No matter what the goals of your restaurant chain may be, rest assured that you won't achieve them without customer satisfaction. There's not enough volume to depend on one-and-done visitors, so each facet of the company shares responsibility for coaxing those visitors back. Smart managers understand that while most operational work is done "behind the scenes," that work has a large impact — positive or negative —on that all-important customer satisfaction metric. Operational managers at all levels need to incorporate customer satisfaction into their workflow decisions, even if their actions don't have any direct and immediate customer impact.
There are three basic areas where restaurant operations and counter-level customer service overlap.
1. Speed of Service
Just because restaurant operations employees aren't behind the counter or serving tables doesn't mean that their actions don't have an impact on service speed. When making corporate menu decisions, consider added "opportunity costs" like prep or cook time in addition to base pricing on ingredients. At the store level, opt for cooking appliances and procedures that won't eat into valuable operating hours, and design a common-sense layout that places complementary prep stations near one another. The less frequently your store-level employees have to tidy, scramble or reach, the better the chances are that food will get to the customer more quickly. Select seating and tables that are easy to clean between customers or during lulls. The Epoch Times' Andrea Hayley notes that a lack of time-consuming table service is a defining factor in fast casual success, in addition to serving speed. Keep chillers and walk-ins well-organized and labeled and consider adding ready-made solutions like sous vide proteins to your prep lineup to keep back-of-house operations running smoothly.
2. Quality of Ingredients
There's an old operational saying that of the qualities fast, good and cheap, only two can co-exist at a time. While that's true, there's no saying that you can't cheat on time a little beforehand to ensure expediency, affordability and quality in all your ingredients. Options like ready-made sous vide proteins or batch cooking and batch prep are the busy restaurant's greatest allies, ensuring that those ingredients that are able to be prepared safely in advance (prior to opening, or after closing) are ready to go as soon as your crew needs them. Shift time-consuming tasks into hours that won't impact service and you'll have more resource hours available to break down higher quality — but often complex or labor-intensive — ingredients into useful parts, and retain more flavor in the process.
This extra effort is worth it when it comes to receipts; in a recent survey by industry-rating giant Zagat, a heartening 65% of individuals stated that they'd be more likely to visit a fast casual or QSR location if it was considered "gourmet" or "chef-driven."
3. Value of Meals
This effort falls squarely on the shoulders of your sourcing team, and it's a very important one. With terms like artisan, organic and green dominating the trendiest menus, it would seem, at first blush, that pricey ingredients are a sound investment for a chain looking to innovate. But make no mistake — customers are just as cost-conscious as ever.
Fast casual chains have an uphill battle when it comes to selling their $7-$15 average meal price point. Don't innovate yourself out of a sale: woo your customers with something familiar enhanced by a specialty item, sauce or seasoning. Keep your price point low by adding a sprinkle of organic blueberries to a fan-favorite salad, or highlight modern preparation methods like sous vide as a selling point, which also gives room for touting nutritional benefits like less cooking fat. Don't be afraid to enter the market with a new ingredient or dish on discount. Wooing customers begins with the wallet and grows from the palate.
Are your restaurant operations teams working for the chain as a whole, or are they hyper-focused on their particular link in the chain? The growth and success of fast casual as a segment is largely due to a holistic outlook and teamwork throughout the food supply chain. When operational employees and managers are given room to shine, the customer — and the chain — benefits with every serving.