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A Whopper of a Wireless Solution

A Whopper of a Wireless Solution

"HAVE IT YOUR WAY" ­ the hallmark of Burger King Corporation ­ sounds like a simple promise. But the ongoing measures that the fast food chain takes to ensure that customers receive what they want ­ just the way they want it ­ are far from simple. An external handheld device is the newest solution.

Over the past year, all 8,000 BURGER KING franchise-owned restaurants and 500 company-owned restaurants across the U.S have installed the new Phase I "HAVE IT YOUR WAY" computer-driven kitchen equipment, designed to serve hotter, fresher, more consistent sandwiches than ever before.

Part of this equipment consists of "holding cabinets" that reside in the kitchen. These sophisticated cabinets hold cooked, unfinished food as it waits to be assembled into sandwiches. Each cabinet has eight slots. Each slot is programmable so that the settings, such as holding times, type of product, cook time, etc., ensure that the various food items held in each slot stay fresh.

Cabinet slots are usually reprogrammed once per month by the restaurant manager or district manager. Cabinet programming is typically done when new items are added to the menu, or when new promotions are expected to generate a change in demand. If cabinets are not programmed properly, food quality and restaurant productivity can suffer.

Each slot can be programmed to handle the food item appropriately by pressing buttons on the front of the cabinet in various sequences. These sequences can be difficult to remember, and take 5­10 minutes per slot to input manually. A restaurant with three cabinets could take up to 30 minutes to program.

When new advertising campaigns hit the airwaves or new products launch, managers in each BURGER KING restaurant must adjust the kitchen operations and equipment quickly and accurately to accommodate changes in food preparation and demand.

This kind of pressure creates stress for any operation, especially when complex processes, sophisticated kitchen equipment, unskilled workers, and fresh-cooked food are involved in every transaction.

Meeting the HAVE IT YOUR WAY challenge under these high-pressure circumstances starts in each BURGER KING kitchen. At Burger King Corporation, each kitchen is viewed as a precision machine with both human and electro-mechanical components. What was needed was a simple, efficient way for the operators to interact with the equipment ­ something easier than manual programming.

In addition to making kitchen cabinet programming more intuitive, the solution had to be portable, since district managers frequently program cabinets at 6­10 different restaurant locations. It also had to be a highly affordable, easy-to-use option for each of Burger King Corporation's franchisees.

Burger King Corporation asked five vendors to present proposals for their new HAVE IT YOUR WAY kitchen. The company was looking for a revolutionary technological kitchen solution that would put all the right sandwich components in the right place at the right time, while offering new products, so that every customer could have a fresh hot sandwich, their way, in less than 2.5 minutes.

One of the vendors that replied to Burger King Corporation's RFP was Long Island-based Integrated Control Corp. (ICC), which designs and manufactures embedded control products and technologies for commercial and industrial applications, and specializes in turnkey systems that enable unskilled workers to control complex processes. Burger King Corporation found that ICC was the only company that could tie its restaurant crew and kitchen equipment together with a sophisticated control system that was simple to understand and operate. In addition, ICC was able to deliver a working prototype within six weeks, while other vendors required six months to a year to get to the same point.

Solution Development
In December 1998, ICC performed a use case study for Burger King Corporation, then designed and built a complete, fully functional prototype kitchen management system that was installed in Miami, Florida, in January 1999.

This system performed well, but represented a large-scale overhaul of kitchen operations. Burger King Corporation decided to introduce the technology in smaller, more cost-effective phases. Phase I included product-holding cabinets and PQTs (Product Quality Timers), but not the scoreboard. These devices now required manual programming, because the scoreboard had been eliminated. With only eight LEDs and eight switches, manual programming became a challenge; a handheld device would be a more efficient solution.

Ideally, ICC CTO Mark Salerno wanted to use off-the-shelf technology in order to save development time and expense for Burger King Corporation. This existing technology had (1) to be reliable and generally accepted in the field; (2) to have open architecture so that ICC could write and implement a custom application for Burger King Corporation; and (3) to offer functionality that would support future phases of Burger King Corporation's kitchen. The Palm handheld met all of these specifications and also proved to be the least costly device.

Once the decision to use Palm handhelds was made, ICC determined that the Palm handheld's IR port could improve the functionality of the HAVE IT YOUR WAY kitchen. ICC then designed IR communication into its new InteMod line of embedded controls, including ovens, broilers, and the company's new "Kitchen Minder."

