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Tech Check: The Perfect Co. gamified the back of house to make workers more efficient. Restaurants are lining up to try it.

By Joe Guszkowski on Feb. 09, 2023

Perfect's app guides cooks through the grilling process.

The Perfect Co. has a problem most startups would die for.

For the past year, the company has been pitching its latest product, a sort of reimagining of the kitchen display system, to big fast-food chains. And so far, it hasn’t missed.

"The biggest challenge is no one has said no," President Jim Collins said in an interview at the ICR investor conference last month.

The product is called the Kitchen Operating System. Using computer tablets and Perfect's proprietary software, it's designed to simplify the process of cooking, assembling and packaging orders, largely by turning words into pictures.

In most restaurants, orders hit the kitchen in the form of a ticket—either a literal slip of paper or a digital copy of one—that lists what needs to be made. Cooks have to parse these tickets and determine what pieces they're responsible for and in what order they should make them.

It can get complicated fast.

With Perfect, orders at the grill appear like this:

The screen is a real-time reflection of the grill top. It tells the cook where to put things, when to flip them and when to take them off. "It just tells them what to do next, all day long," Collins said.

The simple interface is powered by software that has essentially been programmed to play restaurant Tetris. In the image above, for instance, the system knows to arrange the four raw chicken patties in their own lane to avoid cross-contamination.

The rest of the system works the same way. Once food leaves the grill, here is what the next worker on the line sees:

Each group of burgers is a separate order. Rather than reading from a ticket what should go on each burger, the employee can look at the pictures, which represent exactly how the brand wants its sandwiches built.

Workers can tap an individual item to get a more detailed look at the ingredients.

This is especially helpful when orders are coming from multiple channels—the in-store POS, the restaurant's website, various third-party apps—because each can have a different way of displaying the order to the kitchen, said Perfect co-founder and CEO Mike Wallace.

Perfect standardizes all the variations and displays them as a picture. When Wallace first presented the idea to Collins, who is himself a restaurateur, Collins predicted that restaurants would go "apeshit"over it.

"We showed this to a client, and they did indeed go apeshit," Collins said in an interview this week. They had never seen an order displayed this way.

The last step—bagging the food—is also a paint-by-numbers exercise.

This shows which items go in each bag and in what sequence. Workers can tap an item once it's bagged to clear it from the screen. Or they can place the bag on a Perfect smart scale, which measures the bag against its expected weight. "The scale is accurate to a packet of ketchup,"Collins said.

Wallace, an inventor with a background in video games and toys, started Perfect in 2013. Its first product was an at-home martini-making helper.

While developing the Kitchen Operating System, he said he was inspired in part by the classic arcade game "BurgerTime," in which you play as a chef who has to assemble burgers while avoiding bad guys. But he also spent years visiting restaurant kitchens, learning how they work and applying that to the technology.

The final product looks more consumer-y than most back-of-house technology. That's part of what has made it so appealing to restaurants.

"An average crew member is an average consumer," Collins said. "To think this way was just outside the sphere and scope of what [other tech companies] are able to do."

It arrives amid a serious labor crunch in restaurants. Before the pandemic, kitchen staff were typically the lowest-paid employees in the building, Collins said. But they've since become more expensive and more difficult to recruit. "They have to be more efficient," Collins said."They have to be better at what they do."

Perfect believes it can help them be better, and happier, too. The average turnover for grill cooks is 90 to 120 days, Wallace said. New ones can take weeks to train. With Perfect, he said, employees just have to learn the app.

The company currently has seven clients ranging from big quick-service chains to convenience stores and movie theaters. It’s live in 150 locations and will be in about 500 by this summer. The Kitchen Operating System costs $50 a month per screen.

Existing customers have kept Perfect so busy that it’s not looking for new ones right now. "We're pretty much at bandwidth at the moment," Wallace said.

But, Collins noted, as any good restaurateur would: Perfect is happy to add you to the waitlist.


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