Restaurants: How to Improve Training and Efficiency with Design.

"Beauty in design should never be the goal; It ought to be the result of strong technique and achievement of specific project goals."

When you're in the foodservice industry

it's easy to think of graphic design as being something relevant only to the front of house. While menus, signage, and social media are a given, have you given any thought to how useful design can be for back of house efficiency? When we consider what design actually is and does, the difference a skilled designer can make is unsurprising; design has less to do with art than most people think. It's a bit like the work of a skilled chef, bartender, or barista. Beautiful plating, cocktails and free-pour art aren't goals in and of themselves, they're simply the result of strong technique. Design is similar: Beauty in design should never be the goal; It ought to be the result of strong technique and achievement of specific project goals.

If you were to commision a web-site design,

you'd likely let me know all about the style and colors you like, your favorite typefaces, et cetera. While this is all relevant to accurately represent your brand, the single most important question any good designer should ask is this: "What action do you need the user to take on your site?" At the most fundamental level, that's what we do as designers. We use a range of techniques to guide your users / audience / demographic to a desired result that supports your business goals. Beauty is only a byproduct. With that in mind, it's a bit easier to see how back of house could also benefit from goal-oriented design.

A personal example

I once worked in the back of house service well for a cocktail lounge, where I was expected to make cocktails for the entire house as quickly as possible. Sometimes I was making as many as ten or more at a time on busy nights. While serving complex, five+ touch cocktails to a packed house of thirsty guests, speed is crucial. While learning new cocktail menus, I relied on provided build sheets posted on my station. These were simple lists of cocktail names, their ingredients, and build method, typed up on microsoft word. It was useful, but when I needed to look up a build, it could take me several moments to find the cocktail that I needed on the sheet, and then several more to read through the build. It was slowing me down, and negatively affecting my ticket times. To remedy this, one night I went home and created a new build sheet. Here's an example of what I created (ingredients blurred for confidentiality):
Cocktail Build Sheet

"a new-hire could hop onto my station and make any item on the menu in seconds."

I started by creating an icon set representing each step in the build process, so that I could quickly scan the icons and know what techniques, glass and ice was used in any given cocktail build in two seconds or less. If I wanted to know what liquors, juices and other ingredients were in the cocktail, they were clear and distinct from the rest of the build recipe, for fast scannability. Finally, each drink title and its icons were color-matched to the final color of the cocktail that it represented, so that if I knew the final color of a cocktail, I could locate it on the build sheet almost immediately.

I can't tell you how many minutes this shaved off of my ticket times.

All of a sudden, rather than taking a minute to find a build or recipe, a new-hire could hop onto my station and make any item on the menu in seconds. If you're in the industry, I know you'll understand what a positive difference shaving off those few moments can make to your guests, your reviews, tip totals, and your bottom line; not to mention the headache it solves when dealing with staff turnover.

So, instead of thinking of design as a purely decorative, front of house affair, imagine where else design could be used to educate new hires, speed up ticket times, clarify policy and improve upon the flow of service every day. Your bottom line, and your guests, will thank you.

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