Several jobs are never complete in the restaurant business: bringing in more customers, making processes simpler and faster, and finding ways to cut costs. Fortunately, many of today’s trends in technology and equipment can help smart operators move all three to the next level.
You’ve likely already seen tableside tablets popping up at airport restaurants. They can do everything from displaying the menu or wine list to taking the order, allowing patrons to play games, requesting server attention or accepting payment. Tablets—and their cousins, kiosks—can lower overhead and labour costs, and help provide speedier, more accurate service. Buffalo Wild Wings is one of the largest chains to embrace the power of self-ordering, and is in the midst of installing tablets at every table. Quebec’s La Cage aux Sports chain is using a server-tablet strategy, believing it allows fewer employees to handle busy nights, as well as easily upsell drinks and food.
Lowering and raising prices according to daypart is possible with a combination of digital menu boards and super-duper POS systems. Menu substitutions can also be made in a snap—and limited time offers can be more “limited” than ever.
Of course, you can still keep tablets in your own hands by using POS systems connected with the e-wallet option. Opportunities abound to track real-time sales numbers, split bills easily, create customized menus, and offer paper or magnetic gift certificates. Security features include fingerprint ID and compatibility with the EMV standard (fraud-loss protection developed by credit-card companies including MasterCard and Visa).
Having the right person in the right place at the right time can improve just about every single task in your restaurant. Many operators now use software and mobile apps to streamline scheduling. The best versions will even create schedules based on sales and traffic forecasts, provide visibility into overtime during the “who-when” process and incorporate performance management.
If you’ve never considered providing takeaway meals, you may want to start. Amazon and Uber—the car service—are rolling out low-cost restaurant delivery service in test markets. So the landscape of delivery options is changing fast everywhere, and experiments in the U.S. and Spain are sure to land here in Canada. In Los Angeles, for example, con-sumers can order lunch or dinner via the Uber smartphone app and have it delivered in 10 minutes for a flat fee of $3. Amazon is trying some-thing similar in urban areas, where you can have food delivered from restaurants—usually for free. With Uber and Amazon in our country already, they’re sure to put us in the delivery system if the schemes prove successful.
Turning our attention to trendy equipment, combi ovens remain in high demand. Multiple cooking modes—convection, steam, or combination—allow you to bake, grill, roast, steam and more with just one piece of equipment while providing consistent results every time. They can even provide deep-fat crispiness—without the deep fat. Or “rethermalizing” options that help foods taste as fresh as the day they were frozen. You can “poach” fish using the steam mode. Also, do complete cycle baking: proof, dry bake, steam, repeat dry bake. Some models even let you turn your personal recipes into barcodes so staff can simply scan a code to cook the perfect lasagna.
Still one of the world’s favourite foods, pizza is more popular than ever—just look at the proliferation of quick-serve joints copying the new “point at the ingredients and watch us cook them” model. With innovative self-ventilating conveyor ovens that can bake a customized pie in about two minutes, operators who might have thought twice about serving something so time-intensive now have another option for bar noshes, lunches and snacks.
A 3-D “printer” that makes edible objects out of chocolate or sugar. A special “gun” that smokes foods—load it with wood chips, spices, flowers…??? Moving a centrifuge from the research laboratory to the kitchen, to mix drinks. Foams, froths and vapours require the highest of high tech; so do edible containers, now in development. What’s next?
Always in Style
Knife work takes skill and plenty of time back of the house. Products like the Onion King® and Tomato Tamer® reduce the effort and help make the kitchen safer, too. Perhaps you already know about special blenders for quiet environments—or just to lower the noise level so the cooks can call out to each other a little more clearly. Items like cheese wires, salad spinners, panini grills, french fry cutters, rice cookers, electric spice grinders: Make the job easier and save money!
Today some chefs want to be hands-on: learning to trim primal cuts or taking entire courses in butchering. For them, a manual grinder versus an electric is something to seriously consider. Handsaws and cleavers for in-house breakdown of carcasses are paired with electric slicers in their toolbox. Some even offer meats to customers for take-home-and-cook convenience—and another source of profit. On the flip side, portion control and back-of-the-house simplicity is the plus for most operators, and the more profitable (and food safe) way to go. No special equipment necessary!
For the grill? Models using radiant ceramic rods distribute heat evenly and help achieve that perfect sear.
Cut Time, Energy
Last but not least, technology is making inroads in labour. The combi ovens mentioned earlier are an excellent example. Then there are ice machines that help sanitize themselves with ultraviolet light oxidation (see pg. 11), and dishwashers that reduce water use and dry dishes faster.
Major equipment purchases are a big decision. Sometimes renting first can help you make the right one. Ask!