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Restaurant Process Improvement: How to Enhance Your Workflow

Daniil Klubov Founder & Ceo of spoon.tech
Audri Adhyas Paul
June 8, 2023
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Restaurant Customer Service Training

In the competitive world of the restaurant industry, optimizing your workflow is essential for success. From ensuring smooth operations to delivering exceptional customer experiences, every aspect of your restaurant's processes plays a pivotal role. If you're looking to enhance the efficiency of your restaurant and take it to new heights, you've come to the right place. In this blog, we will provide you with comprehensive strategies and insights on restaurant process improvement. By following the steps outlined below, you will gain valuable guidance on identifying key areas for improvement, streamlining front-of-house and back-of-house operations, optimizing staff training and communication, leveraging technology solutions, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. So, let's dive in and unlock the secrets to enhancing the workflow of your restaurant.

1. Identifying and Documenting Processes and Workflows

The first step in the journey of enhancing your restaurant process and workflow is to identify and document the processes. Many restaurants already have them in various formats such as written manuals, presentations etc., but in many restaurants the processes and workflows are more of an implicit, word-of-mouth knowledge that is passed on from experienced employees to the newer ones.  

However, documentation plays a vital role in process optimization as it provides a clear understanding of current workflows and serves as a foundation for identifying areas of improvement. By documenting processes, you create a reference point for evaluation, analysis, and optimization.  

You can begin the identification process by simply observing your restaurant's operations. Pay close attention to how tasks are performed, who is involved, and any potential inefficiencies or bottlenecks. Additionally, gather feedback from your employees through surveys, interviews, or group discussions to gain insights into their day-to-day experiences and identify areas that could benefit from improvement. This can be a time-consuming affair, but it is a one-time investment that will yield returns in the long run.

Once you have observed and identified the processes, the next step is to document them. Start by breaking down each process into its component steps and clearly define the inputs, outputs, and responsible parties for each step. The format of your process documentation should be easily accessible, understandable, and adaptable. Consider using visual aids like flowcharts, diagrams, or written procedures to capture the steps involved in each process. Digital formats like words, presentations and even videos are recommended for ease of editing and sharing. Several software tools can assist in documenting and visualizing processes. SAP Signavio, Lucidchart, or Microsoft Visio are popular options that offer process mapping capabilities, collaboration features, and templates to create professional-looking process documentation. Make sure to involve relevant stakeholders, such as process owners and key employees, in the documentation process to ensure accuracy and completeness.  

By effectively identifying and documenting your restaurant's processes and workflows, you establish a solid foundation for process improvement. This documentation enables you to gain a comprehensive understanding of your operations, identify areas for enhancement, and implement changes effectively.  

2. Analyzing Processes and Identifying Key Areas for Improvement:

Now that you have documented all your processes, the next step is to analyze them, find areas of improvement, prioritize issues, and dig deep into them.  

Classify value-adding and non-value adding processes: One starting point is to evaluate each process in your restaurant and classify them as either value-adding or non-value adding. Value-adding processes directly contribute to the customer experience or the production of a product/service, while non-value adding processes are those that do not add value and can be considered as inefficiencies. From the perspective of kitchen workers, certain tasks that disrupt the workflow can be perceived as tedious and frustrating. These inefficiencies can demotivate employees and increase stress levels. Considering the high-stress nature of the hospitality industry, addressing these inefficiencies is an excellent starting point. However, eliminating inefficiencies may not always be straightforward, sometimes even impossible. Some processes, while not directly adding value, cannot be eliminated due to regulatory requirements or their connection to other processes. For example, a restaurant may have a policy of checking customer IDs for age verification when serving alcohol. Although this process does not enhance the customer experience and may inconvenience some customers, it is necessary to comply with local laws and regulations. In such cases, it becomes crucial to dig deeper, identify issues within the processes, and address them for improvement.

Register and quantify issues: Engage with your staff and relevant stakeholders to identify issues that arise during each process, such as long wait times or incorrect orders. Conduct surveys or hold meetings with your staff to understand their perspectives on workflow issues. Similarly, collect feedback from customers through comment cards, online reviews, or direct interactions to identify pain points from their experience. Create a comprehensive list of these issues and assess their impact in terms of time, money, and customer satisfaction. Quantify the impact by multiplying the frequency of occurrence with the associated costs. If assigning a precise monetary value is challenging, use a rating system based on judgment and experience, ranking the impact from low to high or on a scale of 1-5.

Prioritize problems: Recognize that not every issue can be solved due to resource limitations. Prioritize the issues based on their impact, considering the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. Often, 20% of the issues contribute to 80% of the costs. Therefore, prioritize solving the issues that have the most significant impact while also considering urgency and feasibility. Exercise judgment to determine which issues are more urgent and realistic to address given available resources.

Dig deeper into the root cause(s): Once you have identified the key issues, you have to delve into the root causes to solve them effectively. For this, there are popular problem-solving techniques like the "five-whys" method or fishbone diagrams. The "Five-Whys" technique is a simple yet effective approach to uncovering the root cause of an issue. By repeatedly asking "why," usually about five times, you can delve deeper into the underlying factors contributing to a problem. Let's take a common example of delivery orders arriving late at a restaurant to illustrate this technique:  

Start by asking, "Why are the delivery orders arriving late?" The answer may be that the delivery drivers are taking longer than expected to complete their routes.

