Julie Castro, Director of Culinary Operations and Operations Services, has been with California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) for over two decades. During that time, the food industry has faced many uncertainties, from a recession to a pandemic, meaning that CPK has had to adapt along the way to meet customer needs.
With over 200 locations in eight different countries, CPK has increasingly utilized technology to improve its operations, from food safety to vendor management to issue tracking. In a panel discussion at Zenput OpsX’22, Castro shared lessons that other operators can learn from as they consider using technology for their own operation.
4 Lessons from CPK on embracing technology for restaurant operations
1. Gain visibility into the work stores are doing
California Pizza Kitchen began using Zenput in April 2020, which marked the start of pandemic-related shutdowns throughout the country and the world. Castro describes that the company uses Zenput to enforce and standardize food safety practices. “Prior to the pandemic, CPK has always been a very checklist-heavy company, and we had very little visibility into if those checklists were being completed and how well those checklists were being completed.” By taking advantage of digital forms, upper levels of management at CPK gained more visibility into the timing and quality of the execution of checklists at the store level.
2. Communicate proactively to avoid issues
Although exiting the pandemic restrictions, the restaurant industry still faces numerous hurdles that were not common just a few years ago. When asked what residual challenges the restaurant industry is still struggling with, Castro says, “If you're not thinking distribution and supply chain, you're not in the restaurant industry. That is probably the biggest residual challenge that we are still facing.” The company uses technology to combat supply-chain disruptions by identifying “challenges or opportunities; “whether it's incorrect items being received, damaged products, or trucks running late, we use different forms and checklists to help us identify those issues.” The ability to quickly identify and communicate when a product is running low or when a shipment is delayed allows the company to be proactive to ensure that they have all the ingredients and products necessary to serve their customers efficiently.
3. Technology allowed CPK to get “back-to-basics”
Another area that California Pizza Kitchen has focused on during this transition is simplifying operations and procedures. “We're utilizing this year as the back-to-basics year and really focusing on training the fundamentals of our brand.” One way they do this is by prioritizing training to ensure that the quality product that CPK is known for is served to every guest. To offer the best product possible, Castro says that the company is leaning on technology to help reinforce standards.
4. Help all stores execute and keep up with innovation
Meanwhile, California Pizza Kitchen aims to find the perfect balance between having knowledgeable employees and trying to roll out new initiatives. “We are innovating. We are bringing new items to the menu, reinvigorating the dining space. There are a lot of new things coming as well. So how you balance getting everybody kind of staffed up and trained up and then also introducing new initiatives in a seamless way is certainly the challenge.” Castro explains that technology plays a vital role in this process by helping give leadership insight into each store as they can see each store’s progress on tasks and checklists.
The restaurant industry is no stranger to unpredictable situations that can force businesses to reevaluate their operations in an instant. By implementing appropriate technology, businesses can become more agile, allowing them to move quickly when outside forces demand. For more on how California Pizza Kitchen, and other top brands, use technology to navigate today’s environment, access all of the Zenput OpsX’22 sessions here.
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