“Remember, you wanted this.”
I had to keep repeating my mantra over and over again as the orders came flooding in for the lunchtime rush.
You see, after years in the glitzy limelight of the front of house, I’d grown a little weary of facing up to the public. The hours spent ‘in character’ each and every day had started to take their toll, and I began to look upon the folks in the kitchen with envy.
How I longed to not have to smile, and greet every person who came through the door. Or to be able to check my phone without feeling the guilt that a room full of watching patrons can conjure.
Sure, I knew that kitchen work was hard, but guess who was still working long after they’d closed up and cleaned up at the end of the day? Yeah, this guy right here.
As far as I was concerned, the kitchen staff had it made.
But the kitchen life came at a cost.
I quickly realised that a POS system very rarely considers the kitchen.
From unrelenting dockets, to coded communications, to inventory management, it is my vow to tackle everything I saw as wrong with a back of house workflow, and show how you can use your restaurant POS system to fix it, focussing on these key areas:
- Communication with the FOH
- Bump screens: you’ve spiked your last docket
- The cost of being a popular lunch place
- COGs: stop wasting money by controlling your food waste
- Ditching the clipboard & upgrading your inventory management
1. Communication with the FOH
For me, it only takes one dish to be sent back for an easily avoidable mistake to send me into a panic.
The feeling of an order that you’d cast onto the docket spike, never to be seen again, coming back to haunt you because the front of house hadn’t communicated an adjustment clearly is similar to thinking there’s an extra step at the bottom of a staircase. It’s so small, but it throws you off balance and kills your rhythm.
“But I told you when the order went through,” they’d claim as I waved a docket in their face.
And when you did get it in writing, the primitive POS software of days gone by had an impressive ability to add extra symbols, or hide it in the most unlikely of places on the docket.
I knew they were trying their best, but their hands were tied by their tech.
Now, POS systems are much more sophisticated.
Housed within an ever-user-friendly iPad, if your front of house team can type, they can make changes on the fly, easy as pie.
No more listening over the din of an active kitchen to your waitstaff explaining the intricacies of a particular customer’s dietary requirements. I’m honestly surprised my kill count isn’t higher.
All of the information I need to keep paying customers alive is delivered in a clear, written message, exactly how they’d want it to be.
2. Bump screens: you’ve spiked your last docket
Now, imagine this: no dockets at all.
And not in the terrifying ‘how long has the printer been out of paper?’ way.
How many times have you grabbed a docket, put it in your rail, turned around to see to something else, turned back and it’s gone?
You’re searching around the ground for it, wasting time you don’t have, and once you finally find it, you’ve stepped on it, and you can’t read it anymore.
Or the place is super busy. You’re in the weeds, and the printer has so many dockets spewing out of it, it’s starting to grow a lucious, but daunting, paper-chain mullet.
Ah, those were the days. (Note: they absolutely were not ‘the days’)
With a bump screen, you can say goodbye to paper dockets.
And whilst you might well miss the primal satisfaction of skewering a scrap of paper onto a metal spike to announce to the world that you have completed yet another task, the benefits of a bump screen far outweigh any lingering sentimentality you might have.
Your orders are displayed clearly, on a screen. They can’t fall behind the bin, or become illegible under the bottom of your shoe.
Digital bump screens integrate with your POS system, opening up a world of possibilities like detailed staff reports, and average prep times, boosting kitchen efficiency.
Plus, with no dockets to print, you not only save money on printers, but on the paper itself, cutting your costs in the process.
Mother Earth sends her thanks.
3. The cost of being a popular lunch place
All of these innovations still might not be enough though. There still might be a crack or two (even digitally) for an order to get lost in.
“But where?” you ask.
The answer has been an issue for the most popular lunch places for many a year. I’m talking about group orders.
I’ve observed a phenomenon that occurs in humans sometimes. They can be the most well-adjusted, seasoned diners to ever cross your path. But sit them at a table with a group of others in their favourite lunch place, and their ability to follow the unwritten rules of dining out disappears completely.
Whether it be from them suddenly losing all ability to make a decision. Or a complete lack of preparation meaning that they haven’t even looked at the menu yet. Or simply, they want to split the bill (come on guys, treat your friends, for all of our sake).
There’s always going to be one person who holds up the table.
Using your POS system to place group orders
In the old days (like, two years ago), the main bulk of the orders would go through. You read them off, and wait for the usual ‘yes chef’, from your team. Then, a few orders later, the waitstaff come in to tell you that the order that just came through is with the load of food you already started prepping five minutes ago. Oh joy!
With group ordering features built in POS systems, this is a thing of the past.
