Improving counter service

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by taylor frost, Mar 3, 2014.

  1. taylor frost

    taylor frost

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    Good Morning Chefs of the World!

    I'm hoping to pick your brains a little bit about something that to me, seems very simple on the surface but is actually a big tangled up ball of $%&!.

    I'm the kitchen manager of a small operation of 4 years that does the whole gourmet sandwich thing, open kitchen, counter service, East Coast meets Southern California, you all know the type.  We take a great strides to make our product a step above the other places in LA that do what we do, and as a result, the fire times are generally longer than one would expect from a sandwich shop.  Added to that is the time it takes for our "expediter" to set it up to be dine-in or take-out, putting the appropriate sides and extras, and calling customer to the counter for their order.  Now, the reason I use quotes on that word is because I feel like it's a bottle neck for the kitchen and no matter how fast my guys can crank food out, the food always gets stalled on his end.  The expediter is limited by the size of his workspace compared to the volume he's sending out.  Worse yet, he is at the mercy of being asked for various things by customers at any point of the service so if it's a particularly high-maintenance customer, it completely jams up the line.  I feel helpless as he gets barraged by the needs of so many (it's on the edge of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, you can imagine the expectations of our customer base), and cannot intervene for fear of over-crowding him.  All in all, I believe this to be our biggest downfall in terms of service.  Our food gets rave reviews and we have devoted regulars but they all know to avoid lunch because we get absolutely crushed for about 2 hours every day.  The problem can't simply be a weak line-cook or my expediter not being fast enough.  These guys are exceptional at what they do but I can't help but feel they are being hampered by certain aspects of the open kitchen/counter expediter concept.

    Things like little signs at the counter that say extra sides/sauces/dressing need to be ordered from the cashier are totally overlooked.  This presents a financial problem as well as an awkward customer interaction where someone is basically told, "No, you can't get that from me, you need to go pay that person down there and then come back and I'll give it to you".  My customers are also wildly fond of heavily modifying their orders, sometimes beyond any similarity to its original menu description.  The owner doesn't really have a hard line on this and the cashiers aren't properly armed with information to prevent some of these totally bizarre creations.  This is yet another thing that directly contributes to our ticket times as well as mistakes on orders by miscommunication or misunderstanding.  

    A concept like this, I feel should be simple but it feels messy, spread out, and MANIC.  I would bet good money that when we're having one of those days where every order is 15 minutes+, we look like terrified, miserable worker bees instead of professionals.

    Is this whole thing doomed?  Have we allowed things to progress too far?  The business is definitely there but if what we're offering isn't entirely sustainable for us, I don't see how it can improve without massive restructuring of our service.  Advice/comments/complaints are much appreciated.
     
  2. michaelga

    michaelga

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    Punctuation will help more people to read your problem.   Just Saying.  Communication is the key!
     
  3. frostythespider

    frostythespider

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    You'll have to forgive my bluntness, but seriously? Punctuation? The response is hardly relevant. And in what way did my punctuation throw you off? I agree, communication is key... except when it's superfluous.
     
  4. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    FrostyThe Spider or Taylor Frost, I have to concur with MichaelGA, I do not have the time to wade through and figure out what you are asking.

    Perhaps if you were more concise?
     
  5. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    I also chime in along the same lines. You mentioned a bottleneck in your post, well your post was a bit of one as well. Some paragraphs, breaks, whatever, would have made it a little easier to read. Not trying to bust your chops or be irrelevant.
     
  6. michaelga

    michaelga

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    Since you don't seem to understand, I will put it bluntly.

    I never read what your problem was because I got into around line 7 and then gave up trying to read any further.

    There is a goldmine of information on this board but most users simply close the post when it is unreadable.

    I decided to take 2 minutes of my time and explain why.  

    Next time I'll try to explain it better.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
  7. chefbuba

    chefbuba

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    There........it only took a minute to fix your post a bit so that others might be able to read it.

    I'm no English major, nor the grammar police.

    BTW, I'm one of those guys that won't bother to read most posts written like this, although it was not as bad as some.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
  8. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    That definitely helped, Chef Buba. That said....

    **shrugs** Could in part or whole be a logistics problem; I'd have to see a couple pics of the setup

    anyways to even begin to begin to analyze any physical bottleneck causes, before considering

    any procedural ones.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
  9. chefross

    chefross

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    It's the guys 1st post.

    You nit picked his punctuation and sentence structure.

    He came here for advice seeking information and perhaps some empathy and all the thread answers were about none of it.

    I doubt you made a good impression of his 1st post on Cheftalk.com

    You guys are way over the top.

    I noticed the one big paragraph but had no problem reading it....

    Taylor, perhaps a restructuring of the pass through making it larger might help.

    If you are in a position to do so, perhaps take a good look at the line set up or pass through.

    As for the customer being allowed to embellish the menu sandwiches with add-ons, you've already let the cat out of the bag.

    If you immediately cease doing this, you might lose some customer base because of it.

    My only input would be to try to initiate controls over the add on and make sure they are being charged for.

    This is a team effort and takes training. Good luck.
     
    flipflopgirl likes this.
  10. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    Getting food out is all about flow. If expediting workspace is limited and non negotiable, then moving the food off

    the pass to the table has to come first. And the extra cargo  that is jamming the shipping lanes has to come second.

    Period. And if that means ticking some people off, so be it. Have someone explain the situation, that its a trade off--

    all extra requests coming out with the food--the cold, late food, or timely service of hot food, the extras will get to you

    asap. Perhaps a separate area nearby can be cleared to expedite that kind of stuff--probably easier than trying to expand

    an existing pass through.
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
  11. brandon odell

    brandon odell

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    Does sound like there is some restructuring in order, but its pretty hard to say what is necessary without seeing the place.

    First thing that has to happen is to set expectations. In a sandwich shop, gourmet or not, a 15 minute ticket time is the kiss of death. The goal should be 5 minutes or less. 10 minutes should be a worst case scenario.

    Slow tickets usually start with the menu. A big menu can slow down the customer, the cashier, the kitchen and the expeditor. However, the service should always be able to move at least as fast as the kitchen line. There is no reason for a counter service restaurant to ever have a bottleneck on the expeditor station. That tells me either the space is wrong or the staffing is. Maybe both.

    The first step to resolution is to have whatever staff you need to get the food out. Overstaff if necessary. Do whatever it takes to get the food out. AFTER the food is getting out on time, THEN its time to start whittling down the staff to only necessary positions. You whittle until it starts to affect service speed.

    At that point, you may find your problem is solved. Its possible the extra revenue gained from getting food out faster more than pays for the extra staff. If not, and the labor costs are high, its time to start looking at the equipment layout or even the overall style of service. If the problem were in the kitchen I would suggest you look at the menu first.

    From an equipment and process standpoint, there is so much that could be wrong. Its impossible to say without seeing. It could be the whole service concept. It could just be the layout. It could even be a lack of needed equipment. Impossible to say.

    First thing's first though. If the expeditor is getting called away from their work to answer customer requests,either someone else isn't doing their job or there aren't enough people on staff to get the job done.