Moving from Wait-Staff to Quick Service

Recently, I have come across more and more people and their restaurants looking to move from a fast casual, wait-staff approach to a traditional quick service location.  The reasons I have been told range, however, given the right circumstances, this may certainly be a profitable move to make.  Before making a haphazard switch there are areas you should consider.  Should you feel comfortable beyond that point there are key aspects to a quick service restaurant that you’ll want to address as well.

In this posting, I will first highlight the considerations you should make beforehand and the areas that need addressing should you move forward.

Things to consider before making the switch:

#1- What kind of reaction will your loyal customers have?

You can never underestimate the opinions and feelings of your loyal customers.  Keep in mind, if they are “loyal” it means that they come to your location repeatedly.  It also means that they are your mini walking, talking, breathing word-of-mouth advertising campaigns.  Doing something that will upset the applecart could have a residual effect on your business.

#2- Can your menu be prepared quick enough?

When you have a wait-staff you are naturally afforded a greater amount of time to prepare the food.  Going from having a window of 10’s of minutes to just minutes is a significant jump that not everyone can make.  What might you have to sacrifice?  What short-cuts would you have to take?  Would it be worth it or would the end result, meaning your food, be compromised?

#3- Is your location conducive for a quick service restaurant?

Take a look at where you seating areas are now and what it would look like if you made the change.  Do you have an idea where you’ll be able to place the order counter that has easy access to the kitchen?  Will you have enough space for people to queue up and order?  These are the questions that you have to ask yourself and assess.  The last thing you want to do is to force an idea that relies on functionality in to a dysfunctional environment.  If you were a general contractor, you wouldn’t consider making your 4-door sedan your work truck would you?  Your van, now that makes more sense.  You need to have at least some of the attributes to make it work.

#4- What would the total monetary cost of the switch be?

It isn’t as simple as hanging some menu boards, shifting some chairs around and calling it a day.  Beyond the menu boards, chances are you will need multiple registers, an order counter, new silverware, tissue paper, trays, garbage cans, a soda fountain machine, display cases, etc.  And on top of all of this is the biggest nut – the renovation to make the work-flow make sense for a quick service operation.

Menu BoardsNow that you have decided to make the switch, these are the areas that need to be addressed:

#1- Traffic flow of your customers

We have taken a stab at the options for laying out your restaurant in the past.  There are a number of different ways you could go.  Take into consideration where your customers enter your location and where you want them to go.  Metaphorically speaking, you have the opportunity to “herd the cattle” in a way that you want.  At the same time you want to make sure that it is in an effective matter.  Take a read of the earlier blog that is linked above and this will all make sense.  From a QSR Magazine October 2010 article:

Often, the bottlenecks in service are due to the restaurant’s overall design and setup. “Many operations that I have consulted with made all of their mistakes in the design phase,” Kharasch says. “They did not think through every step an employee has to make to get the food out and they did not think about where a guest stands when waiting to order food, or how many registers they may need if the sales are above expectations.”

#2- Staffing

So you are doing away with the wait-staff but now you are going to have to make up for it behind the counter and in the kitchen.  More from the QSR Magazine October 2010 article:

“Speed of service is in direct correlation to your overall retail sales,” says John Scardapane, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based Saladworks.

Scardapane says cutting down on service staff is a traditional method for quick serves looking to streamline business, but it can be the kiss of death for a quick serve because it slows service.

“You can cut down and streamline your kitchen and hourly staff in the back of the house, but you can never cut down your sales force or the amount of staff you have in the front of the house to affect the speed of service,” he says. “One customer that’s unhappy and doesn’t come back costs you a lot more than the hourly rates you’re trying to save by cutting back one employee.”

Maintaining staff levels at the front of the house is critical, says John Pepper, CEO of Boston-based Boloco, because although many customers have decreased disposable incomes, they increased their expectations for good service. “They value the experience even more now and have traded down from full service in many instances,” Pepper says.

#3- Menu Boards

Quite often the menu boards are the last thing to be considered but are one of the most important.  The menu boards act as the hub for your entire operation.  They are the single point of marketing where you have a level of control over what people are ordering.  Style, look and functionality aside, the way in which you lay out your menu items and pricing is critical to your success.  To have almost all of your menu board questions answered, click here.

#4- POS System

Depending on how you are set up, this may or may not be a huge change.  If your current wait-staff is using a pen and paper and a ticket system with the cooks, the investment and learning curve with a new POS system could be intense.  The amount of terminals you’ll require will be determined by your operation.  Now if your wait-staff is currently keying in the orders and they are being displayed in the back, the leap isn’t so significant.  It becomes more so about identifying the needs, setting up the work flow within the system and training your staff.

Is there something that we missed?  What else should people consider? Email us at or give us a call today at 888-235-2579 and let us know!