Friday, October 26, 2007

Pei-Wei is genius!

Guest post from a friend of Food and Fort Worth: food critic and gourmand, Andrew. He is a teacher in San Antonio, Texas
are annoying. They either insert themselves far too often, interrupting the natural flow of conversation with inane questions and ‘upsells’, or they are totally absent leaving the table messy and the drinks empty. Rarely, if ever, does a waiter strike the right balance.

It is often hard for me to understand why waiters are necessary at all. The only thing they do that I can’t is type in the order on the computer. Everything else I can do. Fill up drinks at a fountain? Check. Grab napkins? Check. Put my food in a to-go bag? Check. I can think of plenty of reasons why I don’t need them: they might spit in my food, they might not wash their hands, they might not ever fill my tea up, they might mess up my order, and they might forget to put my order in and then tell me twenty minutes later that they are ‘in the weeds’.

The annoyed consumer, however, has generally had to suffer through them if he wanted a convenient meal above the quality of Taco Bell. Some restaurant groups have picked up on the market opportunity and have started the hybrid “fast-casual” concept. One of my favorites among these “fast casual” restaurants is Pei-Wei. Pei-Wei has perfected the fast-casual scheme. I’ll run down the list of why I think they run this scheme so well.

  1. The no-waiter scheme means they never have more than 12-14 people working during a shift. Most typical casual restaurants have probably 30-40 for any given shift. This means that Pei-Wei can hire the best people that apply and not just whoever walks in the door. It also means less overhead, less liability, and less chance that things will get screwed up.
  2. They don’t need “waiter space” and so can have more room for tables. They are able to be in smaller spaces than most casual restaurants, reducing the cost of rent.
  3. They have 2 people on a shift who are wholly dedicated to food-running. There is no food languishing under hot lamps at Pei-Wei. I’ve never received a cold dish. The food-runner scheme also prevents a gridlock of people at the front of the restaurant grabbing their own food.
  4. The atmosphere is welcoming and comfortable unlike most fast-food restaurants.
  5. The food is very good. All the rest would be useless if the food stank but Pei-Wei actually has really good food. It’s not gourmet but it is simple and tasty.
  6. They seem to pass the savings on. A big plate of Pad Thai is only 6 bucks.That’s only a dollar more than a typical visit to McD’s but significantly cheaper than Chili's.

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