Most onsite dining operations run into these types of situations from time to time: a sudden rush of customers that overwhelms the station staff, or a customer complaint that needs a manager who isn’t around at the moment, or a key ingredient runs out and needs to be replenished quickly or…you get the idea.
Usually, such situations require someone to leave the station where the crisis occurs to get help, which just leaves the station further undermanned (or even unmanned).
Fresh Ideas Food Service Management, an FM Top 50 contract management company based in Columbia, Mo., has found a simple, tech-based solution to these emergency situations, a kind of “panic button” called the F.A.N. (Fresh Assistance Now) Button that sits behind the counter at each serving station. Pushing the button sends a text message to the onsite management team, who then can come (or send someone) to the station to see what the problem is and take steps to resolve it without disrupting ongoing activities.
“We had a team member [Jessica Burns] at the deli counter at one of accounts tell our [Chief Technology Officer] Bob Love that whenever she’s out of something, she needs to leave the station and her customers to go back in the kitchen, so is there some way to get help without leaving customers,” explains Kris Lensmeyer, chief innovation & experience officer for Fresh Ideas. “Bob thought about it and came up with the concept of the F.A.N. Button.”
The button is a wireless Internet of Things (IoT) device that can alert a designated manager instantly and pinpoint the location where the issue originates (though not what it is). Once a manager has responded to a F.A.N. text, he or she double-clicks on the button to verify that the call has been addressed.
The F.A.N. Button units are generally in a conveniently reached place behind the counter generally out of sight of customers, where they can only be accessed by dining personnel, though at one location, they are also located by self-service order kiosks so that customers can use them to summon assistance if required.
The individual or individuals to whom the texts are sent can be customized to each location. It also allows managers and even those above them to monitor how quickly issues are resolved because they can also get the alert and follow-up signals, Lensmeyer notes. “It helps directors even when they’re not there make sure that customer service remains at the level it needs to be.”
The F.A.N. Button debuted last fall as a pilot program at Maryville University in St. Louis and has recently be deployed at several other units where Fresh Ideas operates.
“We’ve had tremendous feedback from our team members there because it has taken stress off them if they need something and they’re not quite sure how to get it, or they don’t want to leave the customers,” Lensmeyer says.
Having the buttons has increased the time staff spend with customers and decreased the response time needed to address problems and answer customer questions, she adds.
“The other cool thing we’ve done with it is to make it a campuswide solution for our college and university partners, so we’ve made it available to them as a value-add that isn’t just used for dining.”
For example, F.A.N. Buttons could be set next to printers around campus so customers can alert staff if a unit isn’t functioning or needs paper or toner. That would eliminate the need to position labor near machines on the off chance they are needed to trouble-shoot possible problems.
“We’re a company that wants to be more engaged in our customers’ success in than in just dining,” Lensmeyer offers. “We want to provide solutions that can be value-added outside of the dining programs.”