Ticket Time Management
A restaurant’s ticket times and speed of service are the heartbeat of that restaurant. Every time I walk on the line as I go from store to store, my first question to the person running the line is: “where are we at?” They immediately know I mean, where are we on ticket times? How long is it taking pizzas to get into the oven? And what is our average time of stabbing the ticket? Ticket times determine your ability to get another round of service in a night. Ticket times also determine someone’s likelihood to return to your restaurant. The American consumer is never mad about food delivered quickly. Sure, at some high-end restaurants, the customer might want a slower dining experience. But by and large, America loves speed.
If you’ve been to Italy or anywhere in France, you know that fast ticket times can be interpreted as rude. In America, speed means selling more pizzas and more return visits. Compare the fast-food drive-through in your town that never has a line with the one that’s always packed. Their dead restaurant isn’t because of the food quality compared to the busy drive-through. It’s because that drive-through line takes too long. In turn, the slow fast-food restaurant with no line is still less preferable to a drive-through with five to 10 cars. The busy restaurant has established itself as churning out a dependable, timely product. As an independent pizzeria, we need to capture that efficiency and do it with craft, experience-driven items. The attention span of a consumer has found a way to shrink even more in the last 10 years. Quicker execution with a robust experience is at the forefront of a successful pizzeria.
To get great ticket times, establish your baseline. What is the fastest possible amount of time your best employee can make your easiest, most basic pizza? That tells you the ideal of your easiest item. Then take a brand-new employee fresh out of training and find their average speed of your hardest and largest pizza. That’ll show you the best and worst variance of speeds per pizza in your shop. Now, look at your average ticket times on slow rush nights and busy rush nights. Have someone clock and note when pizzas leave the expo station compared to when they were ordered. This will help you determine your average with facts. From that baseline knowledge, you can then create progress.
I want to know the absolute best ticket time, the acceptable average ticket time and the cut-off ticket time. The cut off ticket time is where one minute before that mark is barely acceptable, and anything past that time requires management attention.
For my restaurant, Andolini’s Pizzeria, seven minutes for an appetizer, 15 minutes for an entree or pizza are my ideal standards. I will accept up to 10 minutes on an appetizer or 25 minutes on a pizza. Anything later than that and a manager needs to speak to the customer and inform them of the situation. From there, the manager will determine if a free appetizer or dessert is necessary or, potentially, more.
To-go orders are a little trickier because sometimes, predetermined third-party apps will say when an order should be ready. Sometimes that’s not the case, and you’re held accountable to that time. As you become more aware of your averages, load them into these platforms and make whatever delivery or online ordering platform you use aware of your average. Estimate it to be longer so you under promise and over deliver in terms of ticket times.
To create faster ticket times, there are several things a skilled operator will enact. No. 1 is a well-trained staff that is capable of more than one role. A well-trained staff will always know the most important thing to do at any given moment and not waste time on superfluous tasks. A crew might be filled with incredible pizza makers, but if they don’t know how to do prep in the midday and find the need to do it during a rush, you don’t have them as a pizza maker. Instead, you have a glorified prep worker killing your ticket times. All prep has to be done outside of the rush. If you ever find you or any member of your crew doing prep in a rush time, you have colossally failed.
Next is the cross-utilization of product and a flow to your makeline that supports your menu. If your staff is running to the walk-in to get ingredients that are rarely used 20 times throughout the night, you’re failing. Slower times will affect your return rate and your sales for that evening. Slower times even affect the ability to make more money on that single table. If a customer has sat for upwards of an hour and they’re just finishing their pizza, they’re less inclined to stick around for another drink or dessert.
Curbside and delivery are more important now than ever in the wake of COVID-19. Executing swiftly will ensure people want to purchase from you when they choose your restaurant as their impulse decision of the night. “Let’s just get pizza” cannot turn into a two-hour ordeal.
For dine-in customers, servers can help with the speed of service as well. When a server takes multiple table orders before putting them into your POS, the start time for your kitchen is delayed even though the customer’s clock has already started. I have it as written rule that servers must go directly from the table to the POS station after getting that table’s order. No food running, checking on another table or worse, taking another table’s order. It’s right to the POS. If they have a huge table, I have multiple servers at the table so that way, the order gets put in quicker. Additionally, handheld POS systems are becoming more and more prevalent. These get the kitchen the order immediately after the last person at the table is done giving their order. This technology saves 15-90 seconds per person at the table. I believe handheld POS’s will become the norm over the next five years.
Another technology uptick is kitchen display systems or a KDS. Whether you have them on your makeline and your expo station or just your expo station, they enhance speed. I like them at the expo station because when the expediter taps that a table is complete or a to-go order is done, it logs that time. KDS allows you to see the average ticket time from a factual metric. A KDS report lets you compare times over days, weeks and years. KDS also allows you to know which team is the quickest and most efficient. That will enable you to incentivize the staff for speed from a reliable, unbiased source. They also cut down on lost tickets and paper costs. These measures translate into increased revenue—the new revenue resulting from happier customers and a more functional restaurant.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @andopizza