China Star is a fifteen-year old, mid-size Chinese restaurant in Reston, VA that serves common Chinese dishes. It has a dinning area, and a smaller bar/administrative area that has a back door where customers come to pick up their telephone orders. The restaurant opens seven days a week. But its most profit comes from the $5 range lunch combination during weekdays. Dinner business had slowed down after several years of its opening, especially the dine-in business, the average table that the waiter serves each night is about five. Carryout orders constitute about one half of the restaurant’s total sales.
The restaurant has been carrying its flat revenue for the past decade. With various restaurants opening in the area, and the Chinese food rivals developing in every shopping center offering chicken-fried rice of $4.75, China Star has neither product nor price to compete with. Its customer base has shrunk into office workers and residents within several miles.
The restaurant is in an excellent location surrounded by numerous high-tech companies and rich residents, but has failed to take advantage of both, instead it has let its business fell into the typical “cheap carry-out Chinese food” image. The customers pay no interest in its old, typical Chinese restaurant decoration, feel bored sitting in it to enjoy their formal meal, while they can hang out with co-workers, friends in a lively place with TV and live band just 3 blocks away. They come to China Star for cheap food only, and carryout orders save tips.
But even carryout orders seem to decline recently. During the peak lunch time the telephone order volume is extremely high. Customers often have to be put on hold since there is only one person responsible for taking the orders, send them to the kitchen, and sometimes phone the customer back. The order taker wastes her time on the switch board, answering same questions like daily specials again and again, write down orders, walk to the kitchen and talk to the chef. Sometimes the order taker and the packer make mistakes because they are too busy and the owner can’t afford to hire more people. When there is a mistake, the result is disastrous: customer won’t notice it until he gets home and ready to eat. Then the restaurant has to make new food for him and take back the cold ones. The result is one, sometimes two if the orders are switched, very angry and hungry customers, and food that cannot be resold.
Through reengineering its business process, China Star will
a) Change its image and attract more dinner dine-in customers to boost revenue
b) Improve efficiency and accuracy of lunch carryout service
China Star’s dinner business is very slow. Dinner prices are usually twice as expensive as lunch prices without doubling the cost (the size is a little bit bigger, but in terms of the cost, the difference is probably only one tenth). Customers want to take their time and have a couple of drink while enjoying their formal meal. Drinks are highly profitable. So the high-impact process is developing a dinner service product that attracts the customers, make it a relaxing yet interesting experience at the end of the day:
* Redecorate the restaurant. Use wood and bamboo looking material for the tables and chairs to make it stand out of other Chinese restaurants instantly. To decorate the walls, choose famous ancient Chinese-poem calligraphies and paintings with little explanation cards describing the background of the authors attached, instead of the picture of the Great Wall and flowers.
* Serve expensive, authentic green tea with special teapot and teacups from China. The waiter has to be trained to perform the tea serving in traditional Chinese way.
* Add a “Chinese Wine” section on the wine list with brief description. Serve famous Chinese wine with exotic Chinese wine containers.
* Serve delicious but low cost, small size cold appetizers or Chinese snacks free of charge for every table once the customers arrive.
* Hire a few performer play different Chinese traditional musical instrument. She/he does not need to be good, so it should not be hard to find someone, for there are a lot of Chinese students in this area looking for flexible temporary jobs and some were forced by their parents to learn instruments when they were young. The traditional Chinese music is usually slow and relaxing, can be played mostly during weekdays. Weekends’ performance can vary from Chinese traditional, western classic like violin, to modern rock-n-roll bands.
* Destroy the wall between dining area and the bar/pick up area on the back. Move the bar to the front so that the whole restaurant has an integrated lively atmosphere, and the pick-up customers can be influenced. Also install a TV for the people sitting at the bar.
* Pick a “Happy Hour” time during weekdays and reduce drink price a little bit to attract people working nearby to stop by, hang around with their coworkers, and usually stay and have dinner.
* Add “Chinese Diet” section to the menu (both dinner and lunch) and serve vegetarian Chinese style salad that no other Chinese restaurants in the area is serving.
Because of its low efficiency, it seems like China Star has reached its lunch
service capability. But counting the customers that got impatient being putting on hold and hung up, the no-returning customers because of the mistakes and delay, there is still room to improve lunch sales.
* Construct a website for the restaurant and make the carryout ordering web-enabled. All the owner/manager needs to learn is updating the daily special every day, which is easy. The customer goes to the website, browse the whole menu with descriptions and pictures for each dish and make his decision (so it saves the order-takers’ time to answer questions), entering his order, credit card number, pick up time if does not want the food to be ready right away, and phone/address on the ordering form (after his first order, his phone, address, etc. is saved, next time he can just choose “same”), click “Confirm”, then the order is sent. In the restaurant the two computers, one at the bar, one in the kitchen, print out orders automatically with numbers on it according to the time the order is received.
The advantages of electronic ordering are:
* It saves the order taker’s time to answer questions, now she has time to help the packer, so the packer’s error rate is reduced.
* Since all the electronic orders have the information black& white, mistakes resulted from phone ordering are avoided.
* The chef no longer has to wait until the order taker has time to come into the kitchen to give him the orders, he can see them himself and cook same dishes together, arrange his time well and reduce his workload. The chef would be happy.
Now China Star has transformed into an exotic, interesting, and “stylish” place for people to explore and at the same time fill their stomachs. As mentioned before Reston is a high-income area where people are more into “style” and willing to pay more to have a good time or feel special. That’s why most restaurants in the Reston Town Center are of the higher price range, but all have terrific business.
For those who work in the area, now ordering is much easier. Just go to the book marked website and enter the order, takes only one minute, saves all the waiting and talking time, and best of the all, he doesn’t have to deal with the order taker’s broken English!