May 20, 2011

Improving the quality and efficiency of fast food restaurants

Fast food restaurants are unique operational systems designed to provide customers with efficient and responsive services. Such systems consist of three interdependent subsystems: input, processing and output. The success of the operational system of a fast food restaurant is directly related to the degree of co-operation and co-ordination among these three subsystems. Any attempt to improve the efficiency, quality and responsiveness of the operational system must focus on these subsystems and their interactions.

The fast food service industry is becoming increasingly multifaceted and extremely competitive. In such an environment, restaurant owners and managers are finding themselves hard to face a two faced problem. On one hand, sales are slowing down and operating costs are increasing. On the other hand, customers are becoming more demanding and increasingly selective of the types of services they receive. These two factors combined with others are presenting restaurant managers with a special challenge, how to maintain profitability in a shrinking market while providing the sophisticated customers with high quality and efficient services. In achieving this seemingly impossible objective, fast food restaurants can pursue two strategic avenues. First, they can focus on means to improve operational efficiency of the system. Second, they can take actions to enhance the operational quality of the operational system.
Specific tactics geared to the first strategic option include improving inventory systems to reduce the cost of materials handling and waste, measures to reduce food service costs through better menu management, and ways to increase labor efficiency by cutting labor costs through better scheduling.
The second strategic option that stresses means to enhance the operational quality of the input, processing and output subsystems includes use of quality control measures to monitor the quality of incoming material, work-in-progress and the output. It also underscores the importance of understanding the needs and attitudes of customers and the adoption of technological and marketing innovations to provide customers with high quality services.
These two strategic orientations are not mutually exclusive. However, in the fast food industry there is a misconception that high quality compromises efficiency and that, from a bottom-line point of view, a quality orientation cannot be justified. This misconception can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the interdependency among the three subsystems of the operational system in relation to operational efficiency and quality. This lack of understanding coupled with the myth that quality costs money impede measures to enhance quality and efficiency of the operational systems of fast food restaurants.
Aniket Choudhary is a PGP student of Indian Institute of Management, Raipur. He has done his B.E. in Mechanical Engineering from College of Technology and Engineering, Udaipur. Aniket can be reached at aniketchoudhary87 at gmail . com

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