How COVID changed the way QSRs tackle kitchen efficiency, as told by Red Rooster, Roll'd and The Cheesecake Shop

Kitchen efficiency has long been a vital part of quick service restaurants’ (QSR) operations, but the pandemic has amplified its significance in more ways than one.

Apart from ensuring a systematic and cost-effective way for staff to go around the kitchen with food safety and hygiene as the priority, brands now have COVID safety protocols and stringent government restrictions to abide by, all whilst maintaining service levels to their customers.

QSRs now have to take a second look at the usual day-to-day paths and flows of both crew and customers. Adjustments had to be made to streamline the way customers place their order, where they park, what the friction points are, even the route from entering to exiting the premises. Every element has to be painstakingly planned and mapped out.

Safety and efficiency in the kitchen
Fast food chain Red Rooster is one of the brands that had to make adjustments to meet social distancing guidelines and staff safety requirements during the pandemic. “Kitchen layouts with defined stations to support this were implemented, providing a clear guide to staff and positioning labour in the most efficient way possible. Streamlined travel paths and staff education were also key to achieving both safety and efficiency,” says Toni Spicer, General Manager Operations Process at Red Rooster.

Given that Red Rooster has different restaurant formats, Director of Commercial Operations Nathan Kelk reveals they had to think on their feet to strike a balance between having customers trust in their environment and also ensuring they adhere to every state regulation. “The kitchen operations were very complicated at first, but with meticulous station plans, restaurant impact assessments, pre-shift manager meetings, and regular communications with our franchisees, we were able to quickly adapt to the necessary changes,” he adds.

Open and regular communications were also key for Vietnamese fast food chain Roll’d, along with recurrent training and monitoring in stores. According to Roll’d Vietnamese Operations Manager Kelly Tracey, additional online training courses on workplace health and safety were deployed, coupled with in-store sessions that covered cleaning and hygiene in a practical environment. They also zeroed in on strict record keeping and implemented additional checklists to ensure that additional cleaning measures were carried out.

“Our Franchise Business Coaches regularly checked out stores to make sure that COVID-Safe plans were in place and our teams had the correct knowledge of these. During these visits, they would also check if COVID-safe posters were in place, checklists were in use, handwashing facilities were fully stocked, and each station had a supply of hand sanitiser,” she added.

Similarly, The Cheesecake Shop implemented COVID-safe requirements promoted via several channels: a ‘standards’ document, online learning module, franchisee newsletter, and staff newsletter. “Most jurisdictions required a visible and documented plan which health or council inspectors could check. These requirements included avoiding shift roster crossovers, more frequent cleaning of common touch points in the retail area, wearing masks, amongst others. These had no discernible impact on bakery productivity,” says Ken Rosebery, Managing Director at The Cheesecake Shop.

Investment opportunities
The pandemic has undoubtedly pushed businesses to accelerate the rate of innovation, and QSRs are no exception.

In order to constantly improve and optimise kitchen operations, Red Rooster’s Spicer says kitchen layout, equipment placement, and efficient staff travel paths are always being reviewed.

“Investment of time and innovation in this area will be something that we will continually evolve. There is an element of sustained change that will stay with us as the world adjusts to a new COVID-normal environment. And while it has been under unfortunate and unexpected circumstances, some changes to the way we review and assess our operations have been beneficial in the longer term,” notes Spicer.

Meanwhile, in an effort to increase checks and balances throughout the business, one investment that is currently in the works at Roll’d is a stand-alone auditing role. “We will be working alongside our franchisees and Franchise Business Coaches to ensure that we are constantly executing high levels of operations, from product quality to customer service, from speed of service to the compliance to standards and cleanliness within our stores,” reveals Tracey.

Labour-saving devices
Speaking from a restauranteur’s perspective, PREPsafe founder George Walton describes labour-saving devices as “essential”, saying that labour is a cost factor that is “easily controllable.”

“Whether it be a new food processor or speed oven, utilizing technology employees love to use is essential for staff morale,” he said.

Walton also referred to his company’s Preppy App, which automates food safety labelling for kitchen staff, making it an easy fit for COVID-safe plan.

“A kitchen that writes 100 labels a day at a staff cost of $20 an hour has a labour cost of a whopping $7,000 a year for that task alone. By installing PREPsafe to take care of Food labelling tasks, kitchens are compliant in seconds with 100% accuracy,” he said, adding that he has seen many franchisees reexamine their food hygiene procedures.

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