With mobile ordering and booking making huge waves in the hospitality sector, it is easy to forget the important role that behind-the-scenes automation can play in improving customer service and business performance.
Ashley Sheppard, commercial director for CST, says that kitchen automation systems are now an ‘essential piece of equipment’ for the operator serious about offering consistent, good quality food to their customers.
“These systems are the latest must-have technology for pubs, restaurants, hotels and bars because they improve efficiency, enhance food quality, reduce food wastage and increase profits,” he explains.
Modern kitchen management systems be linked up to the venue’s EPOS system, displaying orders an automatically allocating each menu item to the correct chef to ensure that each meal on an order is completed at the same time.
By streamlining food preparation and improving table turn-around, automated systems can help operators improve revenues and meet increasingly high customer demands.
“Kitchen automation systems can be personalised and adapted to each individual site, while also offering training and development facilities, meaning that every site can be working to maximum efficiency,” says Sheppard.
He gives the example of Drake & Morgan, which recently installed CST’s ConnectSmart® Kitchen (CSK) system across seven of its sites and has slashed order completion times from up to 20 minutes to just eight.
“Customer satisfaction is higher and because they get their main course so quickly, they have enough time for a dessert, increasing sales,” adds Shepperd. “Plus, the speed of service means table turnover has increased.”
Kitchen management systems also have a role to play in procurement and menu planning, enabling operators to make informed decisions based on the speed and efficiency with which dishes can be turned around.
“If you are offering a dish which takes considerably longer to prepare in the kitchen because you can see it in your data, if that is causing a problem you might want to consider whether or not you should be supplying that,” says Clive Consterdine, sales and marketing director for Zonal.
“We have an example of a customer who had a kitchen management system and found that a particular sausage they were using for their breakfasts was taking longer to grill than the one they had used previously and it was slowing down the delivery of that dish.
“For them it was about getting a traditional English breakfast out on to the table as soon as possible, so they actually changed their supplier.”
Many software providers also offer menu planning modules, which enable businesses to compare the costs of swapping one ingredient for another in a dish.
“You can do recipe manipulation and compare the margins in using, for example, cherry tomatoes instead of beef tomatoes for a dish,” says Adrian Burns, managing director of Verteda.
“So very quickly, without having to spend any money, you can manipulate recipes to arrive at a higher margin whilst still giving the same service.”
For a truly seamless operation, operators can also take advantage of procurement software which enables them to accurately predict revenues and order accordingly.
“There are increasingly clever predictive ordering systems which are helping businesses lower stock holding and reduce wastage,” says James England, director sales and marketing director at Fourth Hospitality.
“Wastage is such a big thing in the industry- the statistics on how much we waste are ridiculous – and tackling purchasing and inventory management will be critical to reducing wastage.”
Burns says that when integrated with EPOS data, procurement systems can also help operators make informed decisions about which dishes are worth keeping on the menu.
“A lot of restaurants still order an amount based on what the chef thinks is required, as opposed to an amount based on the same time last year, what was actually sold,” he explains.
“When we place our procurement and point of sale systems into an outlet you can quite often see that certain items are just not worth stocking because certain items do not have a high enough turnover or margin.”
England believes the most exciting developments in back-of-house technology are still to come –driven by the new allergen legislation due to come into force in January 2015.
“People are working on all sorts of initiatives to answer the questions of how to deliver information around the 13 allergens,” he explains.
“Paper and pen just won’t work so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next 6-18 months.”
The legislation could see wider adoption of digital menus and iPad ordering solutions integrated with kitchen management systems to ensure the latest up-to-date menu information comes from source.
“We have our own iPad solution and there are lots of third party apps springing up which can be used in conjunction with tablets and digital menu boards,” says England.
“Some people are talking about having an ‘allergen corner’, with an iPad where you can make a query about the allergen info for something on the menu. That would be a cheaper option than having an iPad on every table.”
Crucially, all of this technology is now going mobile, with operators able to use it on tablets and smartphones. “The idea is could this be the end of the back office because why do you need it?” says England.
The switch to mobile has also seen the development of increasingly simple reporting, with all data captured and presented graphically in a meaningful way. This enables area managers and business owners to view everything they need to know about their business at a glance from wherever they are.
“If you have got all of this data, the most important thing is not to drown the operators with tons and tons of data which is difficult to interpret and read,” Consterdine explains.
“There is a lot of emphasis now on providing reporting in bite sized chunks which is pushed out automatically to mobile devices.
“A manager running multiple sites can receive simple regular reports, with an exception notification pushed to their mobile if there is a noticeable change in a KPI so they can take action.”
An automated future
With increasingly affordable technology coming onto the market, it is now possible for hospitality businesses of any size to streamline their operations, improving customer experience and revenues without breaking the bank.
“Cloud solutions allow all sizes of operators to play the game. Technology is no longer the privy for deep pocket, large companies and we are seeing independents come on board every week,” says England.
“I don’t think a company of any size can ignore what technology can do when it comes to reducing wastage, optimising service efficiency and improving customer experience.
“These were almost cheesy buzzwords a few years ago but they are no longer. The question is simply do you want to be in business or not, and do you want to be responsible or not?”