What’s the state-of-the-art in a fully-automated restaurant? Read on to find out…
As the past decade revealed, business life is constantly challenged to keep up with the advances in technology. Just as one innovation has been launched onto the market, promising to make life so much easier for all, you just know there is another snapping at its heels, only a matter of months away.
It has been a process watched with fascination by former Melbourne restaurateur Spiro Vournazos. In the early 1990s, he opened the doors of his own eatery, but the endless hours of managing all the various components and procedures saw him years later sell the business and walk away.
“If all the systems that are on the market now were available back then, I would still be running a restaurant,” Vournazos says. “The main reason I got out of it was because of the amount of time I had to put into managing it, keeping an eye on spreadsheets all over the place.
“These days, all that info is available in the one system, making the job easier than ever.”
It is not without some irony that Vournazos has ended up now with RedCat Hospitality Systems, selling the items that, once, he would have been a keen consumer of.
Equipment like wireless hand-held monitors, point-of-sale (POS) systems, kitchen video displays, order printers, internet booking engines and online customer loyalty programs have streamlined—and revolutionised—the way most restaurants operate.
Having a waiter take an order at a table on a hand-held monitor that simultaneously sends that order directly into the central POS system and to the kitchen for preparation, as well as tracking the flow of stock out of the storerooms, has now became an industry standard.
When Melbourne’s The Press Club opened its doors in 2006, it implemented a complete end-to-end POS system that would be powerful at the front-of-house but also provide a high level of payroll, stock and financial
control at the back of the house.
The results, according to co-owner George Sykiotis, benefited the business in each area.
“The solutions (we decided on) improved our productivity significantly as well as the process of orders. There is no doubling up now,” Sykiotis says. “You can control everything from stock management to wages. We can track a bottle of wine from when it is ordered to when it is sold, and that is extremely valuable.”
While many businesses continue to effectively operate with pens and order-notepads out front, and clipboards of spreadsheets at the back, innovative electronic business solutions are being released on the market every year. “The tools we have now are about making it easier to manage for the owner, and to make the process of dining easier for the customer,” Vournazos says.
The hand-held device
The wireless hand-held device has changed the dynamics of the front of house. It offers waiters convenience and flexibility while serving customers, and increasing productivity, saving staff from being on the constant run across the floor, instead able to focus on the sales job with customer service. It also aids in the elimination of lost orders and other errors. Faster service also means being able to turn tables over at a faster rate.
The POS system
The POS is, basically, the till, order book, and itemised menu all built into the one machine—with a small tonne of other features to boot. The POS system allows staff to work with a reliable front desk system with the functionality to provide accurate service at the front-of-house, while supplying all the essential information through to back-of-house for management control.
Sydney’s Ocean Room had a troubling dilemma when it opened—it has two entrances. Two POS terminals that feed into the one central system was the solution, allowing for a streamlined customer service from customers in different areas of the floor. “We need both machines to be live between the two terminals, and this is a system that continues to work well for us,” Anthony Tam of Ocean Room says.
“The solutions we decided on improved our productivity significantly as well as the process of orders—there’s no doubling up now.”
George Sykiotis, The Press Club
Kitchen printers and screens
With the order information sent directly from the hand-held waiter’s device or from the front desk POS, the kitchen receives the order directly, with the possibility of different parts of the order—the entrée and the dessert, for example—going to the different areas of the kitchen. Some kitchens use printers, while others have screens to help track the orders.
“They can use a floor printer to print out all the food orders, sorted by seat number for when the food is taken to the table,” Grahame Day from Samford Software explains.
The orders being sent into the kitchen can also be used to track what stock is moving out of storerooms. Stock control systems maintain a record of levels of individual items, which can be reviewed at a glance. This can keep stock counts to a minimum, therefore not wasting valuable time. While the system has proved a popular one, Anthony Tam reveals it can be difficult to micro-manage every aspect, and there are some things best left to human minds.
“We have used it, but it proved not to work smoothly,” he reveals. “It is hard to monitor too closely a pinch or salt or a glass of wine—one might be 100ml, another 115ml. So we still use man power to count everything at the end of the day.”
New software modules, as well as new online solutions, have taken staff management a long way from the days of using the Bundy clock and keeping record books. New procedures allow a simple swipe of a staff card, or the entry of a dedicated password, to keep track of rosters, hours, sales performances, and the rates paid. This information can then be automatically processed to create timesheets and send information to the various employee bank accounts to pay wages, and at the end of the financial year, deliver group certificates.
With a centralised POS system used to manage the entire business, every action can be tracked—including the changing of prices, the deleting of menu items or how often a till has been opened. “Everything that happened can be tracked against each staff member using the system at that time,” Vournazos says. “If a cash drawer has been opened 22 times in an hour without one sales recorded, while the manager was out, then the system will reveal which staff member did it. And once a report is run, it can also quickly reveal any discrepancies of the day.”
Online access to operating systems has made managing a business offsite an easy option for many owners. Logging in to the system on the internet and being able to change prices, delete items, reschedule staff or run a performance result is now just part of the daily business for many. “I know of owners living in Hong Kong who go online and check on their business in Australia, running a payroll report and a lunch sales report, while other partners in other areas of the world do the same thing,” Vournazos adds.
Booking engines like Dimmi allow customers to go online and reserve a table in real time, rather than sending emails and awaiting a reply. “This is something that has proven a good move for us, as once the booking comes in, we handle it straight away,” Anthony Tam says. “People are living their lives on their computers these days, so the easier you make it for them to deal with you, the better the business will be.”
Customer loyalty programs and services, Vournazos predicts, are the important future focus for business, with loyalty cards providing specific customer information, gift dining offers and pre-paying and pre-dining orders all part of the growth. “Allowing a business customer to go online, click on the menu items and pre-pay, so they know there will be a steak on the table at midday right after they walk in, transforms their lunch hour into a well-planned 20 minutes,” he explains. “It also means that managers can turn that table over again quickly.” Loyalty programs also provide better attention to important details like customer allergies or if they prefer red or a white wine. “You must make the customer feel they have got the best of every dollar they have spent,” Tam says. “From the first phonecall through to the delivery of the bill. Customers now need that level of attention.”