Next, ask, "Why are the delivery drivers taking longer than expected?" The response might reveal that they are encountering traffic on their routes.

Continue by asking, "Why are the drivers encountering traffic on their routes?" This inquiry could lead to the realization that the delivery routes are not optimized for traffic flow.

By consistently asking "why" and probing deeper into each response, you gradually uncover the root cause of the problem. In this case, the root cause may be the lack of route optimization for traffic flow, which results in delayed delivery orders. Then you can address each issue by taking necessary measures such as removing inefficient steps, finding alternative ingredients or tools, automating/streamlining processes with digital technologies, or providing employee training and development opportunities. By tackling the most significant pain points, you demonstrate your commitment to improving both operational efficiency and the work experience for your team. However, ensure that the optimization doesn’t affect customer experience and service quality, complies with regulatory requirements, and doesn’t hamper other interconnected processes.

3. Streamlining Front-of-House Operations:

Here, we explore some ways to improve processes in some common areas within front-of-house operations of a restaurant, such as reservation and seating management, customer service, order taking, table turnover and POS.  

Implementing a robust reservation system: Utilize reservation management software, such as OpenTable, to streamline the booking process for customers. This allows them to easily make reservations online, view real-time availability, and receive instant confirmation notifications.

Efficient seating management techniques: Train your staff to optimize table turnover by utilizing seating plans, managing waiting lists effectively, and adopting efficient table allocation strategies.  

Improving customer service: Invest in comprehensive training programs to equip your front-of-house staff with excellent customer service skills. Additionally, incorporating chatbots into your customer service strategy can enhance efficiency. These AI-powered assistants can handle basic customer inquiries, provide menu recommendations, and assist with reservation inquiries, freeing up your staff's time to focus on more complex customer needs.  

Streamlining order taking processes: Consider introducing handheld devices or tablets for your staff to take orders directly at the table. This not only reduces errors in order taking but also enables faster order processing and enhances the overall customer experience. POS services like Toast provide efficient and user-friendly order management solutions, ensuring seamless communication between the front-of-house staff and kitchen. Additionally, incorporating self-ordering kiosks can further streamline the order taking process. These interactive kiosks allow customers to browse the menu, customize their orders, and complete payment, reducing wait times and minimizing order errors, as seen from many renowned QSRs and chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and many more.

Faster bill settlement process: Explore digital payment options, such as mobile payment solutions or digital payment systems integrated with your POS, to expedite the check-out process. This allows customers to settle their bills quickly and seamlessly, reducing waiting times and enhancing overall satisfaction.

Guest management systems: Explore guest management platforms that allow you to track customer preferences, allergies, and special requests, enabling personalized experiences.

Digital menu boards: Implement digital menus that can be easily updated and offer dynamic features such as displaying nutritional information or highlighting specials.


4. Enhancing Back-of-House Processes:

Streamlining inventory management and reducing waste: Optimize your storage areas to ensure easy access, proper labeling, and FIFO (First In, First Out) inventory rotation. Utilize software or cloud-based platforms to monitor ingredient usage, track inventory levels, and automate reordering processes. You can also consider partnering up with companies like Too Good to Go, which helps restaurants in many countries sell excess prepared food at the end of the day for a discount.

Standardized menu, recipes and portion control: Standardized menu, recipes and portion control are key to optimizing restaurant operations and reducing costs. By implementing consistent recipes and controlling portion sizes, you can ensure a uniform dining experience, minimize waste, and streamline your kitchen workflow.  

Streamlining your menu by offering a focused selection of items simplifies inventory management and reduces waste. For example, instead of maintaining a large variety of pasta dishes, a restaurant could focus on a few signature options. This eliminates complexity, optimizes ingredient usage, and allows for efficient inventory planning.  

Standardized recipes provide clear instructions for ingredient quantities, preparation methods, and cooking techniques. This consistency ensures that each dish is prepared with the same quality and taste, building customer trust and satisfaction. It also helps with inventory management, as accurate ingredient measurements reduce waste and optimize purchasing.

Portion control guidelines ensure that each dish is served in the right quantity, preventing excessive waste and controlling ingredient usage. This approach helps manage costs and maintain consistent food quality.  

Enhancing kitchen communication and coordination: Implementing kitchen display systems (KDS) that show incoming orders, special requests, and preparation instructions to improve communication between the front-of-house and the kitchen. This reduces errors, eliminates the need for paper tickets, and enhances overall efficiency. Establish clear communication channels between kitchen staff, such as in-person or digital communication tools, to ensure smooth coordination. A crucial but often challenging element in staff coordination in a restaurant is staffing and scheduling, which is still often done manually. A well-designed schedule ensures that the right number of staff members are available during peak hours, preventing understaffing or overstaffing situations that can disrupt workflow and cause delays. By using scheduling tools like 7shifts, restaurant managers can easily create and manage employee schedules, considering factors such as staff availability, skill sets, and anticipated customer demand. This enables efficient coordination between front-of-house and kitchen staff, ensuring that an appropriate number of kitchen staff members are scheduled to handle incoming orders.  

