Paper tickets or printouts are still used to track orders in most restaurant kitchens. But that’s beginning to change as busy operators turn to kitchen display systems to manage more complex orders, including those placed outside of the restaurant. Here's how a handful of operators are solving problems with these sytems.
When 19-unit fast casual The Melt added new burgers, chicken, salads and fries, it soon became obvious that it would need a new production system. Engineers built a kitchen in a warehouse, equipped it and videotaped staff at work. “Employees were spending a bunch of time trying to ID items from several tickets,” explains Greg Flandermeyer, head of operations services.
To solve the problem, The Melt set up a system with a display at each line (grilled cheese, burgers, sides), and a screen and iPad at the expo station where a manager assembles orders and pages guests. When there’s a glitch, employees can be switched to another station to meet the targeted six-minute ticket time.
“We put out a daily speed report,” says Herb Billinger, The Melt’s chief operating officer. “Restaurant GMs can look at all the variables that affect inputs and know exactly how they are doing every hour.” Year-over-year comps have been up 2-5% every month since installation of the KDS, he reports.
Getting in sync
Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, a 28-unit casual-dining chain based in New England, has a similar KDS setup: One screen at each production station and a larger one at the expo station “allow us to coordinate timing so that the person making a salad doesn’t even get the ticket until the steak for the same party is almost ready,” says President Hugo Marin. “We can view ticket times from different perspectives, see who is performing well, reallocate labor, coach staff, make tweaks.” In addition, all stations are connected by radio, including the expediter—who can communicate with the front-of-house manager if an order is running slow, giving him a chance to alert guests before things have reached the point at which comped items are required.
“When we open a new location, the KDS helps us understand how that community will be using the restaurant, then rebalance the line,” says Marin. “Restaurants get online a lot faster.”
Quieting the kitchen
Mint Indian Bistro operates three casual-dining restaurants (with two more about to come online) and a QSR drive-thru in Las Vegas. The company worked with its POS provider to devise a cloud-based KDS that pinpoints immediate problems (identifying the station holding up an order) and ongoing issues (fulfillment of soup orders taking longer than expected). Servers’ iPads get notices when a table’s food is ready.
With runners no longer shouting for their missing calamari, customer service has improved, wait times are down 30%, and 98-99% of orders are fulfilled correctly and on time, up from 90%, says Manager Sujal Mehta. One chronic headache—order cancellations—has become far less of an issue, and often there’s a chance to switch the item to another party. “We gained a huge savings in food cost and timing.”
What to look for
Advice for considering and choosing a KDS.
- Visit other restaurants to see how they’re using their KDS, says Billinger. “Some just have a display without any engineering or science going into it,” he says. “Making improvements is a continuous journey; as your product mix changes, the workload will shift.”
- “Don’t put in a system you don’t need,” warns Hugo Marin of Margaritas. “You want to know how your kitchen is working, what foods sell the most ... If you want to improve operations and the investment makes sense, a KDS is well worth it.”
- “Don’t just look for a display screen that allows you to bump orders ... look for [one] that allows you to mine data that you can act on,” says Sujal Mehta of Mint Indian Bistro.
- Consider features as options improve and drop in price. For instance, all the above operators are planning on or considering enhancing their system with recipes and videos that employees could call up as needed.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.