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June 2006
Simplify Your Way to Success

Simplicity. That’s the goal of cost-saving “operations engineering” for restaurants, according to Mark Godward, president of Strategic Restaurant Engineering/WD Partners, Miami.

“Once achieved, you’ll see profit increases of up to 3% of per-unit sales, throughput improvements of up to 100%, and labor cost decreases of up to 3% of per-unit sales,” Godward told an audience of equipment purchasers and suppliers at Foodservice Equipment Reports’ third biennial Multiunit Foodservice Equipment Symposium. MUFES took place Feb. 11-13 at the Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas.

The process of developing a more efficient layout, throughput and process starts with three key steps: 

q       Understand throughput and demand patterns;

q       Simplify the labor-intensive elements; and

q       Invest in labor-saving equipment and technology.

First up, you have to understand--really understand—your operation, down to what’s being sold at the per-hour level during peak times. And although the goal may be “simplicity,” the process is not.

Operators need to have a handle not only on the number of peak hour transactions, but also what types of product and how much of each is being sold.

“We find that operators understand some measures, such as sales per week,” Godward said. “But sometimes the sales numbers aren’t enough to truly understand what’s going on.

So just how detailed do you need to get? Extremely. Godward gave an example of one restaurant’s peak-hour analysis: “The design target of a $69K/week requires a $2,165 peak hour with 183 covers and 61 peak-hour parties.” The statement was accompanied by a grid that detailed how weekly and annual sales varied according to peak hour levels.

Easier Is Better In The Labor Department 

The next step is to simplify all the labor-intensive elements.

“Focus process simplifications where your critical labor dollars are going. In other words, make the most labor intensive stuff the most simple,” Godward continued.

He illustrated his point with a bar chart from that same restaurant showing the activity status (active, walking, idle) ranked in order of time usage for the various areas. The front counter took by far the most time, followed by BOH/sanitation, drive-through, unloading line, food prep, production, specialty drinks prep and dining. 

“When you break down labor deployment, you’ll typically find areas where you have to work longer or harder, such as the front counter, sanitation or maybe the drive through,” Godward said.

“We have found that what’s often overlooked—the front counter, with the order taking, entering information into the POS and cashing it out, consumes a lot of labor in a foodservice operation,” Godward said. “You have to examine your operation with this degree of detail, from back- to front-of-house—especially the areas not related directly to food. ALL activities have to be part of the improvement process.”

Once the time breakdown per area is spelled out, you can look for ways to streamline. “If operators have to walk too much, make the station smaller, or put ingredients closer to point of use--make sure as little walking as possible is going on,” Godward said. “However, you may find many processes that you can do nothing about.”

New Technology Can Be Your Friend

Step three involves examining what’s available in equipment and technology.

“We’ve seen dramatic improvements in technology and equipment over the last 10 years,” Godward said. “However, there’s typically a reluctance to dive into more sophisticated types of equipment, such as dual-sided cooking, induction, speed toasters, combination microwave and convection. It’s important to look at them objectively, to justify putting them in place in your operation.”

As an example, instead of designing a new restaurant with the traditional five-foot grill, a smaller double-sided cooker might handle the work load just as fast while saving money in hood and ventilation costs.

“Trying to justify improved equipment has benefits in savings and speed,” Godward noted.

Moving Higher Up The ‘Simple’ Ladder

Once you’ve worked through those three steps, you should take a bigger picture look at your operations, including understanding what production levels your restaurant is really capable of and determining what equipment is used most during the day and how it affects throughput. 

Your restaurant’s production capability may be far above what it’s actually turning out. Godward described a classic case.

“For many years, some fast food concepts would limit the number of registers so the kitchen could keep up with demand. But if kitchen had the capacity to do more, running fewer registers meant wasting potential sales,” Godward said.

You also have to determine what equipment is used the most throughout the day. “In one restaurant, it was the three grills,” Godward recalled. “That restaurant wanted to expand its seating but was held back by grill capacity. We addressed the grill bottleneck by adding double-sided cooking grills, which helped them drive throughput without adding more ventilation or hood.”

Godward’s final advice was to keep all these points in mind as you develop new facilities, so you can meet your capacity and cost structure goals, which in time will lead to the creation of the ultimate, optimal prototype. 

“The cycle of a new prototype, with all the brand, operational, functional and aesthetic elements, needs to be renewed every five to six years,” he said. “A boring or out-of-date environment can kill even the best food, so look at your settings on constant basis, and make sure they’re in balance with operations, and with the competition.”

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