Don Bye
Blog, Operational Efficiency

If a quick-service restaurant isn’t “quick,” then what is it? Nobody likes standing in line, and waiting around is frustrating for everyone. Think of all the things you’ve had to wait for as a customer. From waiting on the next batch of chicken to finish cooking, to the person in front of you counting out change or writing a check, to taking a number and waiting for it to be called. There are many ways for a QSR to forget the “quick” part of its name.

Fortunately, there are many ways you can eliminate some of these slowdowns and keep things running smoothly. And besides improving your customer service, the increased speed and efficiency will also increase your output and bottom line.

To keep your QSR moving, focus on the bottlenecks – places where your customers (or your employees) have to wait – and make sure your employees are prepared for and anticipate your customers’ needs.

1. Improve your forecasting

Working lean is great – run with as few employees as possible to keep things moving. But be careful, because the money you’re saving on payroll could disappear if you’re losing customers to long lines and poor customer service. Never assume one person will be able to do everything. This is doubly true if you have a drive-thru. One person can’t take and make all of the orders. Make sure you schedule adequate coverage for your shifts, and be sure to take into account year-over-year forecasting and other factors, like weather, that might affect how busy you are at a given time to avoid preventable staff shortages.

Forecasting can be tough. Luckily, there are lots of tools to help you take every factor into account when planning your schedules. For some more tips on making sure you have adequate coverage, check out 3 Reliable QSR Sales Forecasting Tools You Already Have.

2. Rethink your training

Let’s face it, there’s only so much you, personally, can do about your QSR’s speed of service; much of it will come down to your employees. That’s why it’s critical to make sure your training program prepares team members to handle slow and busy days with grace and efficiency.

Learning the ins-and-outs of your POS system is one of the biggest hurdles new employees face when starting out. Does your new cashier know how to enter a Double Venti Nonfat Decaf Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Frappuccino Extra Hot with Whipped Cream into the register? Do you want them to try to figure it out in the middle of a rush? Make sure your training program includes the nuances of your POS system. Have trainees roleplay with experienced workers, so they know how to work with the kind of customer who would make such a lengthy drink order. And most important, make sure new employees have the opportunity – and are encouraged – to ask questions of seasoned employees.

There’s a common theme in many of these tips: sometimes, to move faster you need to slow down. Rework is a major source of QSR delay, and it can make an already busy shift into an unmanageable mess. Rushing the ordering process opens the door for mistakes, and rushing customers creates a poor experience. Spend a few extra seconds now to save time later.

Customers come to your QSRs for the “Q.” Slowdowns cost them time, which costs you money. Review your QSR for opportunities to improve speed of service, and let these tips help guide you through the process.

3. Optimize your register techniques

Generally, a line is only as fast as the person working the register. And it often takes more time to enter an order, bag it up, and take a payment than it does to make the order in the first place (not to mention waiting for credit card chip readers). Optimizing your employees’ register techniques is the first place you should focus your efforts to improve speed of service.

Make sure your employees are focusing on fluid transactions. There are only so many things that can happen at the register – the customer might ask for a beverage or condiments, and then is probably going to make a payment using cash or a credit card. If you manage a burrito restaurant, a good percentage of your customers are going to ask for chips & salsa when they pay – your cashiers should anticipate these scenarios so they can respond immediately. Quick access to drinks and condiments is a basic necessity, as is the ability to quickly count change. If your cashiers are stumbling on these steps, get a more experienced employee to help them out.

Similarly, make sure your cashiers are repeating orders back to customers. Repeating a customer’s order back to them can feel tedious, and many customers won’t even listen – they’ll just nod and say “yep” – but the few extra seconds it takes to repeat an order can save you minutes of extra work down the line (which can also save you from food waste due to incorrect orders, which is a win-win).

4. Prioritize the drive-thru

You already know that a backed-up drive-thru is frustrating, but it may be causing more problems than you think. A backed-up drive-thru can be like a gridlock downtown, with cars unable to clear due simply to the sheer amount of traffic. A long line at the drive-thru can cause traffic to back up into the street, blocking access to (and from) your restaurant, making things worse. Customers who see a backed up drive-thru might opt to park and come in the store to order, which can actually slow things down even more – after all, you have the same amount of employees working in-store orders as you have working drive-thru orders. Even worse, some folks will simply drive right past your long line and find their food elsewhere.

To prevent the snowball effect of a backed-up drive-thru, make sure your employees are always working on drive-thru orders. If someone’s making an order for an in-store customer, someone else should be making food for – or handing an order to – a drive-thru customer. Keep the drive-thru moving at all times. It’s not always going to be easy, especially if you run with a lean staff, but it’s important – and it leads nicely into our next point…

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