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Case Studies

Blue C Sushi Tracks Food Quality and Orders with RFID Technology

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Blue C SushiSushi has become a trendy staple in the American diet. Created to bring its customers an innovative, unique sushi experience, James Allard and Steve Rosen co-founded Blue C Sushi, a Seattle-based restaurant chain invented on the concept of kaiten sushi.

At kaiten sushi restaurants, customers are presented with an array of sushi and Japanese-inspired cuisine, circulated throughout the restaurant on a conveyor belt. Blue C Sushi customers select their dishes from color-coded plates on the belt. The bill is then calculated based on the color of the plate which indicates the price of the item.

At Blue C Sushi, monitoring the quality of its products, which includes raw seafood, is imperative for business success. When opening its first restaurant in 2003, a bar code system was implemented to allow the staff to monitor how long a particular plate was on the belt to ensure freshness and quality for its patrons and to meet health regulations.

While the bar code system was effective in monitoring for freshness, it could not provide important details including what time the plate was taken off the belt, what item was served on the plate or how many plates of a specific item were sold. The only function the bar code system served was to alert the staff when a plate had been on the belt for more than 90 minutes, the maximum amount of time any item could spend rotating.

“It was clear that we needed to upgrade our technology to acquire the actionable data we need to serve our customers in the most effective way,” Allard said. “At Blue C Sushi, our goal is to deliver exceptional value and benefits to our customers, not just monitor how long a plate has been on our conveyer belt.”

RFID in an Atypical Setting

Since opening the first Blue C Sushi restaurant, Allard had aspirations of implementing an RFID (radio frequency identification) system. Unfortunately, at the time it was costly and typically only found in large organizations with complex logistical needs. However, by 2006, RFID technology advanced rapidly, resulting in a dramatic price decrease, making RFID a possibility for smaller businesses like Blue C Sushi.

Blue C Sushi turned to Intermec, Microsoft and Kikata, a local technology integrator, to implement a total RFID solution. The solution consists of Intermec RFID readers and antennas, Microsoft’s BizTalk RFID device management and event processing platform and Kikata’s Ebisu Live Inventory Management software. The solution enables Blue C Sushi to now track food as it moves from kitchen to customer.

The system uses Intermec IF5 Fixed Readers in conjunction with customized Intermec RFID antennas that are placed into the chefs’ cutting boards and integrated into the conveyor to read information from the passing RFID tags. The IF5 Fixed Readers are placed strategically to pick up signals from plates in the specific area to avoid false or duplicate readings. Intermec worked with 3M to create the tags that adhere firmly to the bottom of the plates which can withstand restaurant wear and tear, including hot dishwashing cycles with harsh detergents.

In addition, the Microsoft BizTalk-based Kikata solution keeps the chefs better informed as to what is on the conveyor belt, what needs to be made and what are the inventory levels. The system also automates the billing process to ensure more accurate checks, thus improving customer satisfaction.

“We now have the innovative technology we need to provide our customers with an effective, one-of-a-kind dining experience,” Allard added. “The system allows us to capture meaningful data to turn it into operational and customer facing benefits.”

Stronger Internal Operations

As a result of the RFID solution, internal operations have significantly improved. Employees often comment on the cleanliness and ease-of-use that the new solution provides. In addition, the chefs are now able to keep track of food items that are selected from the belt in real-time, enabling them to improve the quality control and provide customers with the dishes they crave. The waste at the end of the night has also decreased significantly indicating an overall return on investment for the business.

“We now have the ability to track customers’ preferences at certain times of the day to indicate what should be circulating on the conveyor belt,” Allard said. “This data gives us a better understanding of our customers as well as what items will be circulating for 45 minutes rather than five minutes. It allows us to manage and optimize our inventory in a resourceful manner.”

Improved Customer Service

In addition to improving internal operations, Blue C Sushi has significantly improved its customer service. The increased accuracy of the RFID solution minimizes the likelihood of error in totaling the bill or overcharging customers. At the end of the night, the improved accuracy ensures a balanced ratio between customer charges and the purchased food, which reduces the chance of undercharging customers and losing profits.

Looking Into the Future

Implementing the new solution has opened the door for future technological advancement. After collecting several months of data, Blue C Sushi will be able to utilize the data to draw return on investment conclusions and base future business decisions and buying patterns on the statistics.

“We are excited for the possibilities that lie ahead with our new RFID solution,” concluded Allard. “The combination of Intermec, Microsoft and Kikata’s advanced technology has provided us with invaluable information to grow our business, make well-informed decisions and provide our customers with a truly unique sushi experience.”