Confectionery and café chain Thorntons says it has come up with a better way of serving customers hot snacks, such as toasties and paninis, avoiding them standing around waiting or sending staff to find them when the snacks are ready.

The company has been trialling a CustomerCall pager system from CST (Call Systems Technology) in its Hatfield Galleria café. The principle is simple: customers ordering a panini, toastie or other hot snack are given a pager and can go and find a seat in the café or carry on browsing in the shop. When the hot food is ready, staff send a message and the pager alerts the customer to come and pick up the food.

Out with the old

Although best-known for its confectionery, Thorntons now has 30 coffee shops in the UK. The menu is made up of handmade cakes, sandwiches and hot snacks.

“We knew we had to change the way we handled hot snacks,” says Thorntons’ operations manager Lee Francis. “The logistics of getting them to the customer hot just wasn’t working, especially in our bigger outlets. The old ways were unprofessional, time-wasting and often ended up with staff or customers in a dither – and the food cold.”

According to Thorntons, the system is improving food quality, enhancing the customer experience and reducing the need for extra staffing at peak times. Says Francis: “Staff don’t have to worry about getting the food to the customer; the customer comes to the food. Customers know they’ll get their food quickly and piping hot. And the managers love it because it saves staff time. Efficiency-wise, it’s 10 times better than anything we tried before.”

Thorntons’ Galleria manager Raj Thakker agrees: “We can seat 105 here, directly inside the shop and outside, but on our busiest days, such as Mother’s Day or Easter, we can be serving 300-400 in an hour. And our paninis and toasties are some of the most popular items in the Hatfield Galleria, so it’s essential we serve them efficiently or we could lose business.

“We originally tried calling the orders but that’s confusing and distracting, because every customer hears it and has to work out if it’s their order or not. We tried giving out numbered wooden spoons, but my staff hated wandering around trying to locate the right customer, and customers would put the spoon flat on the table, so we couldn’t see where they were anyway. So this new system is working wonderfully.”

Opportunity for promotion

The CST CustomerCall system is easy to operate, inexpensive and, since it’s wireless, easy to install, says the company. The pagers also have a promotions window to carry advertisements – for example for Thorntons confectionery. Convinced by the advantages of the system, Francis says: “We’re now hoping to roll it out into all outlets with over 50 covers.”

Thorntons’ coffee shops turn over £9m a year. A new site is to open in Livingston, Scotland and third parties are talking to the company about Thorntons running their coffee operations.