March 1, 2015 |

Make It Snappy

By Pamela Mills-Senn

expeditor manages order flow to customers

Expediting orders takes consideration, planning


We live in an accelerated world where patience is frequently in short supply — a reality placing increasing pressure on pizzeria operators and their staffs when it comes to speeding up thru-put. After all, who wants to see tables full of guests restlessly waiting for their orders to arrive?

Delays in getting orders from the kitchen to the table can occur even during off-peak times (and they’re even more annoying to customers when they happen in a half-empty restaurant). There are various reasons for these bottlenecks: staffing shortages; poorly organized or badly designed kitchens; malfunctioning/under-performing equipment; poor communication/coordination between the FOH and BOH staff and training issues, says Dennis Lombardi, food service strategist for WD Partners, a Columbus, Ohio-based hospitality industry consulting firm. Others can arise from a lack of pre-peak preparation, he adds.

“No one should be slicing pepperonis at 7 o’clock on a Friday night,” Lombardi says. “All cooks should be focused on getting the orders out. It’s the same for workstations. Staff shouldn’t be stocking up during peak periods.” (Having trouble figuring out your bottlenecks? Ask your staff where they are and how you can speed up processes, Lombardi suggests.)

Expediting orders requires planning for things to go wrong — there’s no such thing as a perfect shift, says Tim Kirkland, CEO of Renegade Hospitality Group, a Denver-based consulting firm for the hospitality and customer service industries. Unfortunately, most restaurants train staff based on everything going well, putting them at a disadvantage when things get unexpectedly busy or very, very slow. Instead, restaurants should train for “the rush” and “the hush,” he says.

“By specifically emphasizing and detailing behavioral expectations during these times, you better prepare your teams for these crucial conditions,” Kirkland explains. “Mistakes go down, guest satisfaction goes up, and ‘perfect’ shifts take care of themselves.”

Another best practice Kirkland recommends is setting up every shift as if it were going to be the busiest one ever, ensuring that everything necessary for delivering a seamless experience — from POS receipt paper to glasses, napkins, flatware and so on — are at peak-level conditions.

Most pizzerias couldn’t afford to apply this same strategy to staffing. Lori Heitz, owner with husband John of The Red Pepperoni Pizzeria in Madison, Indiana, gets around this by having an “on call” shift of employees required to phone in one hour before shift to see if they’re needed.

The Red Pepperoni offers table service as well as carry-out/call-in. They try to get orders to the table within 15 minutes, says Heitz. They utilize a food runner and an expeditor — usually the manager or an experienced employee who knows the menu and can keep things organized during a rush.

“We also have a ‘full-hands-in/full-hands-out’ motto,” says Heitz. “Don’t leave the dining room or the kitchen empty-handed. And servers share tips. Therefore, every table is their table and they all work together.”

Heitz says they get a lot of call-in orders, which can result in time-to-table issues, although assigning call-ins to the food runner helps.

Joey Stasolla, owner of Joey’s Pizza in Colorado Springs, faces a similar challenge. Although his restaurant has ample dining space, the majority of the business is take-out and delivery.

“These orders can pile up pretty quickly,” says Stasolla. “To get food out on time to our dine-in customers — we shoot for around 20 minutes for the order to be brought to the table — we give longer wait times for the delivery, giving us the ability to move a dine-in ticket to the front of the line.”

Every employee knows to step in where needed, Stasolla says. The person running the ovens also expedites, letting the counter person know what’s cooking and when it’s coming out. All employees take food to the tables — even the pizza makers will run food. This strategy required “a lot of trial and error,” he says. But it’s working beautifully now, plus no one’s standing idle.

Eddie’s Pizzeria & Eatery has dedicated food runners and expeditors. Located in Claremont, California, the restaurant is one of three owned by Absolutely Italian Management (Montclair, California), says Ed Inglese, company president. They have an exacting food-to-table timeframe: three to five minutes for drinks; appetizers/salads in five to seven; check-backs in two minutes; entrees and/or pizza in 15 to 20 minutes (“But quality first is our motto,” says Inglese). Communication is essential; customers are updated about what to expect next, especially if there’s a delay. Like Heitz, they also have a “full-hands-in-and-out” mentality.

Perhaps the most effective expediting strategy is the team-server approach — Jim takes the order, Monica sees Jim is busy when the order is up and takes it to the table, Lombardi says. Some servers balk at doing this, reluctant to help another server get a tip, he explains. Tip-sharing might combat this resistance (although this isn’t always popular with servers). Another tactic is creating a culture that supports team-serving from the top down, and reminds staff about the payoff, Lombardi says.

“The message should be that if we all do this right, more customers will come in,” he explains. “And the more customers that come in, the more we will all benefit.”


ServerOnce Delivered

The job isn’t done when the order is delivered; there’s always some follow-up required. Ed Inglese, owner/president of Eddie’s Pizzeria & Eatery (Claremont, California), says that if servers have done a proper prep job, most items will be on the table. However, server stations are set up at two key locations carrying most of the items customers will need. Staff knows to rush items that come from the kitchen, and to always deliver coffee before dessert or with it, never after.
CEO of Renegade Hospitality Group Tim Kirkland’s advice for servers?

  • Never approach without something in your hands (water/ice tea).
  • Keep frequently requested items in your aprons.
  • When taking a request for an additional item, offer it to the whole table.

And take a page from servers at The Red Pepperoni Pizzeria in Madison, Indiana. They’re trained to check back with patrons after two bites or two minutes.

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelancer specializing in writing on topics of interest to all manner of businesses. She is based in Long Beach, California.