Do Smarter Kitchens Mean Better Bottom Lines?

4 ways automated tech boosts your bottom line — and 5 tools that can help you get there.

By Jason Cocco

Automation is one of the hottest trends sweeping restaurant operations. From robotic kitchens to drones delivering food, new possibilities seem to pop up every day.

You don’t have to rely on artificial intelligence to take advantage of a few groundbreaking innovations. Discover four ways smarter kitchens can make your restaurant more efficient and profitable — and uncover the tools to propel your business along the way.

Decrease Labor & Inventory Costs

Labor costs in a typical restaurant equal one-third of sales. Proper scheduling can make a quantifiable difference in reducing labor costs by helping restaurant managers effectively plan for peak periods and eliminate overstaffing issues. But manual scheduling can be tricky and time-consuming. Automating the process is a fast, effective means to efficient scheduling, enabling managers to focus on other critical issues.

Scheduling software and apps such as 7shifts make managing employee time simple. With always-on access and timesaving usability, 7shifts aids managers in controlling labor costs with daily and weekly tracking and point-of-sale (POS) integrations that stream historical sales data and predictions. The mobile app gives employees round-the-clock access to their schedules, limiting confusion or miscommunication. Since Johnny Rebs’ Southern Roadhouse in Long Beach, California, started using 7shifts, the restaurant’s labor cost is down by an average of 5%, according to a recent case study.

Relieved of the burden of scheduling, managers can devote more time to critical tasks, like inventory management. And, believe it or not, there’s an app for that, too. Tools such as ChefSheet help managers count and sort their inventories for free from any device. It even lets restaurant operators shop and compare prices, which could benefit the bottom line.

Improve Safety & Quality

Cooking-oil management is one of the most difficult and time-consuming tasks for any restaurant, but it has to be performed well in order to consistently provide the highest-quality food possible. Traditionally, the back-of-house (BOH) staff handles this messy, dangerous process. The Restaurant Technologies Total Oil Management (TOM) system eliminates unsafe handling and filtering of hot cooking oil, streamlining the oil management process and ensuring consistent delivery of a high-quality product.

One of the many companies now using the TOM system is KBP Foods, which operates more than 360 KFC, Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s restaurants. It’s entrusted with KFC’s world-famous chicken, and the biggest driver of that iconic taste is shortening. Thanks to consistent oil rotation and filtration, KBP has not only increased the life of its shortening but also removed contaminants that can affect the color, taste and smell of its food.

KBP Foods CEO Mike Kulp confirms this, saying, “When you have a quality rotation process in place, you end up with a good-quality product, and stay ahead of the financial downside that can come with getting behind.”

Increase Efficiency

Kitchens are plagued with inefficiencies that cost time and money, as well as compromise workforce proficiency and satisfaction. Introducing technology and a data-driven approach to kitchen operations can increase a restaurant’s sustainability while boosting the bottom line.

Dishwashing is one of the most labor-intensive BOH processes. In that arena, the Ecolab Apex Conveyor features automatic wash-tank dump and fill during washing, as well as push-button end-of-day cleaning for the machine to run efficiently with less reliance on the operator. The steam that is typically lost is reused to heat rinse water, minimizing environmental impact and reducing utility costs.

The Apex Conveyor provides best-in-class wash results, eliminating the need for multiple wash cycles, which reduces utility costs by up to 50%. In 2016, Ecolab was ranked No. 6 among Newsweek’s Top Green Companies in the United States, and No. 13 globally, proving itself excellent company to keep in your kitchen.

Offer Smarter Services

BOH innovations can improve employee efficiency and satisfaction, but consumers also expect a convenient dining experience that’s enhanced by connectivity. Tech companies have introduced the concept of drones delivering food, as well as self-ordering kiosks, touch-screen appliances and labor-saving robotic devices. Restaurants need to adopt technologies that make the most sense for their businesses — or risk being left behind.

In the last year, Olive Garden and other casual-dining restaurants have embraced the Ziosk Tablet, which is designed to give diners a smarter, more hands-on experience. The tablet lets patrons place orders, request refills, log in to restaurant loyalty programs, provide feedback, process payments and more at their convenience.

This automation enables front-of-house (FOH) staff to offer guests timely service and allows BOH staff to monitor food. Restaurants that have adopted Ziosk have seen a return on investment and up to a 10% increase in per person average while servers have been able to take on more tables and increase tips.

By 2020, the connected kitchen is forecasted to help the food and beverage industry save at least 15% in overall costs. Dip your toe into the technology pool by exploring new software through a free trial period, and then adopt what works for your business.

If you give your teams the correct tools and technologies to do their jobs and provide customers with convenient, connected dining experiences, you’re more likely to have a strong, future-proof FOH and BOH — and a healthier bottom line.

— Jason Cocco is vice president of business & product development, Restaurant Technologies.

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