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.
As the name implies, full service demands more hospitality and guest pampering as part of the experience. But as labor becomes more scarce, operators will seek options that require less hands-on time and may provide guests with more control of their experiences.
With that in mind, we will try to dissect the full-service experience and highlight some technologies, processes and design elements that could be used to minimize hands-on work.
For the purpose of this discussion, I won’t include kitchen, warewashing or food preparation labor that also supports the guest experience. That will likely be the topic for another blog.
The total hands-on work time per table for what we would consider traditional table service lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The graph provides a breakdown of the work content that goes into serving a typical table in a full-service restaurant.
The breakdown assumes that the concept uses the following steps:
- Hosts to seat parties and is on a wait where table assignment is done manually
- Servers to greet guests and take the orders with a paper pad before entering the information into a POS system
- Servers and/or bartenders prepare the drinks and then deliver the beverages to the guests
- Expediters or servers gather the food and then deliver it to the table
- When collecting payment, servers print a ticket, deliver it to the table then pick up the ticket with the form of payment. Servers then process the payment and deliver the credit card back to the guest before picking up the check one last time to formally close the transaction and process the gratuity
- Other interactions take place to check up on the party
- Servers and/or bussers clean the table by gathering the plates, cups, silverware and then wipe down the area after the party leaves
With those steps in mind, let’s explore some front-of-the-house efficiency improvement technologies.
Hosting systems: These have a digital footprint of the tables available in the dining room and track eating times by party size, which can allow for accurate wait time projections. For these systems to provide maximum benefit, though, they must promptly notify the host when a table is becoming available. A typical error is having hosts only track tables vs. having the bussers also assist on the tracking process. This technology could provide savings of 1 to 1.25 minutes or 40% of the necessary hosting time.
Order taking: This area continues to evolve in multiple ways. Enhanced and more affordable tablet-based technologies make it easier for servers to simultaneously take and enter orders tableside. By eliminating the need to re-enter orders, operators can remove 1.25 to 1.75 minutes, or about 25% of ordering time, from the overall process. Some concepts have taken streamlining the ordering process a step further by placing tablets at every table or providing a QR guests scan and then use their own devices to order food and drinks before eventually requesting the check. At the moment this approach typically requires a server to explain how to use these various systems and they should remain accessible to answer guest questions and address unforeseen circumstances. Allowing the guests to place their own orders and request the check via their own devices or something the restaurant provides, not only provides enhanced flexibility it also can reduce the amount of staff time needed to serve a table by 4 to 5 minutes or 85% of the ordering time.
Drink preparation and delivery: As drink orders are not kept on a piece of paper when using tablets or table touch technologies, screens displaying all beverage orders could make the production and delivery more efficient by 30 seconds to 1 minute per table, thus reducing the work content for this step by approximately 20% to 30%.
Kitchen expo screens: Systems, which are part technology and part operations redesign, can optimize the location of food items and minimize the time necessary for servers/expeditors to pull all the food together by about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or 15% to 30% of the expediting time.
Payment technology: The same tabletop technology that facilitates order taking (see above) can also be used to pay the bill as well. In addition, QR codes on paper receipts or phone apps can also help close transactions quickly and with less staff involvement. These technologies could save multiple trips and credit card swipes by the servers thus reducing payment time by 4 to 4.5 minutes or more than 85% of the time allotted for this step. One of the challenges in this area is notifying the server that a table has indeed paid before leaving.
Table cleanup: Unfortunately, technology does not change the manual cleaning process. But design and process improvements could make this step more efficient by having bussing stations properly incorporated into the dining room to minimize trips to the dish drop area. Having guests pick staff up their used items and drop them off in the bussing stations as they leave, stealing a page from fast casual or QSR, could potentially improve the process by 1 to 2 minutes or 20% to 40%.
Like any change, implementing any or all of these approaches won’t come without their challenges, but the potential benefits are huge. Total service time could potentially decrease 12 to 15 minutes compared to the 20 to 30 minutes currently devoted to these tasks. Potentially reducing the total front-of-the-house labor that goes into providing full-service hospitality by 40% to 50% is significant.
These changes may not affect the positions that may not be the highest-paid on a restaurant’s roster, but these positions tend to represent the majority of workers a full-service operator employs. Given the scarcity of labor the industry faces, these changes are definitely something that operators should research as soon as possible!