A Step ahead

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A Step ahead

By Mary L, Carlin, Contributing Editor - 10/01/2006

Quick service restaurants (QSRs) haven't historically been quick to implement new technologies. High implementation costs and lengthy returns on investment (ROI) have put off many, but that is now changing.

Fuddruckers, Sbarro, and Bill Miller BBQ are reaching ROI quickly and outpacing their competition through enhancements ranging from handheld point-of-sale (POS) systems to new call-in terminals, broadband credit card approval, and self-service kiosks to speed sales and guarantee quality.

Improving service time

Based in San Antonio, Texas, Bill Miller BBQ has a cafeteria-style line with tickets for order pick up after payment. According to POS director and IT coordinator Rick Dworaczyk, new technology implementations have enabled all 67 stores to reduce average service times to 15-25 seconds per person (the average from a line of 10 people) in the dining room and to 45-60 seconds at the drive thru. "We started three years ago with our service staff using Dell (www.dell.com) handheld units to take orders and payment from people standing in line," he informs. "In our new concept store, we've got remote printing in the kitchen for the orders on the staff handhelds. We're looking at speed of service, adding two to four more points-of-sale per store, and considering the dual drive thru concept within one to two years maximum."

The company converted its credit card transactions from dial-up to DSL and cable modems, speeding approval times from 37 seconds to just six seconds. If the Internet connection fails, they automatically switch back to dial-up. Another planned technology is Verifone's wireless QuickPass (www.verifone.com), so that customers can wave their credit cards at the reader and know that payment is complete. Dworaczyk says they are also looking at self-service despite cultural resistance at the corporate level: "BBQ likes one-on-one, eye-to-eye contact, but to me, a machine is the same as another employee taking an order -- it comes back just the same.

"Everything happens later in San Antonio. We have no financing -- zero debt -- for new stores. Money is slowly and methodically spent by BBQ," explains Dworaczyk. One of their recent successes is a call-in terminal from Digital Dining (www.menusoft.com) that takes orders and provides the total over the phone for customers to pay when they pick it up. "We've got three in our high-volume stores and have eight more on order," informs Dworaczyk.

"We use Ã.‚¬Ëœguinea pig' or test stores to implement, and then we monitor for two weeks to five months, as needed for the complexity of the technology," he says. "I'll put a POS in a store four to six weeks prior to going live, just to get some general excitement going. I research things inside and out, and select the busiest locations for testing to get a true feeling of how it works. Then I test the slowest locations, too."

In the future, Dworaczyk sees Internet ordering, self ordering at tables and kiosks, and Web-based reporting providing greater control over one's finances.

Reducing inventory costs

Under the leadership of CIO and director of IS Richard Guariglia, mall pizza QSR Sbarro, has upgraded its restaurants to a new broadband POS. It has installed the Aloha Quickservice POS (www.radiantsystems.com) plus other enhancements to speed service, mine its guest relations database, and build a reporting warehouse to track items that are selling better or to offer a better selling item. "We can do tracking from different viewpoints -- sales, labor statistics, compared with mall traffic, compared with the rest of the country -- to see how items are selling," he explains. "We're using the warehouse to mine the information, and seeing if that leads us to new foods, seasonal items, etc. We'll add fields to the POS in 2007 for quick surveys, too."

So far, senior management has been happy with the reductions in inventory and labor costs, but they're still using the estimated ROIs. "We're looking at Internet ordering early in 2007, which is innovative in mall QSRs. I see wireless broadband coming rapidly, and cell phones having some impact in the future as well, perhaps with onscreen menus or showing an ad once they're inside the mall," shares Guariglia. "Security is a major issue for loyalty data and privacy, and for broadband POS. Kiosks, wireless, and cell phones are very expensive for high security if you want them to be very easy to use." He advises other QSR operators to look for the value-add in new technologies according to what you've already got, technologically: "However, if you don't have anything now, these technologies will definitely bring you faster service."

Streamlining menu rollout

The fast casual burger chain Fuddruckers currently has counter service for sales and floor staffing for refills. It has now rolled out employee-facing kitchen kiosks to 111 of its 126 company-owned stores to train staff and to streamline its menu rollout process directly from corporate headquarters. President and CEO Matt Pannek says the goal was to speed new product roll outs from six weeks to one week by switching from paper-based manuals to downloads via the Internet to all stores. "Now we can know that all stores are using the latest recipes and instructional materials, including video, photos, and commercials for the management teams to follow. We're also toying with a lunch kiosk for the express line, providing two to three options and a credit card swipe for customers in a hurry."

Another version of the kiosk is in the restaurant for new hires and training with onscreen questions. The long-term goal is to add job applications and produce the appropriate papers for each new hire in the system. Handheld order taking and credit card swiping are also in test now.

Fuddruckers has launched the kitchen kiosks in its company-owned stores and hopes that its 125 franchisees will follow suit once they see how well it works. "We're working for the highest level of adoption," Pannek explains. "If you make the guest experience your ultimate goal, everything you do must positively impact that. Guests will see the improved products and education on the part of our staff."