Considering A KDS (Kitchen Display System)

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QUESTION FROM: Michael in PA

“I’m renovating a restaurant including a total full kitchen gut and renovation for a tenant and was thinking about adding a ‘KDS / bump system’ since they’ve been saying one of these systems would add some efficiency and ‘improve ticket times’. Think they’re worth it? Are there any that you recommend?”

HH ANSWER:

Although most owners, operators and chefs will tell you that KDS systems are expensive; most will admit that they increase speed of service, reduce mistakes/refires, lower training costs and lower sound/stress on the line…which means greater profitability for everyone involved in the deal…especially if there’s a percentage rent component to this deal.

There are a couple schools of thought when it comes to Kitchen Display Systems (KDS or “bump systems”) On one hand you have people who believe that going from paper tickets to digital tickets is too much of an core change to ask of old school line cooks and have tried going through the re-learning process only to end up frustrated and going back to their comfort zone. But that’s more of a mentality and management issue if you ask me.

There is another school of thought that recognizes the benefits and is undeterred to re-program their staff but hate the idea of “another thing on the line that needs to be managed or protected.

One chef I consulted with on KDS systems said: “They’re a pain in the ass! You’ve got wires running everywhere and then screens that don’t register a touch when they’re supposed to register a touch and if we were on paper tickets, my guys could keep on going but now it’s like someones throwing those f#@kin’ chains with tire spikes across the road everytime we get slammed.”

While it’s true that you want to avoid heat, oil and dirt/etc.. (even IF those screens have “protective covers”) you can only wrap (and re-wrap) a screen in plastic wrap so many times…and at approx $1k/screen you WILL be wrapping them - otherwise that protective finish won’t last very long.

Go over the plans and expectations with your Tenant. If you they have designed/requested a tight line with a heated pass, this may not be a feasible option for them at all. I understand that keeping those screens and hardware away from heat can sometime be impossible…but as someone who is re-designing the entire kitchen, that might not be a factor for you…IF the designer knows you’ll be needing some wires hidden and enough distance / height for that equipment….notice I said equipment instead of just saying “screens”. That’s because the mini drives / hardware needs to be positioned as far away fro heat sources as possible.

I believe most: NCR, Micros, Future, Revention and other suppliers have the actual “physical” bump bars that can be used in lieu of the touch screens but think most on the line would appreciate the clutter-free and modern style of touch screens.

You might be thinking that the hardware won’t be a factor since wireless options are available but let me tell you…although I don’t have any direct experience with these systems, more than a few folks I have spoken with, that have used bump systems, recall some degree of difficulty in getting them up and running not just because of the re-training required, but also because of the fact that although they all claim to be wifi/Bluetooth capable, they don’t always hold the connection…so I’d consider having chit pads to fall back on or go the hardwiring route.

If you’re line is deep enough and you have locations identified for screens and hardware, there are quite a few operators and chefs (mind you most are corp exec chefs and/or multi unit operators) that really REALLY see the benefits in the efficiency these systems bring…

“…it future-proofed our restaurants and was worth every penny!”

…and it now seems that the learning curve is gradually shortening as more and more chefs graduate from culinary school or step up and out from fast food / fast casual with experience working on these systems.

This is a conversation you really need to include your tenant in and their chef / kitchen team as the last thing you want to do is invest in a system that goes underutilized…or not utilized at all….but I will say that, considering most new Tenants won’t be your last Tenants, investing in the equip and real estate may just make your property edge out over another that is similarly positioned as lots of folks like this stuff …including me.

KDS systems are no longer known simply fast food equipment. In fact they’re used in every kind of commercial kitchen from fast food chains like Burger Bar, Shake Shack and tastybar to airport kitchens like OTG, fast casual concepts like Honeygrow, corp chains like Lettuce Entertain You and multi-concept full service independent groups in every city.

While the big players in the game are: NCR/Aloha, Toast, Future, Oracle/Micros, CSK (w/ up to 65 screens), etc… even Square is in on the KDS option with FreshKDS which offers up to 10 screens - not bad for that little guy). If you’ve decided that this is the right course for you and your restaurant, I would first check to see which systems integrate with your existing POS - as your hands might be tied to some extent on this one.

Additionally, I will give you the same advice I give folks when it comes to POS systems - the best choice is the one that is not only easiest to use and has most robust functionality …but the one where customer service is most responsive and (if possible) physically close by.

Shop around and plan to meet with at least 3 reps to walk you through set-up, operation and service. Considering the size of their sales / support force, I would look into Aloha or Toast first (unless you’re a nightclub, high volume mega bar)… especially Toast since it looks like their cloudbased system, open API and suite of plug-ins like specific BOH station efficiency reporting, guest notification and online ordering look like more and more of a transitional dream come true for almost any operator.

Also consider making room for duplicate screens on the back of the line (shoot the temps during peak service before asking the reps) facing the pass so that FOH staff can get an idea of times at a glance without unnecessarily interfering with expo.

Here’s a recent article that provides some reviews on the more popular systems: Click Here

Hope that answers some of your questions and helps get you started…

Keep in touch,

Josh Sapienza