Operating a successful quick service restaurant is all about ensuring the right systems are in place: the right people, at the right time, with the right tools. While there may not be fryers and grills on the fast food supply chain — unless they're being shipped, of course — the same principles apply to locking in success. The right supply chain management, much like store-level management, should be adept at not only putting initial decisions into play, but making course corrections when they're needed. To truly "own" their own supply chains and leverage all the positive benefits they have to offer, the QSR and QSR-Plus industries need to carefully weigh three aspects of smart supply chain operation.
1. The Technology Used
When innovations promise to streamline ordering, drive prep time down and reduce overhead costs, chains and franchisees alike won't hesitate to give them a second look. Why should the supply chain be any different? Tech breakthroughs like the IoT allow lettuce to stay colder and crisper on its journey, and potentially perishable meats can be monitored as they travel from supplier to end restaurant. Actively seeking and using knowledge like live temperature monitoring allows companies to speak to food safety with authority. Consciously studying these data streams can also offer food quality knowledge, such as the learn the best settings for recipient chillers and freezers to minimize temperature disruptions in the food itself. Connected systems can also simplify formerly complicated tasks, such inventory, resulting in more accurate forecasts for future product orders. Have a frank discussion about current and future capabilities with your 3PL provider. You'll need to strike the right balance between newer tech availability and the primary concern among polled businesses: commodity cost pressures.
2. The Processes In Place
Old adages urge us not to tinker with things that aren't fundamentally broken, but competition in the QSR sector is too fierce to opt out of continuous improvement. Even if your fast food supply chain is functioning adequately, you should still make a habit of continual observation and adjustments that bring you closer to peak efficiency. Even if you can't imagine working with another distributor, or have "made do" with the less-than-stellar quality of specialty ingredients from your main supplier for years, it's never too late to pull together some options. Some supply chain management is reluctant to actively seek out pricing and benefits for a product they technically have covered, but if a less expensive or more diverse range is waiting for their call, as another saying goes, they can't win if they aren't in the game. Knowing what your near-sourcing options are for produce is the best way to maximize product freshness and quality, which can easily dip on rough cross-country hauls — especially in the case of seasonal products.
3. The People On Your Team
In the case of a supply chain, the "right people" may not be individuals, but rather supply chain partners, companies and 3PL providers that are behind the scenes, driving the chain forward. Properly vetting a partner company is business as usual, but static observations and studies no longer make the cut. QSR trends turn on a dime, which means that your partners must be able to as well. If the companies you are working with or considering don't have the same level of "things in the works" that your own company does, it's time to reevaluate current choices before they become future stagnation. Staying competitive means keeping your options open for designing new menus and offerings, and that means having an agile supply chain on speed dial. Need organic blueberries from Maine for a salad? Want to try fully-cooked chicken bacon on your value menu? The right companies won't flinch, but rise to the occasion and ask you how many cases you need. The right companies should also make themselves available for S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) discussions. You'll need their support for building successful food product launches, and that can't happen if they willingly keep themselves in the dark.
While this trio of points is obviously only part of a successful fast food supply chain, consider them the legs that hold the table aloft. Properly balanced, they'll give you a superior base of support to stack ideas, challenges and opportunities on. Get them right, and you'll tap into that particular "in the zone" magic that consistently sends daily receipts sky-high in a well-placed QSR restaurant with a solid team behind it.