Restaurant Technology: Our Friend?

I came across this article in Fast Company about Slingshot, a restaurant tracking system made by Avero. Restaurants, especially fast food companies, often point to their technologies like Slingshot to show they’ve trimmed their waste.

While that’s usually true, by reading between the lines we can see that these systems can create another kind of waste. Paraphrasing the western Shane, Slingshot is just a tool…as good or as bad as the person using it. 

First the good: By knowing what diners like and how weather, holidays and events affect consumer demand, restaurants can make more accurate orders. As we see in the Fast Company article, cutting inventory waste and more efficient labor use led to large savings at the Rio casino’s 20 restaurants.

…with the efficiencies from Slingshot, “we spent almost $700,000 less in January ’06 on food than we did in January ’05–with increased food quality,” said William Becker, the Rio’s vice president of culinary operations. 

First of all, kudos for those improvements. Second, that figure makes you wonder how much food is wasted at restaurants not using the software. It also provides hope, because what business wouldn’t want to trim that much from its operating budget? Finally, it illustrates the massiveness of casino food operations and their potential to squander food. 

But the tracking systems can create waste, too, when restaurants push food and drinks on patrons. Induced overordering leads to half-eaten plates and more food in the waste stream.

“Service is where we’ve grown our revenue the most,” says Joe Grimaldi, the Rio’s executive director of food and beverage. “We’ve seen a $1.4 million growth in revenues across the board in the past year, strictly by turning order-takers into salespeople.”

At the Rio, each server is graded daily on an “Avero scorecard” that lists his average check, how many appetizers, entrées, and desserts he sold, whether he successfully peddled wine or beer, and if he managed to sell the table coffee or, better yet, the French press of Starbucks for $5.95.

In addition to creating plate waste, this upselling trend is what I dislike about eating out today. It’s unlikely that after eating an American-sized restaurant entree, you’re thinking ‘What I really need now is more food.’ Unless you’ve planned ahead by sharing an entree or ordering carefully, dessert is not what your stomach wants. Yet servers, most instructed to do so, rarely miss a chance to suggest an appetizer “to start you off” or “something sweet” to finish. 

Part of the problem: Both server and restaurant have an incentive to get you to order as much food as possible. And some establishments add competition to the mix by posting servers’ stats. In that environment, it’s no wonder restaurants fill barrels of trash every hour from plate waste.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 31, 2007 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Another great post.

    How do we get restaurants to make money and cut portions (and waste). Maybe upselling, not more selling is the way. I think it’s great if restaurants can upsell to Starbucks and make 200% profit. That’s much better than depending on selling extra big portions for 25% more money.

    I think many progressive ideas are converging: healthy eating, the “RightSize” portions, being more sensitive to the animals (and earth) from where the food comes, and stop wasting too much food. All these ideas are connected to our heads (and stomachs).

  2. Jonathan
    Posted April 1, 2007 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Interesting points, Ralph. You’re right, the answer may lie in upselling to higher quality products rather than increased quantity of food. This scenario–for example getting French press Starbucks coffee–benefits both restaurants and consumers, while not creating more waste. What I don’t like to see is servers pushing diners to order more food, knowing it’ll lead to either overeating or half-eaten plates.

    Of course, I’m not convinced that restaurants will upsell for quality but not quantity. We can always dream, though.

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