Now, the front of house team has the ability to group a table’s orders together, sending it to the kitchen as one order, rather than separate dockets, and only once the entire order is ready to go.
The collated order will be stacked for your convenience, meaning that instead of having an order with the potential to use up half of your bump screen, you’ll get one that’s automatically organised by item. It’s easy to read (no more searching through an order and counting how many chicken burgers you need to make), and it contains the whole order in simple, un-fragmented glory.
4. COGs: stop wasting money by controlling your food waste
There’s an event that has the power to render even the most aggressive, and boisterous chefs quiet. They’ll come shuffling from their kitchen, heads hung low and tail between their legs, most likely clutching a fresh docket in their hands.
“We’re actually all out of these,” they’ll mutter, adding a shameful “sorry”, before they scuttle back to safety beyond the pass.
I’ve been that guy before.
You wonder how it could happen. After all, you’re a master of ordering, down to the gram, exactly what you need. You start to second guess yourself. Am I getting sloppy in my old age? (I’m thirty-six). This kitchen stuff’s a young man’s game, you’re past it, you’re finished, old man! (Again, mid-thirties)
But that’s not it.
You forgot to properly track your food waste.
A kitchen’s a fast-moving place. And in such places, it’s not uncommon for things to accidentally get knocked over, or cross-contaminated, or anything else really (unofficial quality control). It happens all the time. As Wales’ finest would say, “it’s not unusual.”
Or maybe you’ve flexed your creative muscles, and come up with a dish that is so perfect, so delicious, and so brilliantly simple that it can’t fail to change the dining landscape of Australia for years to come! It is your magnum opus.
And then nobody orders it and you’re left with a bunch of ingredients that spoil and need disposing of. You mourn the loss of what might have been, and then, in a bout of recurring amnesia, you repeat this process on your next menu with some other dish.
But what can you do about it?
The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, lies in your POS software.
“…give your latest unappreciated masterpiece a quick, and noble death…”
Now you can fully track all of your food waste, factoring in for as little, or as much deviation as you like.
You can spot the trends of certain left-of-field dishes too, ensuring that any new creations fall in line with what your customers actually spend their money on. If anything, it’s an elegant way to give your latest unappreciated masterpiece a quick, and noble death before you’ve spent a penny on it.
And you can work out exactly which menu items earn you the most money with a food cost calculator.
With it, you can work out how much of a margin you should apply, and know before you commit to putting it on your menu, whether it stands a chance of making money or not, and track the true cost of goods sold with absolute confidence.
Which leads very nicely to our next area: inventory management.
5. Ditch the clipboard & upgrade your inventory management
There’s a clipboard on the fridge. It’s got a ballpoint pen on a string hanging off it, and a spreadsheet printout full of spelling mistakes attached.
And that’s your inventory management system. That’s it.
You go through your fridges, and your freezers, and your dry store, and you tick off everything that you need to order. Then you call up your suppliers (plural), and leave a bunch of voicemails because they never pick up, and you go home filled with an anxiety that none of your orders were received and you’ll have nothing to cook tomorrow.
Or maybe you were lucky, and your boss splurged on a computer for you?
Then, you’ll spend your days in a stuffy little office at the back of the kitchen, reconciling all of your inventory, and costing your recipes, ever the slave to your balance sheet as your dreams are overtaken with your bottom line and the cost of goods sold.
It’s enough to make you look forward to the ten minutes a day you get to actually cook anything with a fondness that extinguishes all memories of the anguish of your early days on a deep fryer.
Thankfully, there’s another way.
Recipe costing that doesn’t cost you your time
By harnessing the potential of your POS system, you can set up each dish on your menu as a recipe. This will then track all of your ingredients, and deduct them from your inventory automatically, each time that dish is sold. No more clipboards and leaky pens.
You can create one, centralised place for all of your suppliers (including products and price lists), replacing multiple communication methods with a single, all-inclusive system. Say goodbye to accidental double-orders. Your staff will always know what to get, and from which supplier.
And you can live-track stock levels and watch the average cost per order automatically update as the orders come rolling in, so you’ll know exactly when you need to order.
Because this is integrated with your POS system, this means that you don’t even have to be on-site to order accurately.
Get your POS system to work for the back of house too
Utilising your POS software’s capabilities is a great way to improve the workflow of your back of house.
Whether it’s via improved communication between front and back of house, or replacing an unreliable, environmentally questionable docket system. Or perhaps it can combat the collective amnesia of your regular diners, or centralise the endless demands of an analogue inventory management system.
There’s a solution to your back of house workflow woes, and it lives in your POS system.
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