As the industry-wide labor shortage continues, many restaurant locations have been working with a reduced number of staff for some time. Employment has recovered slightly this year, but as the National Restaurant Association recently found, the restaurant industry is still down 750,000 jobs from pre-pandemic levels.
The crunch is most severe in the back of the house. Operators in all foodservice segments have the most difficult time finding hourly kitchen staff, especially prep cooks and line cooks. According to Datassential, about two-thirds of outlets don’t have enough hourly cooks—and 36 percent of quick-service restaurant operators reported a lower culinary skill level in their back-of-house staff compared to one year ago.
“In many ways, a quick-service restaurant is really a production system,” says Chef John Reed, owner of Customized Culinary Solutions and partner of Taylor Company. “A kitchen is essentially a manufacturing environment. Whether you’re building a car or a burger, it’s a highly specific process, and it’s all about output. Quick-serves put a lot of effort into getting the details of assembly right. When operations have employees who are less skilled or less familiar with this process, pain points can get introduced.”
So how can operators balance a smaller, less experienced kitchen workforce with customers’ demands? Back-of-house automation has become a viable long-term solution to challenges many restaurants face about ensuring consistency. Given the ongoing labor shortage, these operators have invested in solving their production pain points with more efficient equipment.
“Automation involves thinking about how to make a process faster and more cost-efficient,” Reed says. “If you’re going to do it, you have to look at what you’re producing, and what steps would make the most sense to automate. The drive thru is one area to focus on, for example, if you have heavy drive-thru operations. If you’ve decreased your traffic in the dining room, have you redesigned your kitchen to fit the needs of the drive thru? Not everyone has the resources to do it, but if kitchen automation makes sense for you, you need to make a commitment in order for it to pay off. Those who have committed to automation and upgraded their kitchens say it’s a positive change for both employees and customers and was worth the investment.”
The upcoming Taylor Crown Series grill platform was designed to achieve a consistent cook at extremely elevated speeds—well-suited for high-volume drive thrus. The new Crown Series grills are double-sided, allowing them to cook faster, and they’re equipped with innovative lower plates that can automatically adjust for full-contact cooking.
“Taylor is found in some of the largest chains in the world, and they choose us because we can deliver the high output at the consistency they need,” Reed says. “Technology has become so advanced that one piece of equipment can handle multiple dayparts, and even prep work like garnishes. It’s now possible to deliver a high level of freshness at a high rate of speed, and to improve the overall quality of your product. Cooking to order is the hallmark of fine dining—can you bring that mentality to quick service? From a leadership position, consider how you can use technology to meet or exceed customer expectations at the right price point.”
Reed emphasizes that recipes and product don’t need to change when transitioning to the Taylor Crown Series. “We’re not changing specs,” he says. “Taylor Crown Series grill technology cooks the product better and faster, and it helps solve qualitative issues that may have been lost during the manual process—it can improve moisture content; and produce a product with better color, a better sear, and better yields.”
Separate cook zones eliminate flavor transfer, and programmable controls and automatic gapping help improve consistency and remove the need for guesswork. Two-inch gapping means that the grills can accommodate a wide variety of menu items.
“That’s the beauty of the Taylor Crown Series,” Reed says. “You can get food to the customer faster and more consistently—and you can improve qualitative factors like taste and mouthfeel with just the addition of a piece of technology.”
To learn more, visit the Taylor Company website.
By Kara Phelps