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The Optimized Order Counter: How to Serve Restaurant Guests Faster

The key to happy customers for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants is speedy, accurate order-taking and service. But too many counter-service restaurants struggle with inefficient systems, sluggish staff, and costly mistakes.

We looked into the best ways to speed up service at the counter in order to serve guests faster. What we discovered are some simple tools and tricks you can put in place right away to make service more accurate and efficient.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • Common problems that slow down service at the counter
  • Practical tips to motivate your team, increase efficiency, and serve guests faster
  • Foolproof restaurant technology that makes counter service accurate and efficient

By the end, you’ll be ready to implement proven strategies to offer your guests a seamless experience that will have them coming back for more. And you’ll be able to serve more guests in less time to boost your restaurant’s profitability.

What Slows Down Service at the Counter?

Slow service is caused by a number of factors that most QSRs and fast-casual restaurants struggle to fix. Identifying and addressing these issues is crucial to improving overall efficiency and eliminating bottlenecks that significantly impact your service speed and customer satisfaction. 

Let’s take a look at the main culprits:

  • Lack of Streamlined Processes — Inefficient workflows, unclear roles, lack of preparation, and redundant tasks can slow down your counter service. To overcome this, you need to optimize your core processes for maximum speed and efficiency.
  • Inadequate Staff Training — Poorly trained staff may struggle to handle large volumes of orders at peak times, leading to slow service and ordering errors. But simple and effective training techniques ensure your team is well-prepared to keep up the pace.
  • Outdated Technology — Clunky technology that’s not built for speed can cause order errors, leading to wasted food, payment delays, and frustrated customers. Invest in an ordering system that’s designed for complex menus and speedy service for the best results at the counter.

By identifying these challenges and implementing the following solutions, you’ll be well on your way to serving guests faster with more accuracy, providing an experience that keeps them returning to your restaurant time and time again.

Check out HungerRush 360, the restaurant management system originally developed for speedy service at fast-casual restaurants and pizza chains.

How to Serve Restaurant Guests Faster

1. Use Sales Forecasting to Predict Demand

Sales forecasting goes beyond your hunch about how busy it will be. Today’s sophisticated software tools take in a range of variables, including past sales data, seasonality, local events, and even local traffic and weather information. All of this is continually processed to provide accurate forecasts of demand.

When you have an accurate idea of how busy you’ll be and when, you can make sure you have the right levels of staff and food prep to keep service running smoothly. This improves your speed of service and customer satisfaction all at once.

2. Optimize Your Order Counter

The best way to optimize your order counter will depend on the complexity of your menu and the type of restaurant, but general principles apply to all fast-casuals.

a) Streamline layout and organization. 

Design your order counter layout in a way that minimizes movement for your staff. Keep commonly used items, condiments, and utensils within easy reach. Arrange the food prep stations in a logical order to ensure a smooth flow from order-taking to food preparation.

For example, a pizza restaurant typically has customers ordering at one end of the counter. Next, there’s a space to roll the pizza dough, then come the ingredients laid out along the line in the correct order, from sauce to toppings to cheese. The pizza is passed down the line until it reaches the end, where it is placed in the oven. Finally, there’s the cutting and packaging station right beside where customers collect their pies. Here, drinks and chilled items can also be added to orders.

b) Prepare as much as possible ahead of your peak hours. 

Pre-assemble food packaging, portion out ingredients, and have the necessary plates, trays, and cooking utensils on hand. This proactive approach will enable your team to handle high volumes of orders efficiently.

3. Play to Your Team’s Strengths

Different team members have different strengths. Some may naturally be able to put customers at ease and take orders quickly, while others are better at juggling multiple cooking tasks. 

At the busiest times, put your best people in the most crucial positions and try to match people’s skills to their roles. This approach ensures you make best use of the talent you have. 

At quieter times, you can train staff on different areas to improve overall competence. But when you need to be most efficient, make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, and put your best foot forward.

4. Manage Customer Flow

Have clearly marked ordering and collection areas so your customers know where to go — and so your team can see at a glance who is waiting to order and who is waiting to collect their food. 

Arranging your ordering area at one end of the counter and collection at the other is usually the way to go. Manage your queue so that it doesn’t block the collection area. This is usually achieved with queue barriers that can be put up at peak times and taken down when they are not needed.

5. Improve Your Training

Simple training techniques can build up your team members’ confidence, while improving speed and accuracy. By providing basic training at onboarding, all of your staff will have the skills they need to provide a great ordering experience. 

Here are the fundamentals:

  • Be Friendly But Assertive — Service with a smile is important and you want your team to give customers a warm welcome. But too much chitchat also slows down service, so encourage employees to be assertive enough to move customers along.
  • Encourage Active Listening  Train your staff to listen to the whole order before tapping it in. This improves speed and accuracy, because they’ll understand the order before translating it to the POS system. Active listening also improves the customer experience and helps staff notice opportunities to upsell and cross-sell. 
  • Double-Check the Order — Staff should repeat the order back to the customer, especially if they’re not sure about any of the items. If you have a digital system, they can show the customer the screen to make sure the order is correct.

6. Streamline Order Taking

The most effective way to improve your ordering is to invest in a POS system optimized for speed. The best systems store all of your menu data so customers can see exactly what is available, even with complicated menus that offer customizable items.

Orders are input by a server using an iPad or POS terminal at the counter, or by the customer via their phone or an ordering kiosk. With orders input directly into the system, there is virtually no chance of an ordering error. Customers can check their order before it is finalized and it can be paid for immediately.

The system is linked to the kitchen order printer or display system, eliminating handwritten tickets, minimizing errors, and maximizing speed. With a foolproof system like this, even if you don’t have time to fully train new employees, the chance of errors is drastically reduced.

7. Measure Your Success

The only way to know what’s working in terms of ordering speed and accuracy is to measure it. But this is easier said than done, especially when your focus is on serving customers. 

Technology can help. A digital ordering system can tell you how many customers you are serving per hour or per day, as well as the average time it takes to place an order and prepare the food. 

When you’re monitoring your improvements with this level of accuracy, you can easily see where you need to improve and where your new systems are performing well.

Improve Speed and Accuracy with Purpose-Specific Ordering Tech

Proper staff training, sales forecasting, and order counter optimization will all help improve order accuracy and speed, whatever kind of quick-service restaurant you run.

The fastest way to reduce time-consuming errors, give guests a great ordering experience, and speed up your order-taking is to choose a POS system that’s praised by the industry for its speed and efficiency. 

HungerRush was developed to help fast-casual restaurants and pizza chains take and fulfill orders faster with pinpoint accuracy.  

Discover how HungerRush can improve speed and accuracy at your restaurant counter.

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