Few workplaces are more dramatic than a commercial kitchen. Movies depict restaurant workflow and kitchens with the same shaky camera and quick cuts used in a car chase or a fight scene. Photographs of chefs usually involve low angles and big flames – and if Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is to believed, there’s a lot more going on than we have space to talk about.
There’s truth in all of these ideas about the frenetic kitchens of hospitality, but the fast pace doesn’t have to mean chaos.
When you’ve taken the time to design your kitchen workflow, the daily hustle and bustle just becomes a kind of high-speed choreography. Roles and movements are clearly defined, communication is standardised, technology assists, and delicious meals get made on time and with much less mistakes.
A well defined workflow helps you plan for an exceptional customer experience
This high degree of planning was once usually the strict domain of high-end restaurants, large banquet facilities and big chain eateries that could afford the consultants and equipment needed to develop highly customised workflows, for both front- and back-of-house.
This is no longer the case however. Advancements in hospitality technology have levelled the playing field for smaller restaurants, bars and cafés, and let’s face it, any hospitality businesses – whether large or small – can no longer afford to provide anything less than an exceptional experience.
The proliferation of online reviews and social networking means any little mistake or disruption has the possibility of spiralling out of control with the wrong kind of customer. Timely service, order accuracy, and an all round hassle-free experience are crucial to keeping modern diners happy.
Staying on top of all the moving parts of your restaurant – order flow, communications, inventory, stock counts, seating, takeaway service – gets much easier when you’ve got the right tools to do the heavy lifting.
Features that can facilitate a smoother kitchen workflow are now built right into cloud-based point of sale software, ones that don’t require a big investment in some proprietary system. And by integrating these tools into the front- and back-of-house protocol, your small restaurant can be running at so efficiently you’ll be seeing the cost and time savings in no time.
Step 1: Define your back-of-house workflow starting from inventory
Any proper design of restaurant procedures should begin with the back-of-house. Everything about opening a restaurant begins with an idea about food, and every action taken inside the restaurant pushes toward the goal of preparing and serving that food. So, the food is where we begin, with these two directives:
- Record every item of food that enters your kitchen using your point of sale’s inventory module.
- Record every item of food that is wasted, and the reason for its waste.
Setting aside that half an hour or so to record the receipt of new inventory directly into your point of sale keeps your inventory up-to-date. This means you’re able to stay current (in real time) with stock levels, and everyone involved in food prep is able to quickly assess if what’s needed for the day’s services are on hand and ready to be used.
Making sure your inventory is updated every day also takes the pain out of stock-takes.
The same goes for recording wastage. According to a study by RMIT University, over 250,000 tonnes of food waste from Australian restaurants and cafés end up in landfill annually.
That translates to an enormous cost for hospitality businesses here, not to mention how bad it is for the environment – rotting food and other organic materials in landfill release methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than the pollution that comes out of car exhausts.
If you’re in the business of serving food and maintaining inventory over hundreds of ingredients, it can be challenging to avoid wasting – food can spoil well before their expiry dates, become contaminated or just not sell very well on a particular day.
Point of sale software that includes an element to monitor food wastage can be a boon for hospitality businesses that are keen on reducing waste.
Pro-tip: One in two of our customers actively use Kounta to manage their stock and wastage.
Kounta’s Inventory add-on lets you quickly generate full or partial stock-takes and even use a search tool to find a specific product you’re looking for.
The Wastage Add-on records what ingredients get consumed as part of which menu item, tracks the cost of each dish, and records the sale of each item (alone or as part of a recipe). All this helps you accurately record what you waste, understand how much you’ve lost in terms of cost and revenue, and see where you need to address the problem.
Step 2: Make it easy to see what tables need attending to
If you offer table service at your business, your operational protocols begin the moment a customer walks through the door. It’s a familiar dance, a warm welcome followed by the confirmation of the number of guests to be seated, and then you lead them to an empty table.
But what if the dining room’s full?
In a well-run restaurant, waitstaff stay in constant contact with the host, giving updates on the status of soon-to-be vacated seats. In a more casual place, the host may just have to take a quick survey of the landscape to figure out how long the wait might be.
In either case, there’s a combination of math and art to arrive at the estimated wait time. And then there’s the time it takes just to figure that out or flag down a server to get the best estimate.
But what if your point of sale can help you manage your dining room in a customised layout, and lets you know if a table is in need of attention, has just arrived, or has just requested the bill?
