Designing for employees creates effeciencies that improve the customer experience and the bottom line.

At the Chain Operators Exchange (COEX) earlier this year, Juan Martinez, principal of Profitality, delivered a presentation about the importance of employee-centric design: focusing on the staff members' capabilities first and foremost to optimize customer service. At a time when zeroing in on cost-control has become commonplace, zeroing in on labor costs is a critical part of that equation.

Martinez suggests applying the following techniques to developing employee-centric designs that allow operations to do more with less by maximizing labor.

Conduct observations. Follow a customer through the process of ordering, paying for and receiving food. How long does each step in this process take? Conduct the same observations of each employee asking what would make it easier for the staff member to deliver the product to the customer? Walk in their shoes because doing so provides a better understanding of what's getting in the way of delivering the product. Also, follow the food product through the steps of preparation, production and service. How long does it take to go through each cycle and reach the customer? How many hands touch the product before it gets there? What equipment does the staff use? What are the obstacles that might slow this production down?

Continuous time studies. Assign times to each step in the process of producing food and, from the customer's side, ordering and receiving food. Have a goal in mind: If the goal is to deliver the product to the customer in three minutes once the order is placed but the average time is five minutes, look for reasons why. Then research options, from equipment to procedure to technique, that will help reduce that number.

Modeling. While 3D modeling is effective for "painting a picture" of an operation, newer software can create video-based computer simulations of a business. These simulations can either model the operation entirely, or just a portion, from the counter service to production. Though it takes some time, effort and cost, establishing a model can introduce efficiencies down the line. For example, when deciding whether to implement a new piece of equipment or new menu item, computer simulations can show the impact these developments will have in the kitchen and serving areas.

Work sampling. This is a technique of plotting employee movement in a kitchen by connecting the dots with different colored lines to see where employees overlap. Plotting employee movement in this way can clearly identify bottlenecks and busy areas in the kitchen as a place to focus on reducing inefficiencies.

Time standards. This is a term used to create labor standards for a task. First, outline a task and how long it takes, then define the normal amount of time it would take the average employee to complete the task. This helps determine how much labor an operation requires.

Data analysis. Collect all the above mentioned data: process times, cooking times, prep times, and other data to create pie charts, graphs and other visual aids that help describe the operation's goals or challenges. For example, a pie chart could show the percentage of time employees spend (a) assembling drinks, (b) taking orders, (c) working expo, (d) Interfacing with customers, etc. The foodservice operation's goals will dictate how much time staff should spend in each area. Comparing the actual amount of time spent on each activity with the targets set for the operation can help identify areas that are working well and those that need to improve.

Process flow analysis. Create a flow chart showing the steps employees take in their various roles and what they go through. Start with the employee greeting the customer and the steps for delivering menu items customers order, whether it's a simple food item, meals for multiple customers or other combinations. Doing so helps show employee overlapping or potential inefficiencies.

Capacity planning. A mathematical way to define how much equipment and storage an operation requires is to match the menu and volume. It's possible to start with the basics (If a fryer takes three minutes to cook a product and three baskets are sold every three minutes, then more fryers are needed if speed of service is the goal) and then go to the very detailed (how many boxes can fit in the storage room based on the size and type of those boxes)?

Ergonomic analysis. Determine the physical and cognitive capabilities of employees. What is the average reach to the microwave above or undercounter refrigerator? What is the line of site? Identify ranges — large men have longer reaches than small women. For cognitive capabilities, how much information is being thrown at the employee? Don't overload the employee with too much information, otherwise their concentration becomes challenged. For example, if 20 orders come in to one employee at a time, look for a way to make that flow more manageable. This could include dividing the orders so that multiple employees can process them.

Applying industrial engineering and ergonomics principles in these basic ways is a place to start — it can be as complex or as simple as desired, but the end goal is the same, according to Martinez. Focusing on employees helps them better serve the customer.