The kitchen is the backbone of any restaurant, and when it’s chaotic, so is the entire dining experience. Customers at Captain’s Quarters in Prospect, Kentucky, outside of Louisville, are treated in an idyllic waterfront dining experience thanks to the restaurant’s position on the bank of the Ohio River. However, 13 years ago, the restaurant’s high-capacity kitchen was anything but calm, especially during the summer. One of the region’s hot tourist spots, the 400-450 seat indoor-outdoor restaurant is regularly full during warmer months, and it operated on a ticket system that did little to improve communication within the kitchen or between the front-of-house and back-of-house.
“All the orders for a table would come in at one time, so our kitchen staff would shout across to other stations that they shouldn’t start making dishes for five minutes while the steak started,” says Andrew Masterson, owner of Captain’s Quarters. “The screaming between stations in the kitchen made it a war zone instead of a smoothly operating kitchen.”
With so much back-of-house chaos and noise, however, dishes were regularly started too early. Cooks would make fish sandwiches quickly, but they sat in the window dying while well-done filet mignons were still cooking. When the brand added tables, the window became too crowded for all the partially completed orders.
Because the Captain’s Quarters kitchen has no room to expand, Masterson knew that his team had to become more efficient, so he turned to a kitchen display system (KDS) to move away from problematic paper tickets. ConnectSmart Kitchen (CSK), a kitchen display system created by QSR Automations, allowed the brand to use delayed routing to stagger when orders would arrive at different cooking stations to optimize a table’s order.
“Now cooks won’t even see the order for a sandwich until the filet mignon has been cooking for 5 or 10 minutes,” Masterson says. “An entire table’s order comes to the window at the same time instead of sitting, so food is fresher when it gets to the customer and there isn’t clutter in the window.”
Even on the busiest nights orders now flow smoothly at Captain’s Quarters, and with less food dying in the window, waste is reduced. Masterson says that the shouting in the kitchen between stations has almost entirely stopped, and the expeditor isn’t calling for items to be rushed.
Another benefit of the KDS system is that the front- and back-of-house teams are more connected. Captain’s Quarters posted several screens throughout the restaurants that servers can check to see where orders are in the queue or whether they are cooking and to reduce trips back-of-house.
“Sometimes servers and cooks don’t always get along, and giving servers information about their order keeps them out of the kitchen, though they can still see the expo for concerns,” Masterson says.
This lets the kitchen focus on the food and minimizes confusion in an already crowded kitchen. Because the system also integrates with the hostess stand, employees are able to give better estimates on wait times, further improving the guest experience.
The connection between front- and back-of-house allows the entire team to function seamlessly, creating a better guest experience. Not only have ticket times improved, but so has the restaurant’s reputation.
“We were religiously running 18- to 19-minute ticket times, and now, if we have one over 9 or 10 minutes it’s a freak occurrence,” Masterson says. “That’s made a drastic change that equates to happier customers, and servers are also happier with increased table turns. Our sales have been up every year since we put in the system. The payoff for installing it has been massive.”
Though some full-service restaurants have been reluctant to install a KDS system, Masterson says that it has been critical to his brand’s success and has increased employee satisfaction.
“I think table-service restaurants have felt it might be less personal or more institutional to have a KDS back-of-house, but it’s the opposite,” he says. “It simplifies processes for cooks so that they aren’t spending time reading tickets and hoping they don’t lose them. With larger restaurants it’s harder and harder to get good, qualified cooks. When you can give them technology that is reliable and easy to understand and read it makes their job easier, and they are more likely to work for me instead of someone else.”
Managers are also able to access restaurant data and get a snapshot of the business both at the restaurant and from home. This helps leadership assess performance, improve processes, and even offer incentives for the staff when goals are met, such as dessert for the kitchen team if their ticket times remain low.
Now, Masterson says Captain’s Quarters can handle busy nights with 1,200 covers or more and often go without a single complaint or item sent back. In fact, he views the system as so critical to the restaurant, that as he’s been searching for a new POS system, he’s stipulated that the system they choose must integrate with CSK.
To those considering installing a KDS, Masterson says it’s time to take the leap. “If you don’t already have a system like this, it’s well worth the investment,” he says. “We’re a $5.5 million per year business and 90 percent of that is done in a four-month period. We were able to grow the business and almost doubled our revenue in a four to five year stretch. A lot of that had to do with our ability to produce better food faster, and really, most of the signs point to CSK.”