the menu items and consider some menu reduction and rationalization.

Challenging the current menu also means allowing for menu innovation. In the future, staff will need to deliver new menu items in an efficient way — all within the constraints of the smaller space. The concept of menu innovation is here to stay. So the best way to deal with this is to build in some flexibility into each design with the understanding that you don’t always exactly know what comes next.

It’s also important to right size the front of the house. Capacity planning comes in handy here, too. In the case of the front of the house, instead of menu items, consider customer demand and space utilization. While doing this analysis, keep in mind the way customers use restaurants nowadays has dramatically changed the paradigm on front-of-the-house design and capacity needs.

Customers today like to order ahead via the restaurant’s app or website and eat off premise, which means they use the front of the house much less than before. This drives front–of-the-house design by impacting the customer flow, as well as necessary dining room capacity. This change can help shrink the front of the house.

To effectively shrink the facility, you need to apply the appropriate analytics. This is the best way to ensure you have the right resources, in the right place, at the right time, to drive the right unit economics for the concept.