7 Ways to Put “Fast” in “Fast Casual”

fast casual

Posted: Aug. 17, 2015

Fast casual, a quick yet quality dining experience, has been increasingly popular recently, as consumers are demanding both fast and wholesome meal options. A few popular fast casual chains have seen great success over the past ten years including Chipotle, Panera Bread and Qdoba. Not surprisingly, sales for this category of restaurant have grown by 550 percent since 1999. With fast casual restaurants popping up all over the United States, many restaurant owners are eager to get on board.

Owning and operating a fast casual restaurant can mean great success, but there can be many roadblocks to creating a profitable location. For instance, many new fast casual establishments aren’t prepared to handle the volume of customers that this style of operation can produce. Because of this, customers may see long ordering and cooking times that rival traditional restaurants, and take the “fast” right out of the “fast casual” format. To counteract this potential problem, and others, we’ve broken down the 7 best ways to put the “fast” into your “fast casual” establishment.

1: Ramp Up Operations with a Kitchen Display System

One method that ensures quick service in a fast casual restaurant is a kitchen display system. Kitchen display systems, or KDS, send orders digitally from the Point of Sale to a screen in the kitchen. This process eliminates the need for paper tickets, and enables cashiers to spend less time running orders to the kitchen.

A kitchen display system typically shows order details including: the menu item that was ordered, any modifications or additions to the order, whether it is a dine-in or take-out order, the time that the order was placed and how long that customer has been waiting for the order. Because of the great level of detail within the kitchen display system, most communication between the order and the kitchen staff can be done solely online.

Kitchen display systems are available in two varieties. One variety sends tickets wirelessly from the Point of Sale to a tablet. These are touch screen controlled, and the kitchen staff can simply swipe an order to mark it complete. The more popular version of KDS sends tickets from the POS to a large screen or display, usually through a wireless connection. Large KDS screens tend to be more common as they are easier to read for a large kitchen staff and from far away.

2: Ditch the Paper - Send Email Receipts

Another simple procedure that can increase speed of operations is to ditch the paper and send email receipts instead. This easy change can cut down on time completing an order by removing receipt printing time. The cashier simply taps a button to send a receipt to the customer. Using this technology also cuts down on paper waste, and employee time refilling a new roll of receipt paper when empty.

Another advantage of email receipts is the ability to record customer data. With these systems, an email address only need be entered into the system once. From that point forward, cashiers can simply look-up that customer by email or name to send a receipt. Restaurants can in turn use this data to send out promotions, incentives, and event invitations.

3: Speed Up Service with Self-Serve Terminals

Self-serve terminals are a new trend among fast casual and full service establishments and have been adopted by large chains such as Chili’s and Applebee’s. These terminals are usually touch screen devices that allow the customer to order and pay before they reach the counter. In some fast casual establishments the order is ready by the time the customer reaches the counter. More frequently, a restaurant staff member will call the name or number associated with each completed order.

The use of self-serve terminals can increase the efficiency of staff members, as it eliminates the need for a cashier to place orders or run tickets to the kitchen. Instead, staff can be hired solely for food preparation. Self-serve terminals can also greatly increase customer satisfaction, as customers no longer depend on wait staff or cashiers to take their order or give them the check.

There are multiple hardware options for self-serve terminals. POS integrated options can usually be operated on the same tablets as the POS terminals. This also allows for cashier-operated terminals to be added during high traffic times. Some self-serve terminals can stand alone as their own ordering system and are not integrated into the Point of Sale. Stand-alone self-serve terminals can be a much more expensive solution.

4: Optimize Efficiency with Online Ordering

Online ordering can significantly improve the efficiency of fast casual restaurants that serve a high volume of take-out clients. Instead of placing orders over the phone, let your customers order their meals online. This removes the need for cashiers or servers to take orders over the phone. Many online ordering systems send orders directly to the kitchen and are marked “to-go” so that the staff is aware of the source of the order.

Many online ordering systems are integrated into the Point of Sale software. This way, all transactions are synced through the same billing and reporting system. Some online ordering systems can stand-alone and may be manually integrated into the Point of Sale depending on the preferences of that establishment.

5: Accelerate Payment Processing with NFC

Near Field Communication allows a credit card terminal to accept a payment from a smartphone simply by bringing the two devices within a close proximity of each other. The most common NFC programs are ApplePay and PayPal. Using NFC can save up to 90% of the overall time required to make a payment as well as attract tech savvy customers. Most merchant processing companies in the US have integrated credit card terminals that accept ApplePay and PayPal.

6: Bust Long Lines with Handheld Devices

Handheld devices, such as a tablet or phone, can be used by service personnel to bust long lines by completing purchases from anywhere in a fast casual location. A server or cashier can wirelessly send orders to the kitchen with the handheld device and accept payment with a mobile credit card swiper. Incorporating this process can eliminate wait time for stationary registers during high volume times.

Some traditional Point of Sale systems may not yet offer this feature as an add-on, as it requires orders to be transmitted wirelessly between the handheld devices and the kitchen printers. However, many Mobile POS systems offer this feature, as they operate on wireless technology. iPod touch, iPad Mini, and the iPhone are all popular choices for this handheld ordering system.

7: Avoid “Bottlenecking”

One of the most common issues that fast casual restaurants can face is bottlenecking. This occurs when congestion slows the productivity of a particular point in the service process. It can occur due to long lines, being short staffed or having a production line that is not fast enough.

Avoiding bottlenecking can be challenging, especially in high volume locations. A good practice is to have a predetermined backup process lined up. This way you are prepared when volume is much higher than normal. Having extra service personnel, more terminals than normally necessary, handheld devices or self-service terminals can greatly improve the efficiency of your operation during high volume time.

Posted: Aug. 17, 2015 | Written By: Hannah Dietz

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