Foodservice by Design

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


How to Endure the Off-Premises Boom

Coronavirus does not discriminate. It will infect anyone and the steps to curb the spread of the infection continues to impact all businesses. The restaurant industry remains among the business segments hardest hit by this pandemic yet not all restaurants appear to feel the impact as badly as others.

Due to their drive-thru capabilities, quick-serve restaurants feel slightly less pain than operators who derive a majority of their business from dine-in occasions. Many of the latter remain open and hope to adapt by leveraging off-premises business opportunities.

Primarily dine-in concepts have found this sudden shock to the system particularly unnerving and unsettling. But these operators can borrow a few pages their QSR and fast-casual peers to help optimize takeout and delivery opportunities.

Here are a handful of considerations to weigh when trying to engineer a concept for successful takeout and delivery operations.

Manage promised time expectations. This refers to the time the restaurant tells the consumer when the order will be ready for pickup. Given the potential ramifications of improper social distancing, this has never been more important. The last thing a restaurant wants is customers or delivery drivers or both clustered together waiting for orders. This is not healthy for anyone involved. As such establishing a realistic promised time, based on the kitchen’s ability to produce orders, becomes critical to the success of any off-premises program. A single, fixed, promised time will also not work, because of the dynamics of volume and the kitchen’s ability to produce. There will be instances that the kitchen beats the fixed promised time, and product quality will suffer. Other times the kitchen will fall behind the promised time, meaning the consumer will need to wait. So, as an example, if a concept’s typical kitchen time is 10 minutes during busy periods, add 2 to 4 minutes to box, expedite, and bag the order, and have a promised time of somewhere near 12 to 14 minutes.

Design products the restaurant can deliver before the promised time. Many full-service concepts feature extensive menus. It will likely be prudent to limit the available options to simplify production in the kitchen and ensure production can match the promised time. Otherwise, operators will need to factor in the time associated with producing more complex menu items and adjust the promised time.

Consider offering family-style meals. To simplify order execution, and to also appease families hunkered down together, consider adding to the menu more family-style meals, rather than individual meals. This allows the operator to group simpler items together in bulk, to ease the strain in the assembly, packing, and handoff process.

Optimize the carryout/expo window workstation. Some concepts have dedicated carryout areas. Others don’t. For full-service concepts without a carryout area, the expo window can fulfill this role. Whether a space intended to handle carryout or an expo window temporarily fulfilling this role, standardize the workstations, creating a place for every item staff need to execute carryout. These items include bags, utensils, sauces, etc. When designing these stations take the “5S” approach:

  1. Sort through materials and ensure only essential items for carryout are present
  2. Set in order all items in an organized manner so each item has a designated place
  3. Shine the workstation so it’s clean and sparkles
  4. Standardize the organization and processes
  5. Sustain these practices even once the pandemic ends

Design for quick and easy handoff of meals. If an operation lacks a dedicated carryout area and pickup spot, then use floor tape, traffic cones, or bookshelves to create these areas that make it easy for customers or delivery drivers to know where to go. In the current environment it’s critical to limit the opportunities for staff and customers to come in contact with one another. A few options include customer pickup shelves, either indoor or outdoor, and/or dedicated pickup parking spots. In either case, capture payment during the ordering process, as much as possible, and make it clear to the consumer that there order is complete, either by having an order ticket or order sheet stapled to the bag(s).

Deploy optimally. As the dynamic of operating the restaurant changes from strong dine-in to no dine-in and strong off-premises, labor deployment must match this shift. Back-of-house labor may require training to manage the complexity of executing carryout. Workstation optimization becomes just as critical here as it is when structuring the carryout station referenced above.

Deploy for throughput. One characteristic common to takeout and delivery orders is that they can arrive in random spurts, and have an infinite queue, so the possibility of massive orders arriving at once and flooding the kitchen is always a possibility. While creating labor schedules, begin to identify the weak spots in order execution, and deploy additional labor to ensure throughput and the ability to meet promised times. This may take shape in having someone dedicated to running orders to cars outside – normally not a position one would have but is necessary during these times.

While the industry needs to adapt to the current environment by functioning as more of a ghost kitchen for the time being, these foodservice design principles can help concepts that are set up for mainly on-premise dining, better serve off-premises dining customers.

Recall that right before the pandemic, the next “BIG THING” in the foodservice industry was how best to handle the off-premises orders. Improving off-premises execution now will only make operators’ future sweeter when business returns to normal. But we all wonder will the new normal be off-premises centric?