Need to Invent and Off They Went

While innovation remains a restaurant industry buzz word, deciding which innovations are right for a foodservice operation depends on the specific challenges the business faces in executing its brand promise.

Working with a variety of restaurant concepts across all service and menu categories, I have come across a lot of unofficial developments created by employees. Why do restaurant employees find creative ways of doing their tasks? The answer is simple: to make their everyday jobs easier to accomplish. They quickly figure out how to work within their environment to complete their assigned tasks. If the system will not facilitate this, they will figure it out and invent.

While the employees may call these developments innovative, most operators call them a nuisance and often reprimand their staff for taking such action. As Maureen Slocum reminds us in her latest Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Publisher's Perspective necessity is the mother of invention. If employees feel the need to invent ways to fulfill their duties, off they will go to make it happen. Restaurant employees often do this without realizing that every cause has an effect, and some causes that may seem small, like a slight change of procedure, can have a larger impact on brand experience.

For example, if you ask employees to achieve a certain speed of service but they have to deliver a product that has a cook time that is longer than the speed of service itself and it does not sell enough to hold, nor does the back of the house have the holding equipment, employees will eventually figure out how to hold the product somewhere on their own. The end result: employees compromise food quality to deliver fast service, the main goal that the concept measures. Rarely does speed trump product quality, unless, of course, the conversation centers on race cars.

Sometimes these changes impact areas that are much graver, such as food safety, an aspect of food preparation that is non-negotiable.

So what is the solution you ask? Start by designing the system right from the get go. Apply ergonomic principles (both physical and cognitive) and identify those operational parameters that keep the team from achieving its measurable goals, prompting the staff to create their own innovative solutions. Do this in an objective and quantifiable way, which means the evaluation should include mostly factual data, sprinkled with some opinions; not the reverse. Also, get the staff involved in the design of the solution and engaged and committed in executing the solution. If you make sure your team believes in and is committed to what they are doing, they will be their own police, increasing the likelihood of success.

Once a restaurant identifies the challenge it faces the next step is to invest in innovative solutions. Although this usually has an upfront cost, the investment can lead to a better customer experience and in the long haul, cost savings and sales building that will positively impact the bottom line long term. Another adage suggests you get what you paid for. It is not about cost, but rather about return on investment.

Like any year in history, 2014 will come with challenges and changes for all industries, including foodservice. Food trends will come and go but some things will remain the same, quality and especially customer service will continue to be mission critical components to a company's success. In order to deliver the best quality and overall customer experience possible, companies must look at what gets in the way of employees executing their roles in an effective and efficient manner. Doing so will clear a path to increased sales and profits.

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