Counter Service Cutting staff cost wisely
Hospitality staffing has been under growing pressure over the past years due to two main issues; increasing cost and shortage of qualified people. A recent study by ABN Amro bank showed that in just three years the amount of hospitality employers experiencing trouble with staff shortages has grown almost tenfold over the past three years, from 3 to 29 percent. A new law, to be implemented in 2020 aims to push an increase in fixed labour contracts; employers that offer flexible contracts are facing substantially higher costs. Combining this with the recent rise in minimum wage in the Netherlands, employers are soon to face more difficulties regarding staff cost percentages. With labor costs on the rise and a shortage of qualified staff, hospitality business owners need to move forward to more cost-efficient service models.
We are seeing a rise of venues that are successfully applying a mix of traditional service models, to control staff cost. What they all have in common is steering away from traditional sit-down / full table-service to systems that -in different variations- include counter service.
Traditionally, full-service models are characterized by service at the table, a la carte food ordering and often a higher quality of service and food. Their counterpart, the fast-service venue typically offers quick counter service, a standardized menu and a lesser trained staff.
Fast-casual dining is a modern way of combining the best of both worlds: ordering at the counter with trained staff, a quality menu often offering the possibility for personalization and coffee/food being brought to your table through a numbering system. Other variations to this are the order and pick-up stations with buzzers, or even buffet-like counters.
Advantages of a counter service model
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main advantages of a counter service model is establishing cost-efficiency. But moving to a form of fast-casual dining has other advantages as well. One of them is the opportunity to create a super-efficient and hygienic workflow, improving speed of service, boosting your turnover and your employer productivity. All this leading to higher customer satisfaction, when -of course- carried out with a smile.
Implementing a fast-casual model could also help in attracting a new kind of customer, being the customer that has limited time yet enjoys quality food and is willing to pay for it. Being able to cater for the fast-moving consumer may lead to a quicker table-turnover as well.
Challenges of a counter service model
Although a fast-casual model provides many solutions, it is good to be well prepared for the challenges it may pose. Maintaining a great hospitality experience could turn out to be more complex than it seems. For one, a counter service model provides limited opportunities to provide customer service as there are simply fewer moments of interaction. We often see a strong focus on the food-ordering experience; usually personal contact only takes place at the moment of ordering and the moment the food and drinks are brought to the table. After which the customer is no longer attended to and is likely to walk out the door without receiving a friendly good-bye, while their table is left untidy. It could help to pinpoint your service moments and train your staff to be mindful of them. Many venues end up rostering on a host, extra floor-staff or a ‘floatie’ to provide customer service on the floor.
When moving from a traditional full-service café to a counter service model a whole new field of expertise is required: queue management. You are now dealing with waiting lines and more importantly, people that don’t like waiting in line. Whilst waiting, a customer has time to observe your staff, their speed and friendliness. It’s safe to assume that the more they wait the more their observations are affected negatively… Here are some basic ways to manage the queue:
- Offer an estimated waiting time and over-estimate. Do you think 5 mins? Say 10.-
- Offer distraction through storytelling about your products, reading material, posters or branded media on TV screens
- Get your customer started by handing out menu’s and providing a (welcome) drink.
It’s not a secret that working in a fast-paced and repetitive working environment can take its toll on your staff satisfaction. Considering staff shortage, the cost of turnover and staff training it can be beneficial to have a staff retention strategy in place. Some possibilities are inter-location rostering, staff introduction bonuses, staff challenges (with prizes) or learning and development plans. Some hospitality owners even go as far as giving out shares in the business!
When moving towards a counter service model we advise not to take staff savings for granted. It’s all about creating a delicate balance of customer satisfaction and cost-efficiency. The last thing you want as a business owner is to save costs on the short term yet seeing long term value leaking away like customer relationships, loyalty or staff retention.
Advantages of counter service
- Keeping labour cost low
- Efficient workflow and speed of service
- Quicker turnover of tables / seats
- Attracting a different type of customer
Challenges of counter service
- Upkeeping service and hospitality levels
- Building relationships with your customers
- Maintaining tidiness and cleanliness of seating area
- Managing your queue experience
- Staff satisfaction
| Client: Stewart & Sally | Delivered: Food concept | Espressionals: Loeki Stewart & Sally was founded by chef Rutger Slomp, who aimed to fill the gap between fastfood and casual dining by providing a fresh meal for any time of the day. With Stewart &...