Implementing effective cleaning and sanitation routines: Develop detailed cleaning checklists that cover all areas of the restaurant, including kitchen equipment, surfaces, restrooms, and dining areas. Conduct regular training sessions to educate your staff on proper cleaning procedures, food safety guidelines, and hygiene practices.


5. Staff Training and Development

Staff training and development play a crucial role in process improvement and workflow enhancement of a restaurant. Regular and continuous training ensures that employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their roles effectively, leading to improved efficiency and customer satisfaction. Despite various automation and technological developments, the restaurant industry is still heavily dependent on personal interaction, and developing the people who perform the processes inevitably results in improved processes. Also, restaurants are constantly evolving, whether it's new technologies, updated processes, or changing customer preferences. Training programs help employees stay up to date with these changes, enabling them to adapt quickly and effectively.  

When designing training content, it is important to make sure that the contents are comprehensive, covering all the relevant aspects of the restaurant's operations. This includes standard procedures and workflows specific to the establishment, customer service excellence, product knowledge (such as menu items, ingredients, and special dietary considerations), and safety and hygiene protocols.  

To make the training effective, it is important to ensure that the training is fun and engaging, and to achieve that, consider incorporating innovative training approaches like microlearning and gamification with traditional, hands-on approaches like mentoring, shadowing, and training manuals. Microlearning, which involves breaking training content into bite-sized video modules, allows employees to learn at their own pace and facilitates better information retention. Adding gamification elements, such as quizzes, challenges, and rewards, makes the training process more enjoyable and interactive. Learning management solutions like spoon.tech does exactly that: it converts restaurant processes into easily digestible, bite-sized video training modules and combines gamification elements to keep employees engaged.  

6. Continuous Improvement and Feedback Loops

Regularly reviewing and analyzing processes: Periodic reviews of your processes and workflows are essential to identify areas that require improvement or adjustment. Set a schedule to conduct these evaluations, allowing you to assess the effectiveness of your current practices. During these reviews, consider gathering data from various sources, such as customer feedback, online reviews, and comment cards. By analyzing this information, you can gain valuable insights into areas where your restaurant can make enhancements and provide a better experience for your customers.

Encouraging feedback from staff and customers: Creating an open and transparent communication environment is key to obtaining feedback from your staff members. Encourage your team to share their insights and suggestions for improving workflow, as they are the ones directly involved in daily operations. By actively listening to their feedback and implementing their ideas when appropriate, you empower them to contribute to the continuous improvement of your processes. Additionally, establish feedback mechanisms for your customers, such as online surveys, feedback cards, or interactive comment boards, to gather their valuable perspectives and identify areas for enhancement.

Implementing a culture of continuous improvement: To foster a culture of continuous improvement, it is important to encourage and recognize employee suggestions. Create channels for your staff to share their ideas for process enhancement and recognize and reward innovative suggestions. This not only motivates your team but also encourages a collaborative environment where everyone contributes to the ongoing improvement efforts. Additionally, invest in regular training and upskilling programs for your staff to keep them updated with industry trends, best practices, and new technologies. By equipping your employees with the necessary knowledge and skills, you empower them to actively participate in the improvement process.

Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs): Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) provides valuable insights into the impact of your process improvements. Monitor metrics such as customer satisfaction through surveys, online reviews, or social media sentiment analysis. By regularly measuring customer satisfaction, you can gauge the effectiveness of your enhancements in meeting customer expectations. Additionally, keep an eye on operational metrics, including table turnover rate, average wait time, food cost percentage, and labor cost percentage. These indicators help you assess the efficiency and profitability of your processes, enabling you to make data-driven decisions and identify areas that require further attention.

In conclusion, enhancing the workflow of your restaurant through process improvement is an ongoing and rewarding effort. By identifying key areas for improvement, streamlining front-of-house and back-of-house operations, investing in staff training and communication, leveraging technology solutions, and embracing a culture of continuous improvement, you can create a restaurant that excels in customer service, operational efficiency, and profitability. Start taking action today and reap the long-term benefits of an optimized workflow.

If you found that blog helpful and find out more about how spoon.tech can help you improve your restaurant processes with gamified training and learning management solutions, reach out to us by filling out our contact form. Alternatively, you can call us via phone at (+43 670 655 56 82) or email us at hello@spoon.tech.

Daniil Klubov Founder & Ceo of spoon.tech
Audri Adhyas Paul

Hi, I'm Audri, a Master's student in Digital Economy at Vienna University of Economics and Business, and an enthusiast of the food and hospitality sector. Digital transformation in the hospitality sector is an intersection of my practice and passion, and I love to write on that topic. Let's connect on LinkedIn to chat more!

Audri Adhyas Paul

Hi, I'm Audri, a Master's student in Digital Economy at Vienna University of Economics and Business, and an enthusiast of the food and hospitality sector. Digital transformation in the hospitality sector is an intersection of my practice and passion, and I love to write on that topic. Let's connect on LinkedIn to chat more!

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