What I Learned About Food Service from Dairy Queen

Published at: 03/23/2017
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We talked to a former manager at a Dairy Queen who started as a crew member before moving up to shift supervisor, then to manager/cake decorator. In her first 3 months as a manager, the fan in the walk-in cooler stopped working…one hour before the store opened.

The most important thing I learned about working at Dairy Queen was the team mentality. You’re in it together or you don’t win. You’re taught about the importance of the people around you – the cashier who’s handling the customer interaction, the runner who’s preparing and delivering the food, and the manager who’s helping wherever it gets too busy. If that team dynamic doesn’t work, you don’t succeed.

That team dynamic was put to the test in my first 3 months as a manager when the fan in the walk-in cooler stopped working…one hour before the store opened. That morning, I noticed that the fan wasn’t running. I didn’t know how long it hadn’t been running. It may have been off all night. You may have experienced this type of event at your store. If you haven’t, let me tell you what’s it’s like.

eBook - Best Practices

Our store has a walk-in cooler where approximately two-thirds of the food inventory is stored. The cooler is the size of a small living room. In the cooler, along one wall, there’s candy in plastic bags. Along another wall, you may have 4 machines that are pulling ice cream from 5-gallon containers which hold the liquid before it’s churned into ice cream at your storefront. Most of the storage area contains 5-gallon tubs of mix in cardboard boxes along another wall of the cooler. These cardboard boxes are stacked 5 boxes high and over 8 rows across. There may be 45 cases of mix in that cooler.

The night before, an employee had left open one of the nozzles for cleaning. So, the change in temperature and the open valve caused about 20 gallons of mix to be dropped onto the storefront floor.

If the temperature of the mix that’s remaining in the cooler has risen too far above 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the mix must be thrown out. Each of those 5-gallon tubs of mix could cost $35. Almost $1,500 of inventory would need to be thrown out if the temperature went significantly above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The candy isn’t temperature-sensitive, but when the temperature rises in the cooler, the moisture increases. So, depending on the type of candy, what may have been separate candy pieces in a plastic bag is now a solid and sticky mess.

Your core group of customers who come in every day expect you to open on time. You don’t want to lose these regular customers. So, you need to clean up the mess before you open. You’ve got one hour. The clock is ticking. You need to call in extra help. You may not have much food available because you had to throw out a significant amount of inventory.

At that moment, you may feel just as I did. My job is at risk depending on how I handle this situation.

I’m trying to figure out:

  • What must be thrown out?
  • What do I still have left?
  • What are things on the menu that I can still serve?
  • What is up front from last night and how long will that food hold us over?

While I’m figuring that out, I’m also trying to:

  • clean up the mess, including disinfecting the floors and shining the stainless steel equipment
  • move things (that can be moved) to the freezer
  • work around the items that are now stuffed in the freezer and putting strain on the freezer unit
  • call the owner to let him know what’s happened and how much we’ve lost or saved

With almost all the employees running around and handling the fallout from the broken fan, I only have one person out front to handle customer service – not optimal. Plus, on that one day, I had to throw out thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory.

eBook - Best Practices

How could that day have been different for me as a manager?

If I had vx Observe, the software would have noticed that the fan motor in the walk-in cooler had been overworking. If we had vx Maintain there could have been a work order already placed with our preferred contractor before I opened the store. The software could have caught this problem before the fan stopped working. By the time I came in that morning, a work order would have been sent already. Then, all I would have to do is keep the door to the walk-in cooler closed until the contractor arrived to fix it. The ambient temperature had to remain between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Whatever items were available in the front of the store and prepped, we could have used to serve our customers that day.

That’s how I would have used vx Observe and vx Maintain. Because then I would have remote monitoring to avoid the breakdowns, work order management to reduce or eliminate critical food loss, and contractor management to have a record of everything that happened.

Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) owners have good reasons to worry about:

  • high-value equipment
  • issues with contractors
  • restrictions based on corporate guidelines
  • the next problem (including the money to solve that problem).

QSR owners are different from someone who might run a convenience store or a grocery store. Of course, most of these roles work with food in some way. But QSR owners are more “on edge”. It’s because of what happens in their industry and what can happen in their stores on any one day.