Some restaurant leaders abide by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset, and as a result the industry is famously behind the curve when it comes to technology. Back-of-house operations have been slowest to switch to digital and cloud-based platforms, but thanks to front-of-house advancements technology has begun seeping into the DNA of the modern kitchen.
Managers making the switch are saying goodbye to handwritten inventory and temperature logs, and seeing first hand how digital platforms can help achieve maximum efficiency. In turn, they are finding out that a lot of kitchen systems were in need of fixing.
Take handwritten labels on ingredients or pre-made food, for example. Traditionally, this has been a time-consuming process in the kitchen with plenty of room for user error, where a mistake can lead to food waste, or worse still, foodborne illness. Digital labeling has allowed kitchen workers to print custom tags with the press of a button, with the “use-by” date being automatically calculated.
Another example of how taking kitchen operations digital creates efficiency is the seamless distribution of new information across locations, eliminating the need for bulky binders or clipboards.
“Suddenly a whole world has opened up and restaurant leaders are seeing that the old ways of kitchen operations had a lot of inaccuracies,” says Rich Lopez, manager of customer success engineering and restaurant solutions at TransAct Technologies. “When there is that much room for error and a general lack of accountability, the system must be improved upon.”
But where do restaurant leaders start? There are a variety of apps and tech brands that tackle separate challenges—would it make most sense to start off by partnering with a company that can help track inventory? What about a cloud-based temperature-taking log, where internal food temperatures are closely monitored? What about all of these newer apps that keep up with online ordering and third-party delivery?
Lopez says many restaurant leaders reach out to TransAct Technologies because they are looking for food safety solutions. The person charged with overseeing FSMA compliance will seek advice, and the end result is a deeper conversation about controlling labor costs, and generating an overall better food and customer service experience.
But if the point of technology is to ease operations, then too many apps in the kitchen can create frustrations and have the opposite effect, eating into payroll and overall efficiency. The good news for operators is that tech companies are seeing the need for holistic apps that offer all kitchen efficiencies under one umbrella. A suite of apps that tackles multiple challenges can now be purchased through a single brand partner.
“A key feature that separates TransAct Tech’s BOHA! is the interaction of our programs together to form a kind of ecosystem of information in the back of house,” Lopez says. “That type of cohesion is really what drives our product and separates it from everyone else, and what makes it a perfect solution for operators exploring back-of-house technologies for the first time.”
While these apps are taking over the industry, C-suite executives still face the challenge of having managers at the store level that are more comfortable with the status quo. Implementing a brand-wide overhaul can be a daunting task, and Lopez can appreciate that predicament, having formerly trained staff to use products like BOHA! He has a story he likes to tell about one of those training sessions, when he arrived at a restaurant to install a new cloud-based system and had to show the general manager how to use it.
“The general manager took one look at me and she said, ‘I hate technology,’” Lopez recalls. “She saw this as another obstacle to getting her work done in a timely fashion.” By the end of the day, Lopez had demonstrated how the product would actually help save her hours a month completing everyday tasks—for example, she wouldn’t have to pull a calendar out to calculate the shelf life of certain items while creating labels—and she admitted to having done a 180-degree turn in the eight hours he had spent training her. “I thought to myself, if we can convert that person, we can convert anyone.”
The anecdote highlights another consideration when adding technology into a kitchen, which is ensuring that the interface is intuitive. If it isn’t user friendly, it won’t get used. “You can have as many higher ups as you want say, ‘We're switching to this system, it's gotta be done,’ but if the staff doesn't find it easy to use, it will just sit on the shelf and become the world’s most expensive paperweight,” Lopez says.
BOHA! helps automate 10 different aspects of operations that used to be done manually, or by a combination of apps, including labeling, temperature taking, and inventory monitoring, all through an interface that is compatible with Android or Apple. It also helps consolidates various apps into one, reducing the need to go back and forth between multiple apps.
The solutions are also customizable to ensure a brand’s unique operating procedures can be easily managed when it comes to things like recipes.
“There are a certain number of common themes in the way restaurants handle different aspects of operations, but even something like cooking fries can be done a crazy number of ways,” Lopez says. “So we’ve found that the customizable nature of our program is something operators really connect with.”
Streamlining operations means workers are spending less time doing time consuming, costly tasks. With labor costs rising and showing no signs of slowing down, time is a valuable commodity for workers and operators alike. Digitizing kitchen operations is an effective way to improve efficiencies across the board, and offer a better guest experience.
“The real driving force in the restaurant industry has been labor reduction, and keeping cost values in line,” Lopez says. “Restaurants are trying to be more efficient so that they could be more cost effective in their menu offerings, and thereby get the customer back with a price point that would allow them to visit once a week as opposed to maybe once every couple of months.”
By Charlie Pogacar