In recent years, fast-casual establishments have dominated the restaurant industry. Customers, especially Millennials, are looking for delicious food at affordable prices. Fast-casual restaurants are adapting to meet the demand of their customers. Not surprisingly, sales for this category of restaurant have grown by 550% since 1999. With fast-casual restaurants popping up all over the United States, many restaurant owners are eager to get on board. Continue reading to see what changes are coming to casual restaurants, and what your establishment should do to keep up with competitors.
Celebrity Chefs Enter the Game: Just because a restaurant is fast doesn’t mean the food is created by line cooks and high-schoolers. Many popular chefs have realized the demand for fast-casual restaurants and have opened their own establishments, such as celebrity chef Jose Andres and popular New York chef David Chang. Having these and other popular chefs enter the fast-casual game has made the demand for high quality and gourmet options even higher. Millennials have led this demand, being both budget-conscious and more culinary adventurous than older generations, current, and future fast-casual establishments must take note and deliver an equally delicious offering to continue to be popular.
Meeting the Delivery Demand: We all have had the lazy days where we would rather reach for the delivery menu then drive to a restaurant. It used to be that fast-casual restaurants were for eating in and taking out only. However, in 2016 this is beginning to change. Millennials particularly are demanding their favorite casual restaurants offer delivery options, and many have taken notice. Popular fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera are now offering delivery options in certain high-demand locations. Starbucks has even opened delivery-only locations to not detract from in-store customers. Popular third-party delivery services like UberEats and Grubhub are making the addition of delivery easier for fast-casual restaurants, as it does not require them to staff delivery drivers. Breaking into the Brunch Game: Brunch is more popular than ever, and just because fast-casual restaurants are not waiter-driven doesn’t mean brunch shouldn’t be an option. Popular fast-casual restaurants like Miami-based Salsa Fiesta began serving brunch recently, and since implementing sales have grown five percent. Instead of having one server per table, like traditional restaurants, some establishments have entered the brunch game by having all servers work as a team, which has proven to be successful and cost-effective.
Fast Shouldn’t Mean Fake: Just because fast-casual restaurants deliver food quickly, doesn’t mean they should be synonymous with the trans-fat heavy drive-thru restaurants. In fact, with the demand for healthy food growing, many fast-casual restaurants are trading in their GMO and MSG choices for farm to plate and organic options. Expect to see some of your favorite fast-casual restaurants offering minimally processed, organic, and sustainable dishes.
Avoid Bottlenecking: One of the most common issues that fast-casual restaurants can face is bottlenecking. This occurs when congestion slows the productivity of a particular point in the service process. It can occur due to long lines, being short-staffed, or having a production line that is not fast enough.
Avoiding bottlenecking can be challenging, especially in high volume locations. A good practice is to have a predetermined backup process lined up. This way, you are prepared when the volume is much higher than normal. Having extra service personnel, more terminals than normally necessary, handheld devices or self-service terminals can greatly improve the efficiency of your operation during high volume time.
Accelerate Payment Processing with NFC: Near Field Communication allows a credit card terminal to accept a payment from a smartphone simply by bringing the two devices within close proximity of each other. The most common NFC programs are ApplePay and PayPal. Using NFC can save up to 90% of the overall time required to make a payment as well as attract tech-savvy customers. Most merchant processing companies in the US have integrated credit card terminals that accept ApplePay and PayPal.
Bust Long Lines Using Handheld Devices: Handheld devices, such as a tablet or phone, can be used by service personnel to bust long lines by completing purchases from anywhere in a fast-casual location. A server or cashier can wirelessly send orders to the kitchen with the handheld device and accept payment with a mobile credit card swiper. Incorporating this process can eliminate wait time for stationary registers during high volume times.
Some traditional Point of Sale systems may not yet offer this feature as an add-on, as it requires orders to be transmitted wirelessly between the handheld devices and the kitchen printers. However, many Mobile POS systems offer this feature, as they operate on wireless technology. iPod touch, iPad Mini, and the iPhone are all popular choices for this handheld ordering system.
Offer Online Ordering to Optimize Efficiency: Online ordering can significantly improve the efficiency of fast-casual restaurants that serve a high volume of take-out clients. Instead of placing orders over the phone, let your customers order their meals online. This removes the need for cashiers or servers to take orders over the phone. Many online ordering systems send orders directly to the kitchen and are marked “to-go” so that the staff is aware of the source of the order.
Many online ordering systems are integrated into the Point of Sale software. This way, all transactions are synced through the same billing and reporting system. Some online ordering systems can stand-alone and may be manually integrated into the Point of Sale, depending on the preferences of that establishment.
Speed up with Self-Service Terminals: Self-serve terminals are a new trend among fast-casual and full-service establishments and have been adopted by large chains such as Chilies and Applebee’s. These terminals are usually touch screen devices that allow the customer to order and pay before they reach the counter. In some fast-casual establishments, the order is ready by the time the customer reaches the counter. More frequently, a restaurant staff member will call the name or number associated with each completed order.
The use of self-serve terminals can increase the efficiency of staff members, as it eliminates the need for a cashier to place orders or run tickets to the kitchen. Instead, staff can be hired solely for food preparation. Self-serve terminals can also greatly increase customer satisfaction, as customers no longer depend on wait staff or cashiers to take their order or give them the check.
There are multiple hardware options for self-serve terminals. POS integrated options can usually be operated on the same tablets as the POS terminals. This also allows for cashier-operated terminals to be added during high traffic times. Some self-serve terminals can stand alone as their own ordering system and are not integrated into the Point of Sale. Stand-alone self-serve terminals can be a much more expensive solution.
Ramp up Operations with a Kitchen Display System: One method that ensures quick service in a fast-casual restaurant is a kitchen display system. Kitchen display systems, or KDS, send orders digitally from the Point of Sale to a screen in the kitchen. This process eliminates the need for paper tickets and enables cashiers to spend less time running orders to the kitchen.
A kitchen display system typically shows order details, including the menu item that was ordered, any modifications or additions to the order, whether it is a dine-in or take-out order, the time that the order was placed, and how long that customer has been waiting for the order. Because of the great level of detail within the kitchen display system, most communication between the order and the kitchen staff can be done solely online.
Kitchen display systems are available in two varieties. One variety sends tickets wirelessly from the Point of Sale to a tablet. These are touch screen controlled, and the kitchen staff can simply swipe an order to mark it complete. The more popular version of KDS sends tickets from the POS to a large screen or display, usually through a wireless connection. Large KDS screens tend to be more common as they are easier to read for large kitchen staff and from far away.
Ditch Paper Receipts – Send Email Receipts instead: Another simple procedure that can increase the speed of operations is to ditch the paper and send email receipts instead. This easy change can cut down on time, completing an order by removing receipt printing time. The cashier simply taps a button to send a receipt to the customer. Using this technology also cuts down on paper waste, and employee time, refilling a new roll of receipt paper when empty.
Another advantage of email receipts is the ability to record customer data. With these systems, an email address only needs to be entered into the system once. From that point forward, cashiers can simply look-up that customer by email or name to send a receipt. Restaurants can, in turn, use this data to send out promotions, incentives, and event invitations.