Restaurant Bin Management: Explained
For restaurant operators, the “rush” is an established part of the job. It’s here, during these high traffic times, when a restaurant shows its true mettle, beyond the fancy veneer of an extensive menu or a killer brand. How well a restaurant can handle these rushes – in preparation, and execution – has a tremendous effect on customer satisfaction and retention. If guests know they can count on you for quick service, they’ll come back even during the feverish lunchtime deluge.
To account for these rushes, restaurant owners may opt to prepare food items in bulk to accommodate the projected demand. These items may include chicken wings, or soup servings. The staff prepares these items ahead of time and puts them underneath heat lamps in preparation for the rush. What makes it tricky is that these items have particular “holding thresholds.” When they’re beneath a heat lamp for too long, they “die” and become unusable. Once an item hits its threshold, staff must throw it out and prepare replacements, wasting inventory and incurring new costs for the restaurant, and as any seasoned operator knows: wasted inventory means wasted revenue.
How do you Prepare for a Rush?
The process of bulk-preparing food for a rush, and keeping it all within threshold is much easier said than done. That is, without some technological help. You see, when cooking items en masse, you’re preparing them under the expectation that they’ll be consumed within a particular time frame.
Let’s say you’re running a quick service that sells chicken wings, and you’re trying to prep for a lunch rush on game day. You know there will be a steady flow of customers, all of whom will order a lunch special. This means you’ve got to have plenty of wings on hand. You make your best guess and prepare 150 wings in anticipation of the rush. The traffic is consistent, but you only sell 135 wings and end up having to throw 15 of them away. You must (quickly) prepare another batch to account for projected demand while processing the steady stream of orders already flowing in. You end up wasting a considerable amount of product, while also jamming up your speed of service flow.
What is Restaurant Bin Management?
Enter: restaurant bin management. This process, a specific component of a kitchen display system, ensures that during these peak times your items are “hot held” (kept warm but not beyond the point of dying) and that you’ve always got the right amount of product prepared and on hand. Typically, an operator will not use bin management feature all the time. They can set the feature to kick in during peak times (like lunch rush) or to be manually triggered.
Typically, bin management will be a specific feature of your kitchen display system and works when the operator designates items they want to prepare for a rush. Through your restaurant’s historical data, the KDS will generate accurate projections for this item, like how much you’ve typically sold in 15-minute increments on a given day or time.
The system places these designated items in a figurative “bin.” Whenever an order containing one of these bin items comes through, the system will automatically deduct from the bin, tracking the number of these available bin items on hand, as well as their constituent expiration thresholds. Once you’ve dipped below the minimum level of inventory to accommodate demand, the system will automatically create a new order. These “phantom orders” alert staff and prepare more of the item.
Instead of scrambling to fill an empty bin and keeping guests waiting, restaurant bin management will automatically determine when you need to prepare these items and will keep a “phantom order” specially coursed, to flow alongside any guest orders which come in. These phantom orders will not disrupt customer orders, and happen automatically; a staff member doesn’t need to punch them into the POS manually. The system ensures you’ve always got the right amount of product on hand, no matter the rush. Furthermore, since it’s all predicated on kitchen and sales data, you’re not choosing arbitrary amounts to prepare.
What Makes a Good Bin Management Feature?
While many kitchen display systems purport to have a bin management system, they are not all created equal. One feature of a premiere KDS is one that can automatically adjust the cook times of bin items. Good ones will do so, without disrupting the delay routing features of additional order items.
For example: Let’s say you’ve got a chicken sandwich order that includes a salad. To pace the order with delay routing, the KDS would traditionally account for the 10-minute cook time of the chicken, and the 4-minute cook time of the salad. The system would throttle it, and 6 minutes after preparing the chicken sandwich, the chef would receive a prompt to begin the salad. This ensures both items finish at the same time.
With bin management, the same principle applies, but on a reduced timetable. If you’ve designated chicken as a bin item, this chicken sandwich order will adjust down from 10 minutes to 2 (for example). Since the chicken, a bin item, is already hot and prepared, the system automatically diminishes the preparation time. Now, for this same order, the chef would receive a prompt to begin the salad first, a 4-minute preparation. Then, 2 minutes later, they’d receive a prompt to prepare the chicken sandwich, which now only takes 2 minutes. Both items still finish at the same time, for maximum freshness and customer satisfaction.
Furthermore, smart restaurant bin management will let you define your bin metrics. They’ll use these, as well as use historical data, to create the most accurate bin management projections. Some of these metrics include:
- Cook times – how long it takes to prepare the bin items.
- Minimum quantity – the amount of product which must be in the bins at all times.
When is Bin Management Most helpful?
While bin management is an asset to any kitchen or operator, it’s particularly useful in the following scenarios:
- For operators who want to apply it for a designated “peak” or “rush” time, without wasting inventory. Since the system projects your bin usage on real-time historical data, you don’t need to worry about overpreparing.
- Restaurants in the table service sector who are courting a more “fast casual” crowd at lunch, or looking to increase lunch sales. For example, if a table-service wanted to cater to the lunch crowd, featuring faster, “pick up” style fare.
- Restaurants who have a designated lunch menu, or a limited-item menu that applies to peak times. A bin management system will help optimize this menu, keeping inventory on hand as necessary.
- Restaurant operators concerned with lowering waste and maintaining costs. Since bin projections are predicated from real data and not arbitrary guesses, you’re less likely to waste extra, over-prepared food.
- Restaurant operators who are looking to maintain their speed of service, without disruptions, during rush time.
A quality kitchen display system, one which automates your back-of-house processes, will keep your operations smooth and polished. However, one with a smart, intuitive bin management system ensures you’ll maintain this consistency in the most critical times, high traffic times.
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About the Author
Dylan Chadwick is a Content Marketing Specialist at QSR Automations. He graduated from Brigham Young University with an English degree and journalism focus and loves to write about technology. When left to his own devices, he enjoys loud music, adorable dogs and documentaries about the aforementioned.