One restaurant that has been doing just fine during the economic downturn is McDonald’s. Their combination of convenience and affordability has made the golden arches the restaurant of choice in tough times.
As consumers become more and more health and value conscious, restaurants have an inherent advantage over fast food chains during the lunch hour.
The one element holding you back from expanding your lunch rush is time. People just don’t have as much time during lunch as they once did, and in an on-the-go society, a leisurely lunch just doesn’t realistically fit into most people’s agenda.
Chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Houlihan’s have effectively maximized lunch traffic with a simple formula: value – time = more customers. In other words, the more value you offer in the shortest amount of time, the more lunchtime customers you’re going to see.
Both chains offer “speed lunch” promotions, where the customer’s meal is guaranteed on the table in 15 minutes or it’s free. Servers place a timer on the table when the order is taken and after that, it’s off to the races.
Houlihan’s has made landing lunch on the table in less than 15 minutes and turning the table in 30-45 minutes an exact science, and any restaurant can benefit from their example. Customers appreciate your restaurant accommodating their tight schedule and still delivering a quality product.
Here are some strategies to help you implement your own speed lunch promotion:
Cut down the menu. You don’t want your kitchen staff prepping and cooking a variety of menu items when they’re on such a tight timeline. Stick to your core offerings that have good margins (because you might be giving away a free one!) and are relatively easy to prepare.
Develop benchmarks for meal prep and service. Houlihan’s requires that servers enter orders in 2 minutes or less after they are taken to allow the kitchen as much time as possible. Servers are then given 2 minutes to serve the meal after it’s ready. No matter how much time your speed lunch allows, make sure you have benchmarks so that you and your staff know when you start getting into the dangerous free meal zone.
Leverage POS technology. More than likely you have already invested in a POS (Point Of Sale) computer terminal system that allows orders from the front of the house to be entered electronically. A POS system is vital to the success of a speed lunch promo because it greatly increases the efficiency of transferring orders from servers to the back of the house.
If you already have a POS system, consider adding more terminals to reduce lines and distance so that servers can meet their order entry deadline. If you don’t have a POS system, taking on a speed lunch promotion is going to be very interesting. Investing in one not only helps the success of your speed lunch promo, it also improves efficiency across your restaurant.
Leverage restaurant equipment. Before launching a speed lunch promotion, carefully analyze the cook times of the items you’re going to offer and make sure your staff can consistently produce under a given time limit. Quick and efficient cooking equipment like steamers, broilers, and microwaves should be used whenever possible to make sure prep times stay down. Food prep equipment like food processors and vegetable cutters are great ways to increase your kitchen staff’s efficiency.
Continue to analyze preparation and cooking techniques and look for ways to improve efficiency.
Make sure your staff is ready. You may want to schedule extra staff for speed lunch promo days, especially when you first start out. Evaluate staff performance and put teams together that operate well under the deadline pressure. Keep top performing teams together so that familiarity breeds added efficiency.
A speed lunch promo is a great way to create lunch crowds in your restaurant. And the challenge for you and your staff to perform can make it an exercise in teamwork that can have many unintentional benefits for your business, such as finding ways to increase efficiency and teamwork.
These new findings can be applied to the rest of your business easily, and while your dinner rush might have a little more time, the lessons you learned turning tables at lunch might help you make an extra buck at night too.