As founder and CEO of PITA Mediterranean Street Food, Nour Rabai has put careful thought into how the successful fast casual franchise can best engage its customers while simplifying operations for its team members. Keeping the current labor shortage in mind, Rabai and his team have developed numerous strategies to operate with fewer employees, yet still enhance the customer experience through upgrades and innovative technology.
“The reason restaurants are experiencing operational issues is definitely because of the labor shortage,” explains Rabai. “We’ve had to look carefully at how we can combat this crisis and what we can do to simplify the process for the employees we do have. As a result, we have adopted a series of upgrades and processes.”
The following are Rabai’s five tips for streamlining operations:
1) Simplify the ordering process with new POS system
PITA’s delicious Mediterranean food is made-to-order, and Rabai and his team streamlined the ordering process to cut down on customer wait times. During the fourth quarter of 2021, PITA started launching its new Toast POS (point of sale) platform in its locations. Customers can now use a kiosk inside select locations to submit their orders. The order travels directly into the main queue for preparation, eliminating the need for customers to interact with staff if the main line is long.
“We’ve seen a tremendous decrease in ticket times inside the stores,” says Rabai. “We originally had a 10-minute average from when the customer placed their order until their food was ready. We now have a seven-minute average for freshly made food.” The new kiosk platform has launched in six PITA locations and will be installed within the remaining 34 locations by the end of the first quarter 2022.
2) Display all orders in one place with new digital screens
A digital screen inside each PITA kitchen now displays all orders in one centralized location. This upgrade eliminates the need for the analog paper method of one ticket per order posted on a rail, although it still can be used in case of an emergency. Staff can now view all orders and ticket times and make a more efficient plan for incoming orders. The team can see how many portions of chicken or falafel they should prepare at any given time instead of working a single order at a time. This new upgrade greatly reduces error and speeds up the ticket time.
3) Add dishwashers to reduce workload and expenses
The addition of dishwashers at PITA has cut almost three hours out of the day for employees. While PITA’s fast casual concept offers disposable silverware, most of the dishwashing is pots, pans and cooking utensils, making the job tedious for employees. “We have reduced our workload, our labor and overall expenses for water and chemicals by adding a single-unit dishwasher,” notes Rabai. “Employees used to spend four hours a day doing dishes and now they spend one hour.” This solution also reduces the number of team members needed on a given shift.
4) Pre-portion sauces at the commissary level
PITA took the initiative to start pre-packing sauces in its central commissary. All of PITA’s sauces are produced in the commissary, and now a machine pumps the product into cups and seals the individual containers, which are then shipped to PITA stores. “What I think about all the time is how we can simplify the process for our team members,” says Rabai. “If it is taking away the tedious task of portioning out 100 Greek dressings, then we will find a solution to get that done.” So far, PITA’s team has started packing three kinds of sauces and plans to tackle many more.
5) Streamline third-party platforms into the POS system
With the new Toast POS system, PITA’s third-party platforms are incorporated into the main digital order screen. Previously, iPads were used to receive third-party orders. Now employees can see one screen for not only in-house orders but also for when a customer orders from a third party for pick-up or delivery. The order automatically prints and appears on the screen of the POS system. The employee has no touchpoints as everything is autogenerated as orders or tickets.
Rabai adds “PITA is always looking to engage with customers in different ways and simplify their ordering processes with the help of technology.” As the hiring crisis continues, Rabai and his team will continue to find new, innovative ways to best serve their customers with delicious, freshly made Mediterranean food.