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Food for Thought: The difference between fast food and food fast

If your idea of fast food is still limited to burger chains, kebabs and southern gentlemen with secret recipes for finger-lickin’ chicken, then you need to get your skates on – and so do your staff.

Today’s consumers, used to lightning fast broadband speeds that allow them to download an album in 5 seconds and a movie in 90 seconds, eat breakfast on the run and enjoy more of a lunch ‘moment’ than a lunch break. When it comes to waiting for food, they have the patience of a two-year old with a temperature.

Cash rich, but oh so time poor, they want good food, healthy options, tempting presentations – delivered at fibre-optic speeds.

Fast food is in fact no longer a separate F&B category, it’s just normal food delivered in the time it takes a customer to find a seat, remove their jacket and text a few mates.

Among industry experts, speedy service is the only way for restaurants, pubs and caterers to keep their lunch market alive. Forget vouchers and promotions. According to one survey, speed cuts more mileage with punters than discounts or special offers.

Significant numbers of us have made speed the priority at lunchtime and as long as there’s no compromise on quality, we are actively seeking out the speediest outlets. As long as the food is good, you can bet your fixed assets that your fast foodies will be back tomorrow towing with them the mates they were texting earlier.

If the very thought of having to compete with Drake & Morgan, whose 500-cover London restaurants pride themselves on getting mains to the table in 6 minutes, makes you want to change career, think again. This new definition of fast food is one that all foodservice needs to take on board – or risk watching their customers sprint off to the competition on the corner.

So how does your operation become the Usain Bolt of F&B? Well, the big boys and the chains are investing millions in computerised kitchen systems and technology that allows for mobile ordering. Jamie’s Italian, for example, uses Calls System Technology for ordering which is synched to kitchen equipment. Jamie’s has also introduced quick cook techniques such as using hot bricks to cook food from the top and bottom simultaneously for super fast burger and meat cooking.

For independents, being aware of the trend, taking it seriously and considering your customers’ experiences and expectations is the first step towards attaining warp speeds.

Streamline your lunch menu and make sure you have some super quick tasty options for fast foodies. Study work flows and preparation processes and see what changes you could make front of house and in the kitchen for more efficient service, cooking and delivery. Look at the new products and technology in the market that’s designed to improve efficiency. Finally, support your staff with training and the right equipment – a pair of skates if it helps.

For the lunch trade, the quicker you can deliver a main course, the more time you have to sell customers a dessert and another drink or persuade them to begin with a starter or sharing platter. Be even quicker and you can get them out and squeeze another cover in.

If the pace is too much for you, close for lunch and just open for dinner where diners are less pressed for time. At least for now….

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