I have a friend with a severe dairy allergy. We joke about how “high maintenance” she is when she orders her meals at restaurants, but it’s imperative that her food is cooked without butter, cheese, and other dairy products or she’ll get violently ill.
Years ago, she went to dinner to meet her boyfriend’s parents (now her in-laws) at a fancy Italian restaurant. She went through her usual ordering routine, alerting the server that even a tiny amount of dairy would sicken her. When her meal was served, the pasta was covered in cheese, and she had to send it back, which was mortifying when she was trying to make a good impression on her future in-laws. She was lucky, though, that the mistake was so clearly visible. If the dish had been cooked in butter, or if a tiny amount of cream was added to the sauce, she wouldn’t have noticed the error and she would have gotten sick from eating it.
Whether a customer orders a meal as is, or requests a modification because of a life-threatening food allergy, because they’re a vegan, or just because they dislike cilantro, the restaurant should provide exactly the meal they wanted.
Improving order accuracy is in restaurants’ best interests. It boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty, positive online reviews, and coveted word-of-mouth recommendations.
Conversely, messing up customers’ orders is not just embarrassing for your establishment – it’s also bad for business. Just one wrong order can prevent a customer from returning and can cause them to bad-mouth your restaurant. One bad review can turn potential customers away, which can negatively impact traffic, sales and, ultimately, your reputation.
Incorrect orders also lead to more waste (and related costs) as your team will need to throw away the wrong order and remake it correctly. Often, restaurants comp the incorrect meal, which means your employees have made it twice and not gotten paid either time. If this happens repeatedly, the costs add up.
The good news is that technology can help increase order accuracy. Implement digital solutions and you’ll be able to collect and analyze data to improve accuracy as well as safety and quality.
Today’s tech solutions are affordable and accessible for restaurants of all sizes and budgets. Use your tech tools to:
- Set an order accuracy goal. If you aren’t measuring it, you can’t manage it. Set an accuracy rate goal (ideally, 98% or higher) and use your tech tools to measure it regularly. If you’re falling short on this target, use tech tools to determine why. Once you identify the problem, (perhaps you’re understaffed during busy shifts, your employees haven’t been properly trained, or you don’t have proper inventory in stock), you can fix it and achieve your goal.
- Train employees. Don’t overlook the effectiveness of using tech tools to train your staff. Make resources available to them on their smartphones, so valuable information is always at their fingertips. Also, be sure that training is an ongoing endeavor – not just a “one and done” effort. Push out reminders and updates via emails and texts, keeping valuable information top-of-mind for all employees. If order accuracy is falling short of your goals and expectations, hold refresher sessions where you remind staff of your protocols, emphasize the importance of double-checking orders, address any areas of non-compliance, and get everyone on board to make necessary improvements.
- Schedule smarter. It’s no secret that restaurants have been short-staffed for the past few years, causing existing employees to be overworked. Tired, overburdened employees tend to make mistakes, especially if they’re rushing and multitasking. In some cases – such as inadvertently messing up customers’ orders – these errors can have serious ramifications, like if they serve nuts to a nut-allergic guest. But even when the mistake is not life-threatening, inaccurate orders can lead to other negative outcomes, like losing customers, time, and money. Rely on tech tools to determine your busiest and slowest shifts based on historical patterns, and then staff appropriately. Ensuring that the proper number of employees are working reduces the burden on your staff, making operations more seamless, safe, and accurate.
- Track performance and accountability. You may have the best systems and tech tools in place, but if your staff aren’t using them properly, they’re useless. Your tech solutions can track accountability so you can determine who is performing well (or poorly) and nip any problems in the bud.
Digital solutions allow you to track compliance and accountability across the enterprise, or drilled down by restaurant location, so you can assess performance and adjust, as needed. This also allows you to identify and reward your top performers, incentivizing them to stay long-term.
- Collect and leverage data to build predictive models. Use this information to analyze factors that can impact accuracy, such as restaurant layout, menu options, inventory in stock, etc. Tech tools make it easy to build a predictive model, identify specific datasets, and learn from these findings.
In addition, there are other steps your employees can take to increase order accuracy, including:
- Clarify and verify. Ensure accuracy from the very first step: taking the order. Have employees repeat the order back to the customer as they enter it into your system. If they’re unclear about the order – or any special requests – they should ask the guest to clarify what they want. Be certain that orders are properly (and clearly) communicated through every step of the meal preparation process.
- Check and double check. Everyone working on an order should double-check it against the original ticket – at every production stage – before it reaches the guest to ensure that it’s accurate. Also, make sure to visually inspect the order to make sure it’s correct. (For example, make sure you’re not serving a dairy-allergic guest a meal covered in cheese.)
- Mark modified items clearly. It can be difficult to immediately tell the difference between the veggie pizza and the one made without peppers, so clearly mark the modified items. This effort is even more critical when serving or packaging allergy-friendly meals, so use special plates or packaging, designated stickers, different colored frill picks, or some other system to denote these specially prepared meals.
- Simplify your menu. Avoid miscommunication or unrealistic expectations by being straightforward and transparent on your menus. Use clear names and descriptions so customers understand what’s in each dish, and aren’t surprised when the meal is presented to them. Be upfront if there’s bacon in an otherwise vegetarian salad, or nuts in your pesto. State whether there’s a potentially polarizing ingredient in a dish, such as cilantro or beets, so guests can request a substitution, if necessary.
Prove to your guests that they matter and that you value them by getting their orders right. Tech solutions are the key to maximizing accuracy (and successful outcomes) in your restaurant.
Dallas Henderson, a 25-year veteran of the service industry, is an Account Manager at RizePoint. RizePoint is disrupting traditional market software with their innovative, new product platform Ignite™ Supplier Certification Management, which helps small to medium sized businesses simplify the supplier certification and maintenance process. Contact Dallas at [email protected].
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