Capacity Management Can Save Restaurant Operators from Meltdowns — Here’s How
With the world navigating the realities of COVID-19, stories of upended “normality” have flooded the news cycle. We’ve become accustomed to scenes of “looted” grocery aisles and empty restaurant dining rooms, but Mother’s Day 2020 may go down as a historical event. The holiday often cited as the average restaurant’s busiest day, created a massive snafu for many United States restaurant operators. Harrowing stories of long pickup lines, canceled orders, and parking lot brawls(!) have left many restaurant operators wondering how they could’ve prevented the fiasco. The answer (you read the title!) is restaurant capacity management.
Capacity management is a restaurant technology feature that helps you manage your off-premise (and walk-in) workload through smart data and quoting features. We’ll get deeper into that later. First, let’s unpack what happened on Mother’s Day 2020, how operators could have avoided it, and how to prevent it next year.
The Mother’s Day Meltdown
With social distancing rules still preventing dine-in reservations and with mother’s day being such a high-traffic restaurant holiday, many operators received more off-premise traffic than ever, and couldn’t handle the traffic. Customers placed orders for pickup or delivery through a third-party service, where the restaurants then received the orders to (generally) their point-of-sale system. The POS or third-party quoted a time back to the customers to pick up their orders.
The problem is that these technologies weren’t quoting to the customers based on the restaurant’s actual workload. Instead, the technology provided a pre-set quote, based on the order. With many kitchens working at full capacity, these quotes were often inaccurate and not reflective of their bandwidth. As a result, many customers received pickup quotes for the same time, creating an unruly bottleneck and a slew of late orders (in some cases, up to 30 at a time!)
Have you ever seen that famous episode of I Love Lucy? The one with the chocolates on the conveyor? Many operators felt like Lucy Ricardo on Mother’s Day (please watch the video if you haven’t). See, it’s bad enough when you get behind on orders — customers get surly, and staff gets stressed. The worst is when you’re already late, and the orders keep coming in!
This “burial” is what happened to many operators on Mother’s Day. With no way to slow down the new orders as they sorted through their backlog, the staff slid further and further behind. In no time, restaurants big and small began reporting stories of:
- Parking lots overrun with cars. One incident showed a chain restaurant unable to process the backlog, so the manager (accompanied by city police!) had the unfortunate duty of informing the irate group that they’d be canceling their orders.
- Customers awaiting orders for over an hour, in some cases, more than two.
- Operators giving up and opening doors for walk-in, violating social distancing protocol and sparking heated debates online.
These incidents damage the brand reputation and create substantial financial liabilities that no restaurant can afford right now!
How Operators Could’ve Avoided The Meltdown: Capacity Management
When operators utilize technology in their restaurants, they stand to create higher efficiencies and cut wasted time. Through smart integrations, they also serve to create “smart” restaurants, i.e., restaurants that are dynamic and automated, with every station aware of the other.
Capacity management, a feature present in a quality kitchen display system (KDS), helps in sidestepping these off-premise issues. When fully integrated as part of a restaurant platform, capacity management features take a “reading” of your kitchen bandwidth. Through real-time order tracking, it can identify, down to the minute, where an item is in its journey. Because it uses the order data in your restaurant, and not an arbitrary pre-set, these quotes are truly accurate.
So when the kitchen is slammed with orders, capacity management features will account for this. When providing quotes for new orders coming in, guests will receive a pickup time that’s further out.
Imagine your orders are bbs rolling through a straw. Now imagine yourself squeezing the straw tighter, slowing their flow. Capacity management features work in the same way, “throttling” the incoming orders for you. The longer times allow your staff to catch up with demand and prevents you from frustrating guests with an overly optimistic time that you can’t meet. When the traffic eases up, those quotes will shift to reflect it, becoming shorter.
Capacity management is crucial for off-premise dining because it helps you automatically provide the best quotes to customers, always making good on your promises.
Additionally, operators can avoid the chaos many say on Mother’s Day by utilizing off-premise aggregators. Many restaurants use several different channels, or points of entry, for off-premise orders. These channels might include your website, call-in orders, and those through a third-party delivery app.
An off-premise aggregator helps you by taking all these different order types and organizing them into a coherent dashboard. By presenting all the information in a simple “at-a-glance” format, operators limit the time spent frantically running back and forth with orders. Staff and operators have everything they need to manage those orders in one place. Additionally, with an integrated platform, those aggregators can push information to the kitchen and front-of-house, like order statuses, keeping the team in the loop without having to leave their station.
Order Ready Screens
A long wait is terrible enough, but a long wait with no foreseeable end? Pure agony! It’s this uncertainty that had many of the customers mentioned earlier, and it’s one that technology could’ve helped them avoid.
Order Ready screens remove this “unknown,” and empower your waiting guests with information. These screens let them know where they are in line, and in what stage your staff has the meal. The simple displays mean guests can keep tabs on their order from a distance, without disrupting social distancing measures.
Capacity Management: Conclusion
Capacity management helps restaurant operations balance the workload and traffic between walk-in orders (which will someday return!) and off-premise diners. By reading real-time data, you can always make good on your promises to off-premise guests because you’re quoting to them based on what’s happening, instead of guessing.
As off-premise dining becomes the “new normal,” operators can expect to see an increase in traffic in those areas, more than they ever have. Capacity management features in restaurant technology prevent meltdowns like that of Mother’s Day 2020 from happening.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick was the Content Marketing Manager at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write, draw and paint. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.