The Kitchen Minder is a simple control system that communicates between restaurant managers, cooks, and food assemblers. The Palm handheld allows sales data, product mix, and product placement to be easily entered into the handheld and then transferred to the Kitchen Minder using IR (infrared) communications. ICC's kitchen control systems take full advantage of Palm's simple offline programmability, reliability, graphical capabilities, and adaptability with regard to serial and infrared communication, Web downloads, and desktop compatibility. They also offer additional functionality that might become useful in Burger King Corporation's technologically evolutionary business environment.

To program the product-holding cabinets with the Palm, ICC engineers developed a custom Palm application that graphically represents the warmer setups used in the BURGER KING kitchen. A single screen graphically represents all eight bins in a holding cabinet, along with all the bin settings. Communication between the Palm handheld and the Product Quality Timers (PQT) for each cabinet is accomplished by serial ports in Phase I Kitchens, because older PQTs do not have IR ports.

Burger King Corporation's new Flexibroilers, to be installed in Phase II Kitchens, already incorporate ICC controls with built-in IR communication. These broilers can be reprogrammed and their recipes updated via IR with the ICC application on the Palm handheld. All components of the fully implemented kitchen management system will have IR communication functionality.

How the Application Works
ICC's Palm handheld application has cut local cabinet programming time down to 4­5 seconds, making what was once a tedious and somewhat difficult 30-minute process of programming easy to do. Managers simply use an application loaded by ICC on their Palm m100 handheld to enter new slot settings for each cabinet and then download these settings to the cabinet. The program requires users to select from only two buttons: "Paste" and "Send." The graphic on the handheld represents the food- holding cabinet, allowing the user to simply write the settings in each cabinet bin and download those settings to the cabinet.

With its easy user interface, the Palm handheld application ensures that the settings are more likely to be done consistently and correctly. When Burger King Corporation adds a new promotion or new products to its menu, settings can be e-mailed to managers, who can then load them into their Palm and download them to the cabinet without writing or rewriting them.

For the kitchens of the more than 8,500 BURGER KING restaurants across the U.S., the latest handheld Palm technology is now available to help deliver the freshest, most consistent products to customers. District managers, who typically cover 6­10 restaurants, can load and store cabinet settings for all of their restaurants on their handheld, and can visit each restaurant to change the cabinets as needed.

Currently all 500 company-owned BURGER KING restaurants are using Palm m100 handhelds to program their product-holding cabinets. That amounts to approximately 50 handhelds in use to program cabinets at the company-owned restaurants. BURGER KING franchisees who are installing the new ICC-programmable kitchen cabinets can program the cabinet manually, or choose to purchase the Palm handheld application from ICC. Currently ICC has deployed the application, primarily on m100 handhelds, to more than 750 franchisees.

Key Benefits
Burger King Corporation's Palm handheld application simplifies the human interface with kitchen equipment, making it easier for restaurant managers and crew to set kitchen equipment properly. The Palm solution saves time for managers who can program three cabinets in 4­5 seconds with the Palm handheld, versus 30 minutes manually. The Palm handheld allows for more consistency of final product due to proper equipment settings. Because programming can be done off-site, cabinet settings may be updated without any measurable kitchen downtime. The Palm hardware and application is a low-cost solution that any restaurant manager can afford. Palm handheld kits, including both hardware and software, can be purchased directly from ICC.

In the Future
Burger King Corporation is continuously working to make better, more consistent, and fresher products for its customers in a technologically evolutionary manner. The cabinet application was so successful that Phase II Kitchens will incorporate new Flexi-broilers with ICC controls and a Palm-powered application ­ all with IR functionality.

Burger King Corporation's flexible new multichain broilers can broil any kind of food based on the setting indicated; for example, the type of meat, the time, temperature, variation speed, etc. This kind of control allows complex cooking instructions to be accurately coordinated across multiple chains, and instantly communicated to the broiler via its IR port. Ultimately, Burger King Corporation hopes to create an online kitchen where its point-of-sale systems are integrated with its kitchen equipment.

More Stories By John R. Reckert

John R. Reckert is vice president, strategic
operations, research and development, Burger King Corporation. John is
responsible for transformation projects that involve the HAVE IT YOUR WAY
kitchen, the flexible broiler, and the drive-thru 2000 program. A graduate
of the University of Connecticut with a degree in economics, he has over 19
years of experience in both field operations and R&D.

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