Server and counter service stations are much more than storage areas
Server stations are places where front of house staff does everything from refill beverages to box up leftover pizza to close out customer checks. In fast-casual concepts, the counter service stations are self-serve areas where guests get their own sodas, load up on paper napkins, and help themselves to some red pepper flakes.
These are small spaces, and they can help operations run smoothly. Before designing a station, consider how it will be used. “What is its function, what is its intent,” says Wes Pikula, chief brand officer for Detroit-based Buddy’s Pizza, which has 15 locations. “The goal is to get something that’s going to help the staff serve guests.”
Get input from top servers about what they need in a station. They know what the PAR (periodic automatic replenishment) levels are for plateware, silverware and other items. “If you need 100 glasses, you have to design it to hold 100 glasses,” Pikula says.
Don’t overlook the amount of counter space. Pikula points out that with a soda machine, point of sale system, plates, napkins and condiments, servers need enough counter space to sit down a tray while refilling a glass or picking up a bottle of hot sauce. The counter should be a cleanable surface and should not be so deep that the person cannot reach the shelves above. Also, the station has to be easy for staff to enter and exit, and large enough so more than one person can use it.
Consider building more than one server station. That saves time because a server doesn’t have to walk across the floor to grab an extra napkin, and also it helps when one station is full because staff are using it.
Fong’s Pizza in the Des Moines, Iowa area has several server stations in each of its four restaurants. The primary stations are in close proximity to the bar, so servers can pick up items from the bar, including slices, tiki drinks or other bar beverages. “We also have smaller server stations located in the dining areas for ease in providing guests with plates, napkins and silverware, as well as an additional point of sale for ordering items and printing checks,” says Gwen Page, managing partner.
Several workers contribute to the stations’ upkeep. “It is the responsibility of our serving and host team members, along with management to make sure these areas are stocked, cleaned and kept organized,” Page says.
Maintaining the station is especially important in counter service pizzerias, where guests use the areas. “What the guest sees is what influences their perception of the pizzeria,” says Jordan Wallace, culinary director for Pizzeria Locale, with two locations in Denver. “So, if tables have crumbs, floors have trash or in this case the self-serve beverage and condiment station has spills and dirty condiment bottles that is what the guest will use to decide whether or not the pizzeria is clean and ultimately if they trust the pizzeria is cooking and serving food that is safe to eat.”
It’s everyone’s responsibility to clean the beverage station, and the food runner keeps an eye on the area. “Every time the food runner brings food out to the dining room and then walks back to the kitchen, they are scanning what areas need attention,” Wallace says. “This path always leads the food runner directly past the beverage station.”
Keep a checklist of all the items that need to be set out. “For example, 32 forks, 32 knives all clean and ready to go, and x number racks of glassware,” says Christopher Quirk, chef and member of the culinary faculty at Kendall College in Chicago. “Convenience for service staff and for the customer is probably the most important thing.”
Quirk, who also runs the quick service concept at the culinary school, says quick serve customers are often in a hurry, so they expect to find everything they need immediately. Speed is important in full service restaurants too, as every search for a grated cheese packet or a straw adds a minute or two to the transaction, which creates a ripple effect. “It starts piling up and the whole system goes down in flames,” Quirk says. “Customers will say, ‘How come I’ve been sitting here for 45 minutes? I need a lid so I can get back in the car.’ All of those things mean lost revenue because people are not going to be repeat customers.”
Don’t let the server station become a place for workers to hide. At Zeeks Pizza, with 17 locations in the Seattle area, the stations are designed to keep the service crew on the floor and close to the customers. “We want our stations close to the action, not tucked away in some corner,” says Dan Black, president. “We want them to be as efficient as possible for getting work done, but also be visually appealing to the customer.”
The stations’ countertops have blinds, or 18-inch walls, that hide the point of sale system and wires. “We care about aesthetics,” Black says. “We want people to be more focused on the food, the people they’re there with, the music. When there is a bunch of clutter and just stuff that isn’t awesome it detracts from the experience.”
The blind is short enough that servers are visible in the dining room. “If they are there ringing in an order or getting more tableware or glassware, they can do it without losing sight of tables and customers,” Black says. “Our whole mantra is to keep servers where the action is.”
For some, a percentage of the action has moved to takeout and delivery, and that changes what’s in the server stations. “We didn’t realize how much takeout business we would have,” says Bill Oechslin, general manager of Ciao! in Ithaca, N.Y. “Now it’s 15 percent of our daily business.” The eatery built high shelves to hold empty pizza boxes, and plastic bags hang from hangers in the server stations.
The restaurant seats 140 and has five server stations, and staff have to be very careful about what is stored in the areas. “You always find things to put into the space you have,” Oechslin says. “Make sure you keep them organized.”
Nora Caley is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.