3600 Taraval San Francisco, CA, 94116

Where the ?!$!? is my food?

I decided to start writing again, as it has been too long! This is the first part do a 3-week series on the following topics:

  • Where the <blank> is my food?
  • Who wins in food delivery?
  • My love/hate relationship with Yelp

So, let’s start on topic #1 for this week. Every week I seem to field complaints about our ticket times being too long. Most people are polite but of course I always get occasional “These people have no idea what they are doing”   comments. They might be right most times, but in this case, we know exactly what the issues are, but the solution is multi-faceted and takes some time.     I also want to address “We were the only people in here so why did it take so long?” comments, with a little insight into our kitchen operations.

I had a customer very irate with me recently , because on a Friday night at 6:30pm it took us 22 minutes to deliver the street tacos they ordered.   The customer said, “It only takes 5 minutes to make street tacos!”. That part is correct, but the issue is, the kitchen hasn’t even seen the ticket! I do want to make an important note, that unlike a quick service taqueria much of our food is “made to order” so having ticket times less than 10 minutes even while dead is probably not possible for us, regardless of how many people we throw at the problem.

In our restaurant we use a “ticket” system that prints your order to the kitchen which is then passed across a food window to delivery to your seat.

When we are busy our kitchen looks like this on the line side:

Kitchen Tickets displayed

On the kitchen receiving side ) you see the printer like this:

The kitchen is working on 10-12 tickets at a time, while there could be another 20 tickets in the queue in a split second.     This could happen when there are 5 people in the restaurant or 50.   Although we try and prepare ourselves for a big rush, sometimes it is quite random. Here the top 3 reasons and solutions we have tried around reduction of ticket times:

  • Food Delivery and Online Orders hit us all at once:   We can literally get 20 orders in a 1-minute time frame and it could be at any time!   Unfortunately, there is no way to throttle these occurrences. So even if the restaurant is empty, we might be swamped with delivery and online orders. Here were some fixed we investigated or tried:
    1. Throttle online and delivery ordered based on volume: This was not possible with our current POS. We could add a delay onto delivery orders but by the time we saw the kitchen back-up this was already too late.
    2. Turn off delivery/online orders during peak times: A few reasons this didn’t work.   First off, this made customers very upset, and we would lose customers to another restaurant who had a better online presence. Second, the “peak” time just shifted when we were online with the same issue. Third, it increased our phone orders, which didn’t help the problem at hand. And finally, we needed the revenue to generate any profit during that hour. (I will talk about that in my next blog.)
    3. Throw more people at the issue! It doesn’t matter of we have extra hands in the kitchen, adding an extra person outside of normal staffing helps very little in overall ticket times due to our station approach in our kitchen.

Final Solution: We are going to build a “second line” that only deals with online/delivery/Togo.   This is going to be quite an investment for us as it takes an investment into equipment, and labor, and most importantly, changes our operations drastically! We must change the flow of our kitchen, as well as train both the back of the house and front of the house. We do think this is the only way to decrease our ticket times in dine-in and still provide modern online and delivery services. We hope to have this implemented fully in January 2020.

  • A ticket is lost: How does this happen?   Our ticket system has hit its limit! A common occurrence is that we need to change the paper roll in the printer. During the time when we must change the paper, the queue in the printer gets filled up, and a ticket is never printed despite having configured back-up printers. Unfortunately, we will never know a ticket is missed with our current system until a customer complains. There are also lost tickets from staff passing tickets across the food window or one just falling out of the printer into the abyss.
    1. Final Solution: We tested and decided that we are going to move to a kitchen display system. (KDS).   This system will enable us to never lose a ticket, have a better view of ticket times, and create different priorities for order types. Again, this required a physical hardware and staff training. We hope to have this implemented in December 2019.
  • Somebody calls in sick in the kitchen and we are short staff.   To be honest, there is not much we can do here but try to have more staff here for coverage. We also cross train all managers to jump into the kitchen and help when where they can.   This is of course no substitute for a veteran kitchen employee. When an event like this does occur in our restaurant, we also do our bets to communicate with our guests. Please be patient with us!

I hope this helps understand the issues we face, and the investments we try to make to correct them. Next week, I am going to take the affects of delivery services on customers

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