Kounta’s Table add-on lets you see at a glance, colour-coded tables on a digital display that instantly narrows your field of focus – tables that have been filled but haven’t ordered, guests that haven’t been attended to in a while, and the ones that have just asked for the bill.
Drill down further and you can get instant stats on the length of time each table’s been occupied, the order associated with the table, as well as what stage of the meal your customers are in. If no one’s checked in with the party at a table within a predefined set of time, it’s plainly visible on the screen.
Those with access to view and update the tables layout need only tap on a screen to see or share information about the parties they’re serving. Again, your restaurant workflow becomes very easy to execute.
Ultimately, the front-of-house staff is expected to provide good service and a positive experience for customers. By being able to track what stage (or course) your diners at each table are at, your staff will always have a systematic approach to managing your guests.
Step 3: Taking orders accurately
The order taking phase of your customers’ experience is possibly the most critical. Even the best waitstaff sometimes are unable to answer questions, forget to ask how a guest likes their eggs cooked, or gets the order wrong.
To keep things running smoothly, a little preparation goes a long way – starting with the menu. Nearly every item in your menu will have its own discrete order flow. Even simple things like a cup of specialty coffee can get complicated: What size is it? Milk? Soy? Cream? Black? Sugar? Artificial sweetener?
For ordering, the first workflows you’ll design should be in your point of sale, for each item on your menu where it’s needed. This way, the selection of an entree causes prompts with variations and modifications. So when someone orders a steak, there’s no forgetting how to proceed:
- How would you like that cooked?
- Which side would you like?
- Do you want us to pair it with our recommended wine for only $5 a glass?
You can create order flows that are as detailed as you need them to be, including custom modifications at the customer’s request. And notice how the workflow can include clever little upsell opportunities like the one at the end.
When your waitstaff doesn’t have to remember every little detail about each dish, they can better engage with their customers with these kinds of additional items. Most importantly, order accuracy becomes something your point of sale software takes ownership of by making sure the server hits every last detail.
And by creating these custom order flows, you set yourself up nicely to maintain an orderly kitchen.
Step 4. Sending the orders where they need to go
Once an order is placed at the point of sale, the next step is to let the kitchen (or whoever is fulfilling the order) know what to make. In smaller venues or during non-peak hours, it’s easy to walk over to the chef/barista and to let them know what needs to be prepared.
But if your venue is larger with more components (say a bar, a kitchen with different stations and a few seating sections), or enjoys plenty of foot traffic and is therefore always packed, production printers can be a real lifesaver.
Using remote production printers or displays means that the details of each order are automatically sent where they need to go. This is another case of advanced preparation that sets your establishment and staff up for success.
You can also define at the item level where the order prints. This means the people who receive the printed dockets only see what they need to. Ring up a customer who wants a cheeseburger (with tomatoes, pickles and extra sauce) and a beer, and you can send the food order to print in the kitchen where its picked up by the chef, while the beer order goes to the staff tending the bar.
If you prefer to go paperless, a bump screen works just as well. The principle is the same – sending orders from the point of sale to where they need to go – but instead of printing it out on a slip, the orders get sent to a screen instead.
These printing and display setups can be as robust as you need them to be, but keep in mind that production printers should be facilitating kitchen workflow, not dictating it. Fine-dining establishments – where specialisation in the kitchen is a given – might want to put printers at various stations in the kitchen, while a single printer is probably all that’s necessary for a small cafe.
But here we see again how letting the point of sale automate communication keeps everyone focused on their jobs:
- Your wait staff don’t need to run handwritten tickets back to the kitchen; they can just move on to the next table or head right back to get drinks.
- Your kitchen staff won’t need explanations of special requests because they’ve got all the info they need on their production ticket.
- The host will know that the people at that table have only just ordered and will look elsewhere for the next available opening for customers at the door. And no one will have to go back to the guests and explain they can’t have what they ordered because the kitchen ran out of the ingredients.
It takes preparation, thorough training, and a bit of choreography to pull it off. But once everyone learns their part, a carefully designed approach to operating your restaurant will pay off in spades.
It’s not just that service is quick and efficient: it’s that there’s no confusion or stress about the mechanics of serving food.
Your dining room might be full, and the kitchen might get slammed – it might even look like the chaos of a cinematic kitchen. Under all the movement, though, will be a team of people who are focused and on-task. That’s what good operations design does for you, and the best design starts with good software.