Pressure is rising as digital channels take center stage during COVID-19.

Unlike in years past, meal orders today come from every direction—in-house, online, through your mobile application, from third-party delivery companies, and even takeout. Certain world events might also restrict you to only serving off-premise guests. The requests, and the number of decisions your kitchen staff must make, rival those of an NFL quarterback. (Can you tell we miss sports?) While having those orders streaming in is reassuring in the face of a sudden market nosedive, juggling those incoming tickets is a challenge. Ensuring that everyone receives the right meal at the right time can leave the back-of-house under more pressure than quarterback Dak Prescott facing the blitz.

If you’ve seen the light and moved away from paper tickets, your point-of-sale (POS) system has likely been a savior to your operation. However, when it comes to off-premise dining and managing multiple order channels, only a kitchen display system (KDS) that routes all those orders through your kitchen can get you across the next goal line.

POS is not a KDS

A point-of-sale system (POS) is an integral part of your business, even when you’re not serving walk-in customers. With a POS, you can physically ring up a customer order on a terminal or tablet, and the POS records each transaction. This process happens “digitally” when a customer orders online or through a third-party ordering platform. While the POS initializes the sale, it does not manage it. This “handoff” is where the KDS takes the ball that’s in play and carries it down the field with finesse and ease. A KDS improves how the back-of-house operates.

With a kitchen display system, a monitor sits at each physical station where meal preparation occurs. Whether it is the grill, fry, sauté, pantry, or expo station, each monitor will only display and receive the items that are to be prepared by each of the stations. The KDS can then act as the coursing manager that groups together, so that guests receive each course at the right time.

A good KDS delivers the cook times to each station so that food items with shorter and longer cook times are balanced, with the longer items starting first. These features ensure that food arrives at the appropriate time and that guests receive the most accurate quote. The KDS can provide a recipe viewer to help the kitchen track the brand’s recipes along with their nutrition and allergy information for each. Additionally, the KDS becomes the restaurant’s router, which routes food to the appropriate station while delaying routing when shorter cook times are needed to keep everything fresh and at the correct temperature.

It’s essential to keep your POS in mind when deciding your KDS—both the one you have today and the one you might want in the future. A KDS solution should integrate with many different POS systems so that you aren’t “locked in” to any particular one. As technology moves at lightning speed, a restaurant operator would be wise to remain flexible in the face of the future.

Now that you know how a POS and KDS differ and why you need both let’s look at the five benefits that you can reap in having one and then evaluate its importance to your restaurant operations.

Benefit 1—More kitchen control

When you have a kitchen display system that integrates with your POS system, off-premise, takeout, pick-up, and other types of orders are routed with ease. The information flows seamlessly from the POS into the kitchen, giving kitchen staff a unique overview of all current and upcoming orders on kitchen screens. Kitchen tickets, as well as re-entering information, become a distant memory.

Benefit 2—Improved Data Collection

When margins are paper-thin, accurately tracking fulfillment times enables you as a restaurant operator or manager to tweak processes. Here’s just one example of how data can help improve restaurant operations. Last June, the Saxton Group, with 80 McAlister units in six states at the time, recognized that there wasn’t a lot of “meat on the bone” for improvement. According to the group’s VP of Operations Stephen Lee, their operations were always a week behind with their previous manual reporting process. Still, a KDS upgrade enabled minute-by-minute reporting access helped them improve upon speed and profit.

Benefit 3—Decreased food costs and waste

As the Dallas-based Saxton Group discovered, a KDS can improve profit. When customer orders are accurate, you decrease food waste, which adds to the bottom line. Furthermore, Order discrepancies not only waste time but also cause food waste. When traffic hits a downward slope, minimizing food waste is one way you can slow the bleeding. Integrating a KDS with current POS systems can help prevent mix-ups of orders or misplaced tickets that create confusion and food waste when your staff must remake a meal to appease a customer awaiting their food. The KDS also continuously tracks food inventories and order volume, so that kitchen staff and restaurant management receives alerts when quantities are low so that you can replenish low stock.

Benefit 4—Improved Kitchen Efficiency

With monitors showcasing your orders, everything that the kitchen needs to know about specific meal preparation, including any particular guest food allergies or preferences, is front and center. Likewise, the KDS has real-time tracking of any changes or additions to orders, so that kitchen staff isn’t scrambling but moving along at an even pace that can help eliminate kitchen chaos. Orders route to the specific kitchen screens and prep stations with all the relevant information that pertains to that particular meal. Front of house staff can also stay informed at every step of the process, thus enabling and facilitating guest expectations.

Benefit 5—A WOW-ing Customer Experience

With such enhanced accuracy from the kitchen, wait staff can improve their speed of service to provide an over-the-top experience for off-premise customers. Beyond the quality of the food, it’s those intangibles that can tip an average meal into one that wows customers and keeps them coming back, especially now, in a time when things feel very uncertain—even a meal out. A KDS can transform restaurant performance by eliminating repeat trips to the kitchen to check on orders. This measure leaves additional time for your wait staff to get to know your customers and their specific food needs, as well as inform them about specials.

Potential new revenue streams are a good thing, but they don’t always contribute to Potential new revenue streams are a good thing, but they don’t always contribute to end-of-the-month gains. Sometimes the added complication of another revenue channel can decrease revenue as your wait staff struggles to attend to more orders, and your kitchen works to handle the new demands. A kitchen display system can improve operations so that off-premise and in-house dining can complement one another instead of fighting against your current kitchen operations.

Investing in a kitchen display system has proven to add value to restaurants. It’s like adding that crucial player that has all the skills to carry your team to the Super Bowl if we borrow from our football analogy. Successful restaurant operators know that having the right technology makes all the difference, especially during unexpected times. The workhorse you’ll have with a kitchen display system will improve kitchen efficiency within the restaurant operation, enhance communication between FOH and BOH, contribute to the accuracy of all orders despite where they originate, and enhance the overall guest experience, all while improving revenues.

Amber Mullaney, QSR Automations’ VP of marketing sets strategies and implements the overall promotional efforts for the company, which markets a platform for kitchen automations and guest management services. She graduated from The University of Houston with a Public Relations degree and enjoyed working in the healthcare technology field before transitioning to restaurant technology.

Expert Takes, Feature, Technology