We all do it. Fumbling numbers and names are part of human nature. But you can reduce the risk of human errors by using digital tools. These target weaknesses in recording and communication – fundamentals in dining establishments, which often operate on very slim margins. 52% of restaurant owners report that high food and operating costs are among their top challenges.
“The kitchen is a busy place and communication is very important. Passing on details of progress, requirements and updates is imperative yet it’s surprising how many people just don’t communicate,"
- says Andrew Dargue, the head chef of vegetarian restaurant Vanilla Black in London
- Inaccurate stock-taking
Stock-taking discrepancies can come down to a simple mathematical error. For example, someone may have used a different unit of measurement to the one recorded in the system; counting in litres or kilos, instead of boxes or individual units. Or perhaps you’ve cut corners on your spreadsheet because you don’t have time to rummage through that extra box of broccoli to see how many heads really are in there. But without accurate inventory counts, the rest of your numbers won’t represent the whole picture.
STOCK TAKING: Stock taking or inventory checking is the process of counting, weighing or otherwise calculating all items in stock and recording the results. ... To verify the value of stock shown in the balance sheet by physical confirmation and value your stock in terms of cost and potential sales.
Inventory counts are crucial to maximizing profitability, as you can identify things like product popularity, shrinkage and adjust your profit margins accordingly. Otherwise, your slow-selling perishable goods will be wasted. According to WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme), the food sector produces 400,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste each year. That’s costing the restaurant sector a staggering $887,363,840 million each year.
Use your record-keeping system to keep waste down to a minimum. Frequently update and check the use-by dates of your stock, logged in the inventory. Tailor your menus so that you’re prioritizing ingredients that are soon to expire, you can avoid this unnecessary food wastage.
To reduce the risk of stock-taking discrepancies, use software that automates your inventory.
New restaurant inventory management systems automate your restaurant’s stock completely, combining:
- Orders entered in your EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale)
- Recipes entered in your inventory software
An advanced EPOS should calculate the opening and closing inventory on a daily basis. Real-time stock alerts on your EPOS tell you when inventory reaches reorder level, or if something has reached its expiry date. This way, you won’t need to rely on your staff to check shelves and place the order themselves, a process which might often be left on the back burner or be inaccurate. Cloud-based software means your inventory will be constantly updated, and accessible from anywhere in the world.
It is a super time-saver if you have multiple sites!
When you do have to do a manual stock take (inventory), you can compare your figures with the theoretical numbers.
- Miscommunications between the front and back of house
In a busy QSR, waiters writing orders often rely on shorthand. Though this saves time in the front, when the paper arrives at the kitchen, illegible chicken scratch can create confusion and lead to the wrong dish being created.
When handwritten orders on paper tickets are misread, errors are inevitable. The worst-case scenario would be not accounting for diner allergies, going to make a gluten dish, and then throwing the dish away. In the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy, and 600,000 (1 in 100) with coeliac disease. Source: Food Standards Agency,
You can solve this issue by automating the order preparation. A Kitchen Display System, or KDS, is a digital screen in a restaurant kitchen that connects directly to the point of sale system which the waiter uses to ring in orders. This eliminates the need for printed or handwritten tickets and the lag-time involved in getting the order from table to server to cook.
There are other ways a KDS improves the daily operations of a restaurant. It can improve efficiency – some KDS allow tickets to be routed directly to specific kitchen screens and prep stations.
An automated kitchen ticket generation process indirectly helps cut down on table turnover time. With a more streamlined communication flow between waiters and cooks, you can increase the amount of orders returned to the kitchen.
- Outdated customer information
Many restaurants don’t realize the volume of customer data they have about their diners because it’s not well organised. Manually gathering guest data (e.g. Joe Bloggs really likes onions on his pizza) and then updating the customer information in the system leaves a lot of room for error, besides being just another thing to remember.
Having up-to-date feedback on your restaurant is crucial for strong customer service. According to a recent study by Deloitte, 84 percent of 3000 frequent restaurant-goers surveyed said that they will return if a restaurant responds directly to their feedback. And while many customers use their devices to collect and curate information on their own, 80% want to hear about discounts and special deals, with email (64%) as the most preferred channel. This is only effective if you have efficient and accurate CRM software that will allow you to easily add customer information. You can create personalized dining experiences, email offers, which will help increase return visits.
To really make the most out of your CRM (Customer Relationship Management), integrate your CRM software with your EPOS, where your EPOS contributes valuable order data to the CRM.
This means you can track favorite order items and past orders for each account, and reward loyal customers. For example, you can know those who spend more, or the most frequent, and target them with promotions. The CRM powers your loyalty program, but this really only works if it’s plugged in, i.e. to your EPOS system.
– it’s all done automatically.
You now have a central client database that everyone can access, rather than everyone keeping a separate spreadsheet on their computer.
- Uncertain pen and paper reservation systems
When the Maître ‘D is rushed off their feet, managing the restaurant ambience and also answer customer queries, they may lose track of the names added to the waitlist, or previous bookings made during the day. Especially if people call to book at the height of lunch or dinner service.
This can lead to inaccurately estimated wait times, and reservations being forced to wait, or being placed at a table which is too large for them – wasting the restaurant’s previous resources at busy times.
Rather than having valuable (and costly) staff members standing by the phone to take reservations, consider using an online booking platform. Some allow guests to book tables from almost anywhere, including your own website, Google or TripAdvisor take bookings 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without doing a thing. Less potential business is lost
You can supplement your host with an online booking platform that synchronises online bookings. No longer will your hostess struggle with the time-consuming task of deciphering the big black reservation book and organizing your diners into 90-minute chunks. These online booking systems can already have a note of your regulars’ allergies and dietary preferences. The customer can then automatically be reminded of their booking via email or text, meaning they’re less likely to forget.
Remember to train your staff
By automating your back office, you won’t need to rifle through years of paperwork if you have a surprise inspection, or sort unnecessary label stock all over your office. If you decide to bring in digital tools – kiosks, or online ordering – it’s key that you communicate your goals to the rest of your staff, and train them to use the tools effectively.
One thing to look for as a small business is whether there are free trials available. Several online booking platforms and EPOS software offer trials for a month. This can be an ideal way to test the software out without long-term commitment and survey the different options out there.
About the Author
Georgina Quach produces blog and video content for the UK-based tech start-up StoreKit, helping merchants succeed in choosing the right EPOS systems for their business. https://storekit.com/advice/