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    EOL Coverage of Chefs Championships at IHMRS

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    Preparing Lobster for Competition


When you get right down to the basics of any design effort for a foodservice establishment, the same objective exists with each and every project: design an efficient and effective system to prepare and deliver food and beverage to the guest. That's it. Nothing too fancy. But it is much easier said than done. In previous columns, I have focused heavily on design techniques within the back-of-house. But design techniques in the front-of-house, specifically those related to service, are equally dependent on both design and execution. Unfortunately, many overlook the importance of design as part of the service equation, and attribute the service performance almost exclusively to operational execution. In this column, we will take a look at some front-of-house design techniques that can help promote quality service. To clarify, I want to focus on the functional aspect of the front-of-house, not the aesthetics. Although good design cannot ensure good service, bad design will almost always result in bad service.

Designing for Service: The Basics

One of the primary rules in designing an efficient front-of-house is to make sure that the service staff meets the kitchen team (cooks, dish washers, etc.) where ever necessary, but they never cross paths. Any conflicting flow patterns, where the movement of back-of-house and front-of-house staff overlap, are disasters waiting to happen. Accidents, employee injury, breakage, slower service, and lower morale are all potential outcomes. Design should start with the general flow patterns of both food and product. When travel patterns are used as the basis of the overall layout, these potential "danger zones" are reduced or completely eliminated. Another important rule of thumb in designing for effective service requires the designer to study the service sequence. The steps of service should be identified and used as a guide for the front-of-house planning and design effort. Common activities for servers include order entry, food pick-up, food delivery, beverage service, bussing (in some cases), and drop-off at ware washing. Consolidating the areas associated with these functions will help reduce the distance of travel. All necessary support equipment, ranging from coffee brewers to refrigeration, must be grouped together wherever possible. Reducing the distance of travel promotes efficient service and frees up time for the server to spend in support of their guests. The ability for a server to move easily between these functions, in any order, will result in better service.

Positioning Your POS System(s)

While the points listed above are what I consider to be the basics of designing for efficient service, there are other design techniques that, when implemented, can further enhance the service system. First, let's look at the point of sale (POS) location(s). When a POS system is located near the food pick-up area, it requires servers to walk by the food pick-up window on a regular basis. This promotes more frequent food delivery, as a manager or expediter will ask servers to run food in the window whether it is for their tables or not. This scenario encourages a team environment, with servers learning to look out for one another.

Another school of thought is that the POS terminals should be located remotely, closer to the dining room. When this occurs, the servers can enter orders and "fire" their next courses quickly. It tends to promote better management of the dining experience, and often provides the server a greater level of control. There is, of course, the possibility of combining these two theories and locating POS systems in both locations - near the food pick-up window and in the dining rooms, depending on the number of POS systems required.

Though they have been on the market for several years now, wireless POS entry devices (often a modified PDA) are becoming more attractive with better durability, greater capabilities, and lower costs. When a wireless POS entry system is installed, each server is provided with a wireless device that they can use to manage their orders - enter, fire, and in some cases close out checks and accept credit cards. I will be honest. I did not fully understand the impact of these wireless systems until l experienced them myself, first hand. What they really do is ensure a well timed dining experience. Let me share with you an example of what I mean.

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