Chick-fil-A will introduce a new service model when it opens its first full-sized restaurant in New York City Saturday.
The “upstream ordering” system consists of servers with tablets taking customer orders while they are in line. Once the order is taken, it is transmitted to the kitchen, along with the customer’s name. The customer then receives a color-coded tag and is sent to the cash register of the same color to pay. The customer then receives a pager that lights up and vibrates when the order is ready to be picked up. All orders are picked up at the same location, regardless of the cash register where the customer paid, similar to Starbucks’ service style.
The system intends to simulate the drive-thru experience at restaurants in urban areas and shopping malls.
Mark Moraitakis, the Atlanta-based chain’s senior director of hospitality and service design, said the system was developed over the course of two years, and was first tested in an urban Chicago location. At that restaurant, the time it took from when an order was placed to when food was delivered was reduced from 10 to 15 minutes to four to six minutes.
Moraitakis said that on the New York City restaurant’s opening day Saturday, he expected to have eight crew members with tablets taking orders, allowing for 100 transactions per hour.
“Our goal is to pressure the kitchen as much as possible,” he said, adding that he knew speed of service would be crucial to New Yorkers.
One of Chick-fil-A’s signature characteristics is its hospitality, but Moraitakis said that didn’t necessarily include making small talk with customers who were in a hurry. Training for the nearly 200 employees at the New York City location included the importance of reading guests and understanding the sort of hospitality they were looking for, he said.
David Farmer, Chick-fil-A vice president of menu strategy and development, said 90 trainers were currently in New York for the opening.
Moraitakis said upstream ordering would likely debut next year at the chain’s approximately 30 other urban restaurants that lack drive-thru windows. It would also likely be introduced in shopping malls with particularly high volumes during the holidays.
Moraitakis added that he expected the chain’s owner-operators to push for its implementation at their locations where appropriate.
Chick-fil-A expects to introduce mobile ordering and payment in March.
There are more than 1,800 Chick-fil-A locations across the country. That includes one limited-menu restaurant on the New York University campus in New York City, that is only open to students, but the restaurant opening Saturday will have the first full Chick-fil-A menu in the city.
It is also the chain’s first three-story restaurant, and its second restaurant with an upstairs dining area, Moraitakis said.
The restaurant, located in New York’s Fashion District, on Sixth Avenue at 37th Street, also has a basement that is being used for squeezing lemons for lemon juice. Moraitakis said it expected to go through 30 cases of lemons a day, instead of most Chick-fil-A restaurants’ eight cases. Salads and biscuits will also be prepared in the basement, and will be transported to the main, ground-floor kitchen via electric dumbwaiter.
The basement will additionally be used for catering, Moraitakis said.
Although Chick-fil-A expects record crowds Saturday, management declined to put a firm number on sales expectations at the new location.
Nation’s Restaurant News’ Top 100 report put estimated sales per unit at Chick-fil-A restaurants at around $3.15 million in the Latest Year.
Chick-fil-A will also introduce a new menu item at the New York City unit, which is also in test at other locations. The Egg White Grill sandwich is made with grilled chicken, egg whites and Cheddar-American cheese on a whole wheat English muffin. It will be served with a side of honey roasted barbecue sauce, and is priced at $4.55.
Chick-fil-A pricing varies by region, and will be at a premium in New York City. For example, its signature chicken sandwich is priced at $4.15 in New York City, compared with $3.19 in its home market of Atlanta.