Matt Anderson calls it a “napkano,” the volcano that erupts when guests at Zaxby’s leave a pile of wing-sauce-stained paper napkins—many barely used—on the table. “It’s a struggle,” says Anderson, systems development manager at the 673-unit Athens, Ga.-based chicken chain.
“We don’t want to anger people by denying them napkins,” he says, but waste is a concern.
It’s a struggle many limited-service restaurants face. Napkins, cups and utensils are line items on the P&L, and when control is put into guests’ hands, losses escalate. As more operators adopt frictionless, self-service models, manufacturers are starting to catch up with equipment that aims to help protect the bottom line. In the meantime, many operators still rely on the human touch to solve the problem.
Zaxby’s solution is to give customers a few napkins on their tray at the point of service. “They can always ask for more,” says Anderson. But that strategy hasn’t solved the waste problem with other products. Cup lids tend to stick together, so customers take three or four at once, Anderson says. This introduces another problem: sanitation. Patrons sift through the lids, spreading germs, then either replace them in the dispenser or toss them out.
For other operators, a desire for more sustainability is driving the hunt for equipment and procedures that help control inventory. At Culver’s, counter staff hand customers only the utensils they need for their order. Though it adds labor, the practice has proven to be not only cost-effective but less wasteful, the chain finds. “We don’t want self-serve dispensers for these items because of all the waste. It’s not only a loss of money, it’s bad for the landfill,” says Glenn Weiss, purchasing and facilities manager at Culver’s headquarters in Prairie du Sac, Wis.
Still, Weiss specs dispensers for straws and cup lids and recently switched to a new, more efficient napkin dispenser. Now, he says, “people are taking just what they need.”
At this year’s National Association of Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers Show, several suppliers unveiled portion-control dispensers beyond the standard ones for straws, ketchup and cups. The new crop included dispensers for sweeteners, toppings and more, as well as equipment to address operators’ problems with lids and utensils. Besides waste management and sanitation, look and size also were factors—key for self-serve operations with a desire for consumer-facing equipment that also looks good.
Condensing the coffee center. The new Beverage Station from Server Products combines a thermoelectric cream or milk chiller with color-coded sweetener dispensers in a small footprint. It doles out preset portions of both dairy and sweeteners and eliminates paper packets, minimizing waste. The station is designed for both self-serve cafes and drive-thru windows.
Cutlery, contained. Simpull Touch from US Foods dispenses one fork, spoon or knife at a time, deterring greedy guests and promoting sanitation. Its slim look is a plus for space- and style-conscious operations. The cutlery comes in 100-count cartridges to ease restocking.
Nailing the lid. Stuffing a lid dispenser can cause cup lids to stick together, but Vollrath’s LidSaver 2 prevents this with an added overload-protection feature. That means fewer lids are wasted or contaminated from excess handling, and the area around the dispenser remains tidier. The device handles soft drink, coffee and domed cup lids.