A successful restaurant will not remain so without a kitchen that operates smoothly. Technology is definitely a key component, but restaurants must map out a strategy in order for innovation to have the intended impact. Here, HT queried operators and technology experts to put together a five-step roadmap to establishing a smarter kitchen.
1. Invest early in technology
Companies that don’t think of technology at the incipient stages of infrastructure development risk finding themselves behind the eight ball. Mike Turner, vice president of culinary and purchasing, at Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar (https://walk-ons.com) credits investing in tech early on and in the right way as one factor for the company’s success.
“Many companies don’t do that, and they get to number 20 in a chain and realize they are not as productive as they should be,” he says. Walk-On’s is based in Baton Rouge, La., and currently operates 17 locations with an additional 18 planned for next year. “By restaurant number four and five, we were vetting technology and working on the bugs and the kinks.”
Walk-On’s first invested in a kitchen display system from QSR Automations (www.qsrautomations.com), featuring two display screens in the prep room to help execute at a high-volume level and four screens on the cook line, Turner notes. The display system splits the order up and will hold items in a queue based on “theoretical cook times” so all the food for one order finishes cooking at the same time.
The system also stores all of the restaurant’s recipes online so there are no paper tickets or recipes in the kitchen. Staff can toggle back and forth between recipes and even watch two-minute videos of kitchen staff prepping or making a dish.
“It has taken five minutes off our average ticket time, increased our check average, decreased our costs and increased table turns — which increases sales,” Turner explains.
2. Make the supply chain smarter
Using technology for kitchen inventory, ordering and tracking food costs is also proving beneficial for restaurant chains and the bottom line. Westville, (http://westvillenyc.com) a chain of six restaurants located in New York City, uses MarketMan’s (www.marketman.com) cloud-based inventory management system, which integrates with the Toast POS system (https://pos.toasttab.com), to centralize its ordering and recipes, track inventory price changes from vendors, compare sales to previous purchases and more.
“The big thing for us was to consolidate our ordering, and now we are exploring the other benefits of reporting and setting up alerts,” notes Shawn Peled, director of operations at Westville. “We can compare different months using graphs to see how purchasing changed and can check over-ordering and waste, which is a big issue for most restaurants.”
Walk-On’s also is planning to implement automated ordering using Restaurant365 (https://restaurant365software.com), which in addition to invoices and purchasing will provide kitchen staff with historical data and recipe information so they know what should be produced that day. This will integrate with the chain’s NCR Aloha POS system (www.ncr.com) and will roll out in 2018, Turner says.
3. Put mobility on the line
The technology used in the kitchen to prepare, cook and warm food also continues to advance and make the chef’s job easier, and we may not be too far off from the ability to cook using our smartphones to control thermostats and ovens, says Jonathan Hunter, owner, chef and culinary director at Madison, Wis.-based Underground Food Collective (www.undergroundfoodcollective.org), which operates as a catering company, butcher shop and Forequarter Restaurant.
The company uses a variety of remote thermometers, including those from Range (www.supermechanical.com/range), enabling staff to check the temperature of foods on a smartphone to ensure they are abiding by the food safety plan and HACCP. Through a Bluetooth-enabled app, staff can monitor PH levels and all refrigeration systems. Walk-On’s is looking into implementing this type of monitoring in 2018, Turner notes.
4. Turn up the heat on user experience for employees
Convection ovens not only are helping modern kitchens accelerate cooking time, but also offer a level of usability that streamlines efficiency. Walk-On’s utilizes Turbo Chef (www.turbochef.com) convection oven and microwave, Turner says.
At Calafia Café & Market A Go-Go (www.calafiapaloalto.com), based in Palo Alto, Calif., customers can choose from a grab-and-go market on one side and a full-service restaurant on the other. The owner, Charlie Ayers, was Google’s first chef years ago, and chose a combination oven from South Bend (www.southbendnc.com) for his kitchen that can be used as a steamer, an oven, a roaster and a convection oven. It is programmable and allows users to set different temperatures.
“It allows you to employ people with a lower skill set because it makes it easier for them to execute their daily tasks,” Ayers says, explaining that the kitchen also features display screens for cooks to view digital tickets using NCR Aloha, as well as NCR Orderman handheld devices for ordering, which also integrate with the kitchen displays.
5. Apply automation & AI
In addition, Calafia has been testing the Sally Robot from Chowbotics (www.chowbotics.com) in its market section. The robot offers custom-made salads in a self-service format, marrying grab-and-go with fresh, Ayers says.
“The unit has 22 canisters that we fill fresh daily with different ingredients, such as six types of lettuce, including kale, mixed greens and romaine, and we have been offering it the past three months,” Ayers says.
CaliBurger (https://caliburger.com), a restaurant division of Cali Group, partnered with Miso Robotics (www.misorobotics.com) to introduce Flippy, an AI-driven robot. Flippy had its debut at the Pasadena, Calif., location, with plans to roll out at 50+ worldwide locations before 2020.
A “collaborative kitchen assistant,” Flippy handles the hazardous, tedious and time-sensitive aspects of grilling burgers. Flippy continuously learns from experience to improve over time.
“The application of artificial intelligence to robotic systems that work next to our employees in CaliBurger restaurants will allow us to make food faster, safer and with fewer errors,” says John Miller, CEO of CaliBurger.