With consumer trends changing and the fast-casual industry booming, it can be tough for quick service restaurants (QSR’s) to stay competitive. They’re expected to uphold their characteristic, high-speed production while now accommodating for the growth of mobile ordering and delivery. Then there’s the uphill battle against product quality perception when compared to their fast-casual counterparts, no matter how much they invest in high quality ingredients. The trick for QSR’s to overcome these obstacles and differentiate themselves in the market lies in strategically capitalizing on and taking advantage of design solutions that are already at their fingertips.
The increased popularity of delivery is no surprise or novelty. Now that third-party delivery services are in the picture, how do restaurants keep up? Considering QSR’s are better able to address delivery demand than any other restaurant category, many of them have already taken the leap to do so. A standard kitchen layout has a cook line that leads to a make-up/assembly line before it gets sent out to the floor or drive-thru. The most prudent concepts looking to satisfy walk-in, drive-thru and delivery demands are incorporating dual make-up/assemblylines and sometimes even dual cooklines. They designate one line for walk-in and delivery orders and the other line to accommodate drive-thru orders. Since QSR’s typically have a 60% drive-thru to 40% walk-in order ratio, the walk-in side has the bandwidth to help accommodate for delivery. The key to the second line, however, is making sure that you manage your labor to meet delivery needs. Many restaurants either don’t add the extra line or don’t manage their labor on the second line because of the additional capital and labor costs. Yes, adding a station increases both labor and capital costs. But the market and I are here to tell you now is the time to take the dual-line leap. You can quickly offset the costs if you manage up labor to meet the potential revenue you could be making with the added capacity. And if you don’t, someone else will. Worse yet, if you don’t and ticket times increase, service levels and customer satisfaction will fall and you’ll send your restaurant into a downward spiral of mediocre performance at best.
It’s inherent that potential customers perceive fast casual dining as higher quality than QSR’s. Even if a QSR invests in more expensive, higher-quality ingredients, this predisposed perception is often so strong that it can hamstring you against the fast-casual competition. The key here is changing the way you serve your product and how the consumer experiences it. Celebrate “hero items” through how you display/merchandise or better yet, cook/prepare them – from putting homestyle sides in homestyle serving vessels to sprucing up the condiment station for sweetening and creaming your coffee. Going above and beyond in displays to create “food theatre” that emphasizes and merchandizes certain items creates a positive impression around the products and overall brand quality. At the same time, you must positively impact the consumer experience with utmost efficiency. This means exceptional operations that lead to getting the quality product to the consumer in a timely, hospitable manner. It cannot be just “food theatre” or efficiency, it has to be both.
QSR’s also need to stay up-to-date on the many advancements being made in cooking and holding technologies, and should be looking to take advantage of them every chance they get. A cook-chill-retherm process, for example, prevents food from stewing, overcooking and degrading as it sits in a steamtable. Instead, the food is cooked in water or steam just until done, chilled and quickly seared upon order so that it doesn’t sit and overcook or dry out. Similar advancements include holding technologies that allow you to pay very close attention to and precisely control heat and humidity to keep food warm for longer periods of time without changing the texture. From choosing between radiant and convection heat to controlling humidity, moisture or air flow, there are incredible technologies out there – QSR’s have to be open and willing to try them. There are also some amazing technologies associated with fast, automated cooking processes. High-efficiency charbroilers, for example, maintain consistency and quality without having to rely so heavily on the cooking staff.
So, you’ve incorporated technology to improve your back-of-house operations and production, now it’s time to focus on your guest again. Don’t fall into the trap that replaces people with technology. Human interaction is a biological necessity and proves to enhance customer experience. Try to find ways for advancements in technology to facilitate this connection rather than replace it. For some QSR’s, this has looked like using tablets to “line bust” drive-thrus during peak times. They bring hospitable service directly to car windows, thus taking more orders and getting more cars through the line at an increased rate. Despite using a device that typically detracts from human interaction, the tablet facilitates the person-to-person interaction by bringing an additional face and service directly to the customer.
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