We write a lot on this blog about the trend toward ever-faster, ever-fresher food offerings in today's restaurant climate. So what are modern restaurateurs doing to speed up service but maintain, or even improve, quality? Here are a few food service innovations we thought we should pass along.
Is wait staff a thing of the past?
At least one restaurant — 's Baggers, in Nürnberg, Germany — seems to be betting on it.
Billed as the "Rollercoaster Restaurant," the eatery uses a proprietary, custom-built track system to deliver dishes from a second floor kitchen straight to diners' tables on the first floor. Customers come in and place their orders on a tableside touch screen where menu items are categorized by preparation time, so that diners will have realistic expectations for their wait.
The kitchen is staffed by real people (no robots cooking the food or other crazy, elaborate setups), but when dishes are ready, instead of being handed off to a harried waiter, they are loaded into special rolling canisters and sent down the track. Gravity does the rest.
The method is reportedly so successful and the concept so novel that reservations must be placed weeks in advance. But not every restaurant must build its own, innovative delivery system to speed things up — there are plenty of off-the-shelf systems available for purchase and integration into your operation, to help you achieve faster service and reduce waste.
Tablet-based restaurant management.
The designers of Breadcrumb hope to revolutionize point-of-sale operations with an intuitive tablet app that wait staffers and floor managers can use at tableside.
Breadcrumb is a full restaurant and bar management system with over 200 features, including customizable menus, easy-to-use kitchen printing, labor tracking and real-time reporting. A manager or lead can use the app to easily split or transfer checks right at the table, instead of having to run back and forth to a fixed MICROS location.
There are hard-point additions— called Breadboxes— for the system that incorporate secure cash registers and printers, but the main idea behind Breadcrumb is to free the restaurant manager from his or her office or cubbyhole, so that he or she is free to move around, observe, pitch in and welcome guests.
The system is leased on a month-to-month basis and offers a 30-day free trial. Software updates are included in the lease, so obsolescence isn't a worry.
Integrated systems are revolutionizing front-of-house to kitchen flow and vice versa.
By utilizing wireless communications and streamlined, automated processes where possible, the idea of waiters running in and out of the kitchen looking for updates on food, or communicating re-cook instructions, is becoming a thing of the past.
The stress and strife of waiters and cooks, in the heat of a dinner rush, yelling and screaming at each other— a notorious service killer— can be mitigated by keeping communications smooth, nearly-instantaneous and seamless. A waiter can simply type in an inquiry or re-cook instructions from a tablet— without leaving the serving floor— and receive an ETA or acknowledgement from the kitchen.
No dirty looks. No passive-aggression. No histrionics.
And, just as back-of-house operations are becoming more integrated with the front-of-house, so too are kitchen operations becoming faster and more streamlined— via web-connected devices like pressure washers, ovens, fryers and warmers that can communicate in real-time with each other and feed continuous, timely information back to the line cooks, the kitchen manager and/or chef.
Instead of the generalized confusion of cooks running hither and thither, checking to see if this fryer is at the right temperature, trying to keep an eye on several timers, pulling just-washed dishes and restocking, all these functions can be managed from one, integrated HUD display over the line.
LED alert lights are replacing panic-inducing bells and whistles that tell kitchen staff when dishes are through or cook times are over.
Even inventory management is becoming easier. An integrated, web-based kitchen management system can automatically deduct items from inventory as dishes are ordered and completed, then be set to re-order stock as it becomes low, freeing the manager from hours and hours of stock reconciliation and order writing.
Form follows function, especially in the food service industry.
As designers come up with better and better solutions to streamline operations and reduce waste, the slim margins most restaurateurs currently face should ease and allow more creative freedom. If current food service trends are any indication of what the kitchen will look like in 10 to 15 years, plan on it being much quieter, more automated and much less chaotic than ever before.