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In the Business of (un)Predictability

Posted in From the Owners

A couple of weeks back, we finally went out of town for a few days with the family to make up for a cancelled Spring Break trip – and have some post-COVID-chaos reflection. For better or worse, we returned home just in time to help transition Blackberry into Phase IV. 

Between an unprecedented Father’s Day surge (both “Thank you!” and “We’re sorry!”) and the re-opening of inside seating, we almost hit a breaking point with our current system. More specifically, our wait times and projected times reached some of the highest they have ever been, particularly on Father’s Day. (Side note: our average wait times are still 5-8 minutes, so no need to be worried!) We have been both embarrassed and frustrated that some of our customers were receiving the short end of a system that has not been working with current circumstances. What “system” you ask? 

MICRO PREDICTIONS

In short, the hospitality industry relies heavily on forecasting and predictive outcomes. And while this is true for most businesses, the majority tend to focus on “macro-level” predictions (i.e. anticipating $X amount of sales over a quarter, etc…). Conversely, restaurants rely heavily on “micro-data.” We pull history, experience, and “gut” together to estimate how much traffic we will experience on a Tuesday versus a Thursday, or what we should expect between the hours of 10am and 11am as opposed to 3pm and 4pm. 

But why do we rely on such a particular approach? The food business has a very narrow profit margin and the only way to succeed is to dynamically adapt operations. We need to ebb and flow with demand – not by the month or week or day, but by the hour. The number of staff scheduled and the amount of food on hand (or prepped) is all determined by these predictive-esque models. Too much food, you’ve got waste. Too little food, unhappy customers. Too many people staffed, you’ve lost money. Too few, an unhappy (and exhausted) team. A change in the weather forecast? Too late… you’re either already standing around or you are calling for backup!

HIGH SCHOOL MATH

Enter COVID Phase Whatever. (And enter those annoying high school math problems.)

We’ve gone from 90% of your orders in-store, to now 90% taking place online. Our POS system (the most advanced one in the fast-casual industry by the way) is able to take the online orders, but at only 1 designated turnaround time (15, 20 or 30 minutes, or whatever we want it to be). 

But say you unexpectedly receive 15 online orders within a 10 minute window and 5 additional in-store orders during the same period of time. We now have 15 orders of various sizes that come through, with communication to the customer saying “your order will be ready at X time” – but all 15 orders are told the same time. This happens via an online receipt or via an “unspoken anticipated time” (typically 5-7 minutes) for anyone in-store. 

To complicate matters further… Due to the fact that we want our food served fresh, even when an order is placed with an hour lead time, the order won’t “fire” to our prep station until 15 minutes before pickup. Again, although we are avoiding cold food or melted beverages, these orders aren’t necessarily given priority because they are entering our system as if someone placed it 15 minutes early. I know, blah blah blah…. 

This is all a terribly long way of saying that the last few months have brought upon a world of unpredictability midst systems built on predictability. 

So, what’s the solution?

I’m glad you asked!

Step One: Believe there is a better way and go find it. (Problem Solving 101)

Step Two: Ask our loyal customer base to continue and support, provide useful feedback, and hopefully have the patience and understanding to work through it with us!

Step Three: Analyze existing data and feedback and develop a solution.*

Step Four: Implement and say thanks!

*We have already hired a developer that has been developing various COVID-proof adjunct systems to work with our existing POS and are beginning to make steps to solve this obstacle as well!

This is all probably more information than you wanted, but again, we wanted this series to be honest regarding what is currently occurring “via an owner’s perspective.” For the other restaurant owners out there, we feel you. For the other small business owners, we applaud your commitment to consistent problem-solving. And for all of our customers out there, thank you… thank you… Thank you! 

Are you willing to provide some feedback?

Take our quick customer COVID feedback survey here.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or feedback!
bob @ blackberry.cafe | anna @ blackberry.cafe

This series is written and maintained by Bob Davidson, who is the co-owner of Blackberry Market. His wife, Anna Davidson, is the other half and the “true boss” and primary operator. Bob’s prior occupation was a Creative Producer at a branding and strategic communications agency (responsible for Blackberry’s brand). As you may guess, Bob now oversees most of the writing, branding, and communication needs at Blackberry. 


 

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