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Your technology can do what?!

When I waitressed in college, the process for taking and imputting orders was fairly simply. Scribble down what guests want on a piece of paper, then head into the kitchen and plug it into a user-friendly (yet pretty generic) computer system. Yes, there were custom fields to enter special instructions, and you were supposed to put in orders based on seat numbers, but it was nothing special. And just as a reminder, I’m a millennial … this was not that long ago. Since then, there have been some upgrades in restaurants’ technology-based hardware (iPad tablets, tabletop technology, etc.), but I hadn’t heard much about advances to the actual software programs. That is, until a recent dinner I had at Moto in Chicago.

At the end of a 10-course collaboration dinner from the team at Moto and Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in Spain, chef and owner of Moto, Homaro Cantu came off the line to give us a tour of his Michelin-starred kitchen.

I was anxious to see Moto’s indoor farm; we featured it in the Best Practices story of our March issue. While I was interviewing Moto’s executive chef Richie Farina for that article, he mentioned that the garden came about because a high-tech computer system eliminated the need for an office space. This was something I brushed off—until I saw it, The Matrix.

It was the most advanced behemoth of a system I’d ever seen. My millennial mind had to know more, so I got on the phone with Chef Cantu. He told me that The Matrix, as the folks at Moto called it, was originally developed to eliminate the need for a human expediter in the kitchen. Over the last nine years, though, it’s gone through many upgrades; the latest rendition, on first glance, looks like a giant automated spreadsheet displayed on a big-screen TV above the line in the kitchen. But the details behind the software reveal a much more complex, interactive system.

Each line of the spreadsheet is designated to a table in the dining room. Each has an obligatory space for the number of covers and a special-instruction box, but what jumped out at me was the constantly changing numbers. Upon further inquiry, I found out that those numbers are actually times—it’s a live countdown of the time chefs have to get the next course out of the kitchen. The automatic timer is based on the weighted average of how long it takes guests to finish each course. Oh, and of course, a computer-simulated voice lets the chefs know when their time is up.

And those little notebooks I used to use while waitressing … gone. Instead, servers speak directly into a microphone connected to the system to alert the kitchen staff of the guests’ progress throughout the meal. They can let the staff know when to fire a dish, or they can even alert the kitchen to slow service because a guest got up from the table.

The uses of Moto’s system go far beyond the timing of service; it helps them better run the restaurant overall. Here’s why it works for them:

A head’s up on dietary restrictions: When servers enter information about diners’ allergies into the system, that allergy will show up on the screen for the chefs, as well as flag all uses of the ingredient throughout the meal and make suggestions for alternate preparations.

Managing kitchen flow: Chef Farina doesn’t have to wait until his chefs get in the weeds to see that there’s a backup, because those timed countdowns are color-coded. “It’s kind of like a stoplight,” says Chef Cantu. Times in green are where they should be. Brown alerts that a station is taking a bit longer. Red means that service is behind schedule. On the fly, Chef Farina can rearrange stations to help a chef who’s behind and get the kitchen back on schedule.

Keeping tabs on the staff: Data is recorded, so Cantu can look at past services and see if a chef is consistently taking too long to get courses off a station. Similarly, he can see if servers have higher-than-average table times, reducing the number of possible table turns on a consistent basis.

Overcoming language barriers: A translator function and pictures allow front- and back-of-house staff to communicate, despite any language barriers.

Up-to-the-minute inventory: Product invoices are entered as shipments come in. There’s a formula for each dish crafted at Moto, and that recipe is in the system. Because each cover is tracked in real time, Chef Cantu can see a real-time inventory of what’s in his kitchen.

Monitoring guest satisfaction: After each course, servers estimate what percentage of that plate was consumed and put that number into the system. This is averaged out at the end of the meal. If a diner ate less than 95 percent of their food, they’ll receive a call from a manager to find out about their experience. The same is done with the amount of each wine in a pairing guests drank.

An instant look at profit and loss: While Chef Cantu admits that it isn’t yet 100 percent accurate, he’s able to see his profits and losses in real time. While most operators have to enter figures into a software program and wait for a bookkeeper to analyze those stats, he has access to an updated financial spreadsheet. “It’s a way to make sure you’re making money every day,” he says.

So why such an intense system? “This ubergreen technology eliminates the accountability of human error,” says Cantu. And, in the long run, that’ll save money. 

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