By Dirk Noteboom, R.D., President of HHS Culinary
Poor cafeteria design can lead to a poor customer service experience, and ultimately, reduced revenue for your business.
The design must not only take into account the types of consumers you will be serving (doctors, nurses, patients, visitors, hourly team members, community members) but what type of service you want to offer and what that service is going to look like, as well as how the service best fits into the space allocated for the job to be done.
Bottlenecks and a Race Against Time
Many times, cafeteria design is an afterthought once all other areas of the facility are completed, which is why hospitals wind up stuck with areas that are too compact and cannot handle the volumes associated with the facility, and do not have adequate throughput. Usually I see this in grill areas and cashier stands.
The majority of your repeat customers (those that spend their money with you) are staff, generally have roughly 30 minutes for lunch from the time they leave their station until the time they have to be back, including the walk to the cafeteria and a possible elevator ride. This doesn't give them a lot of time to sit and eat. And, if they spend 10 minutes waiting on their food and in the cashier line, they really don't have time to decompress from their work, and that's what we really provide for them—a different, nonclinical environment for the staff and visitors to decompress.
Get the Lines Moving
In order to help speed the grill area along, we like to use a drop-in heated shelf with adjustable drop down heated lights. This helps to keep product fresh and hot while allowing us prepare an area for people to quickly grab burgers, chicken, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, french fries...the list goes on. Next to that, a 12" well is ideal, which cold toppings can be placed in, such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.
This way, people who want to wait for their items to be grilled right in front of them can do so, and those people with a time constraint can get their freshly prepared food quickly and move through the line.
Rethink Payment Options
Similarly, the cash register is a choke point especially during peak times: It takes time for people to take their money out, count it, hand it to the cashier, then put away their change. In order to help alleviate this issue we like to consider a three fold approach....
1) Double-sided cashier counters-As silly as this may sound, having a double-sided cashier counter should speed up your cashier throughput by 30%. The reason for this is as the customer on the left side is putting away their change, the cashier is ringing up the customer on the right side of the stand, and so on. It really does work!
2) Credit/Debit Card I still see many operations that do not take credit/debit cards. Many people today do not carry cash, which is a real frustration when they get up to the cashier, food in hand, card out to pay, and hear "I'm sorry, we only accept cash.”. That is wasted food and labor, not to mention a very frustrated customer. In addition to the service aspect of using credit/debit cards is the speed factor: with a card, there is no money changing hands, no coins to count, no money going back in pockets and purses…this adds significant throughput in your cafeteria, and you will see this is shorter lines at the register.
3) Payroll deduction The use of payroll deduct, even more than credit cards, will speed up your cash register lines. A very quick swipe of the employee badge and off they go. The employee gets exact documentation of everything they have purchased with their badge, and it comes straight off their paycheck (normally there are safeguards in place so a staff member cannot exceed a certain dollar amount). This is really a win all the way around: it speeds staff through the cashier line, there is no money exchanged, and we generally see about a 15% increase in what people purchase.
When it is all said and done, there are many areas that can slow down a cafeteria operation. With a few well thought-out solutions, and by paying attention to what is happening in your space, you can implement quick, inexpensive, effective solutions to help increase your customer throughput and increase satisfaction with the service you provide.
Dirk Noteboom is a registered dietician with over 30 years of progressive experience in the industry, and serves as the President of HHS Culinary, providing locally-sourced and organic, high-quality food service options to hospital patients across the nation.