'When we come out of the other side, I think we'll be a more nimble business, because you're just being challenged more'

The  Staff Canteen

What can restaurants do to gain the impetus to reopen as the UK lockdown eases?

In an interview with Andrew Seymour of Food Service Equipment, TGI Fridays' head of food and drink Terry McDowell said the chain had been looking for a way to open its restaurants across the UK despite the lockdown measures still in place.

Starting with a sample of 24 stores to test whether it was safe to roll out, it began offering a click and collect service, which it plans on extending across as many as possible in due course. 

Making the space workable 

To account for the new operational model and to make social distancing measures possible, the number of people working at any given time is kept at a low. 

The chain already had a digital system to process orders, meaning the front of house staff don't need to interact with the kitchen in person. 

The menu has been reduced to 40% of its usual size, prioritising best sellers and dishes that travel well to make it possible to cook everything on just two well stocked stations. 

The viability of the project isn't a given in every branch, as their locations - some in leisure parks or shopping malls - raise issues with regards to customer parking. 

"It's important to us that we can be open and offer a service but it's also important that we can make it safe for our customers so they can come and use that service." 

Adaptability from the bottom up 

Andrew said he was impressed with how adaptable the restaurant teams have proved to be, and specifically how the chefs have learnt to use the station system more effectively.  

"They've gone from working at peak with ten other people in the kitchen to what is the new peak of three. 

"They've really embraced the challenge and I think our guests have as well

This flexibility and willingness to embrace change applies to the highest echelons of the company, too, he explained, as the new operating model relies almost entirely on trial and error. 

"From that aspect, when we come out of the other side, I think we'll be a more nimble business, because you're just being challenged more." 

Looking to the future 

From thinking how to streamline processes ahead of a reopening of the restaurants to how to scale up the offering without increasing numbers of people working in the kitchen, Andrew is aware that much preparation is in order. 

But in effect, as many across the industry, the teams are rearing to go. 

"As soon as we were closed down we were planning when we could reopen and what's the quickest route to be able to do that." 

What that might look like, he said, is analogous to the change that we have witnessed in supermarkets. 

"Before you could walk in, you could go and pick what you wanted when you wanted it - we're now used to queuing up to be allowed in." 

Customers should expect a bookings only, spaced out experience, with signage on floors and perhaps waiters wearing masks if that is what the government imposes. Meanwhile, staff - front and back of house - will undergo training to learn how to operate under the new circumstances, and kitchens will be redesigned with new equipment and technology to account for the new operational model. 

"Whatever it takes, we'll do. But it's a great opportunity to retrain the team, to refocus and go again with what we're here for - hospitality - making sure people have a great time in a safe environment." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th May 2020

'When we come out of the other side, I think we'll be a more nimble business, because you're just being challenged more'