Good Morning Chefs of the World!
I'm hoping to pick your brains a little bit about something that to me, seems very simple on the surface but is actually a big tangled up ball of $%&!.
I'm the kitchen manager of a small operation of 4 years that does the whole gourmet sandwich thing, open kitchen, counter service, East Coast meets Southern California, you all know the type. We take a great strides to make our product a step above the other places in LA that do what we do, and as a result, the fire times are generally longer than one would expect from a sandwich shop. Added to that is the time it takes for our "expediter" to set it up to be dine-in or take-out, putting the appropriate sides and extras, and calling customer to the counter for their order. Now, the reason I use quotes on that word is because I feel like it's a bottle neck for the kitchen and no matter how fast my guys can crank food out, the food always gets stalled on his end. The expediter is limited by the size of his workspace compared to the volume he's sending out. Worse yet, he is at the mercy of being asked for various things by customers at any point of the service so if it's a particularly high-maintenance customer, it completely jams up the line. I feel helpless as he gets barraged by the needs of so many (it's on the edge of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, you can imagine the expectations of our customer base), and cannot intervene for fear of over-crowding him. All in all, I believe this to be our biggest downfall in terms of service. Our food gets rave reviews and we have devoted regulars but they all know to avoid lunch because we get absolutely crushed for about 2 hours every day. The problem can't simply be a weak line-cook or my expediter not being fast enough. These guys are exceptional at what they do but I can't help but feel they are being hampered by certain aspects of the open kitchen/counter expediter concept.
Things like little signs at the counter that say extra sides/sauces/dressing need to be ordered from the cashier are totally overlooked. This presents a financial problem as well as an awkward customer interaction where someone is basically told, "No, you can't get that from me, you need to go pay that person down there and then come back and I'll give it to you". My customers are also wildly fond of heavily modifying their orders, sometimes beyond any similarity to its original menu description. The owner doesn't really have a hard line on this and the cashiers aren't properly armed with information to prevent some of these totally bizarre creations. This is yet another thing that directly contributes to our ticket times as well as mistakes on orders by miscommunication or misunderstanding.
A concept like this, I feel should be simple but it feels messy, spread out, and MANIC. I would bet good money that when we're having one of those days where every order is 15 minutes+, we look like terrified, miserable worker bees instead of professionals.
Is this whole thing doomed? Have we allowed things to progress too far? The business is definitely there but if what we're offering isn't entirely sustainable for us, I don't see how it can improve without massive restructuring of our service. Advice/comments/complaints are much appreciated.