Dishoom in London’s trendy Covent Garden, pays homage to Bombay’s disappearing Irani Cafés.
Opened early last century by Persian immigrants, there were almost four hundred cafés at their peak in the 1960s. Now, fewer than 30 remain. Their loss is much mourned by Bombayites. Dishoom draws on their heritage with its all-day menu paying respect to the food of Bombay.
Since its launch in July 2010, Dishoom has been very successful. It seats 160 covers, but on a Saturday it regularly welcomes more than 650 customers. However, this level of success bred its own problems, as director Kavi Thakrar explains.
“We regularly had people queuing outside and the bar, being used as a waiting area, would be rammed,” Thakrar says. “The hosts managing the tables had to guess at wait times–45 minutes? 90 minutes? That meant some of our customers were unhappy and, worst case, walked away. We had to find a better way to manage capacity.”
Thakrar contacted Call Systems Technology (CST) to find out about the ConnectSmart restaurant automation system from QSR Automations. Straightaway he realized the front-of-the-house element of the system, ConnectSmart Hostess (Hostess), had great potential.
When coupled with the kitchen display part of the system ConnectSmart Kitchen (CSK), he knew it could give Dishoom a complete solution to their capacity management challenge.
“We have a great team here,” he says. “A big part of our Bombay café culture is our informal service style, which ensures that customers can relax and enjoy their meal while being looked after by friendly and professional staff.
“At really busy times our team understandably found the pressure quite stressful. The QSR ConnectSmart system gives them the tools to meet guests’ needs better. What’s more, it has improved table turnover and increased profits.”
What’s different about Hostess is that it learns how a restaurant works to provide accurate wait times and also draws data from the kitchen, via CSK. “It connects the kitchen to the front of house, so everyone is fully informed about what’s going on,” says Thakrar.
In the kitchen, each chef station has its own CSK screen. Using vivid, easy-to-understand graphical displays and information from waiting staff, the CSK software automatically assigns menu items to individual chef workstations. It looks at the entire order to make sure everything gets to the food pass at the same time, ensuring the best possible quality when it is taken to the table.
For example, if one table orders both curry and grills, it tells the curry chef to start work a few minutes after the grill chef, since the curry takes less time.
The CSK also alerts managers not only when an order is cooked, but also what stage it is at during cooking, so they can easily check how a table’s order is doing.
“We’ve had kitchen video before, but this is a different league, not only in software, but also hardware,” he says. “For example, the bump bars (which chefs push as they start or finish orders) are really robust–the ones near the open fire grills get an especially tough time, but they are totally reliable.”
Out front, Hostess features a screen mounted in the front desk, which displays each table’s status, including meal stage information from the CSK, and gives live wait time information. Staff can tell at a glance what is happening.
“All our team is really impressed with the ConnectSmart kitchen and table management system and how it helps them run a smooth shift with the minimum of stress, even when we’re busy.”
Another aspect of being over-busy was that, despite queues and a packed bar, there would often be empty tables because staff couldn’t find the party it was allocated to, or were tied up doing other things. “When you’re really busy, an empty table means lost revenue, even if it’s only five minutes. It’s also irritating for the waiting customers,” says Thakrar. “Hostess manages our tables very efficiently, optimizing the space (for example, for tables of two, four, or six) so that we maximise business.”
CST also supplied Dishoom with pagers for guests and for managers. The CustomerCall pagers are given to guests who choose to go into the bar while they wait for a table. When the table is ready, the fully interfaced Hostess system sends an alert to the pager, telling the guest to make their way to the front desk.
“It saves so much time, because staff don’t have to go searching for the party,” says Thakrar.
The management pagers are linked to the ConnectSmart system, as well. For example, if a new party is seated at a table and not seen within two minutes, the system warns the manager so that they can see what is wrong. Likewise, if a table isn’t cleared within a short time after a party has left, the system generates an alert. And if a table’s order is held up for some reason, it tells the managers so they can go and speak to the customers and make sure they are happy.
“It prevents a problem or a delay becoming an issue, as we can proactively address it as soon as it emerges and reassure the customer that they are being looked after.
“We have been very impressed by the CST service and the QSR ConnectSmart system,” says Thakrar. “Our naan bread maker had an issue because we couldn’t fit enough orders on his kitchen screen–he makes 1,000 naans every night–but CST came up with a great solution: they flipped the screen, so that it’s portrait instead of landscape, and now he can see exactly what’s happening and keep on top of his job.”
Ashley Sheppard, commercial director at CST, says, “Dishoom really raised the bar in the ethnic foodservice sector in terms of food and ambience. The way they have embraced this innovative technology to enhance their customer service makes them a great role model. It’s a great concept and a great site.”
“The ConnectSmart system has had a huge impact,” says Thakrar. “It has made every area of our operation more efficient, from the kitchen to the front of house. Our customer service is better. Our table turns are up 30 to 40 percent. Food quality is excellent. We’re getting the numbers of covers without feeling the pain. Our staff are happier and so are our customers.
“Plus, it’s helped us increase our sales by about £2,000 per week.”
Dishoom is looking to open a second site in late 2012. “We’re obviously happy with the ConnectSmart system so far and will definitely be ordering another one from CST.”