Fuddruckers Orders Kiosks, Hold the Labor

The 232-restaurant chain sees multimedia kiosks with demos for hundreds of recipe techniques as the recipe for slashed training costs.

With high turnover being as much a part of an industrial kitchen as cracked pepper, the chief financial officer (and acting CIO) of the Fuddrucker chain of restaurants often looks for ways to get control of his training budget.

CFO Matt Pannek thinks he may have found a tasty answer in a couple of hundred multimedia kiosks, which will be churning out their multimedia informational entrees in the chains kitchens and bakeries.

The IBM Anyplace kiosks cost Fuddruckers $3.5 million "just for the hardware," The purchase is complicated by the fact that the chain also purchased from IBM about 130 POS units and they also upgraded the monitors in addition to purchasing the roughly 175 kiosks, Pannek said.

Still, the CFO for the privately-held Austin, Texas chain with annual revenue of between $300 million and $500 million said that he expects the project to "pay for itself within 18 months."

How? The reduced training costs covers a wide range of expenses, from the supervisor time spent actually training to the cost of printed materials for every recipe and particularly for every new special, along with the labor costs of recipe conversions.

Those conversions include turning the pints and ounces specified as the recipe is approved in Austin to its European restaurants equivalents as well as converting English recipes into Spanish and—in the future—other languages.

The program can also do on-the-fly conversions for the quantity. A recipe written to serve 10 people can be instantly updated to serve 96 people with the restaurant no longer having to worry about making a math error.

But the core functionality of the system is its ability to present recipes in an easy-to-store-and-view manner.

"Before, we might have created a DVD of how [a recipe] is supposed to be presented. Then you pray that the DVD player is working at the restaurant," Pannek said.

"In the new world, we have this kiosk that can immediately have pictures and streaming video (showing) exactly way it should be presented to the guest. Theres no need to keep manuals up to date. Its incredibly cool."

The chain also plans on using the kiosks to present training videos on non-food topics such as customer service guest relations and "how to mop the floor," Pannek said.

Restaurants present a range of special challenges for IT, given the high turnover, which limits the practical amount of training personnel can receive. Also, restaurants tend to hire lower-paid workers, which also limits the amount of training theyll be receptive to.

The Krystal restaurant chains efforts with wireless and McDonalds experiments with VOIP (voice over IP) are good examples of some of the hurdles.

The kiosks that Fuddruckers will be using are about 18 inches wide and 12 inches high and are wall-mounted at eye-level. "Theres not a lot of free counter space in the kitchen," Pannek said. "We really wanted it at eye-level, out of the line of fire" of flying ingredients.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about how Virgin music stores have used kiosks.

The kiosks piggyback on the chains Cisco VPN (each restaurant connects to the network with a DSL or faster connection), but the recipes are setup to be presented to select restaurants. If the chain wanted to test a particular recipe in only five locations, for example, the network would make those videos available to only those five locations.

Pannek said that selected-site capability is especially handy with regional recipe differences, such as making chilli served in Texas taste different than what might be served in New England.

Another possibility considered by the Pannek is the ability to show restaurants television commercials the chain is preparing to promote various items, so that staff will know what customers will have likely just seen.

That said, the system is very new and Fuddruckers is still figuring out how it will be using it. The chain is already decided, though, that there wont be a video for every single menu item.

"We have multiple versions of hamburgers. Those differences get pretty simple," Pannek said. "Unless its a very specialty burger, we wont do it. The goal is that we are going to hit the big categories and get those done. Because its very cool and people are loving it, its going to grow."

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.

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