Artificial intelligence is set to transform the front and back of the house – both out of efficiency and, due to the labor crunch, necessity. It can help operators manage inventory, monitor waste, identify staffing inefficiencies, adjust production pacing and direct more targeted menu suggestions to guests. But as futuristic as it sounds, it’s only an extension of (and as good as) the data your business has collected about these parts of the operation. Even if your restaurant has no plans to adopt AI tools, it’s important to be able to collect real-time data to build a stronger base for the decisions your business makes day to day. In practice, that could mean tracking sales of each menu item in real time so you’re aware of which customers are ordering them when, if they’re returning for them repeatedly, and if they might pay more for a premium special or cocktail designed with that item in mind if they receive a targeted offer from you beforehand.
Have you enabled Google ordering, essentially making it possible for people to find your restaurant and place an order without leaving Google to do so? In recent weeks and months, a couple of industry insiders have said they consider it a no-brainer for driving revenue, and for good reason: restaurants have a massive potential audience in people who search Google for dining suggestions, commission fees are lower from Google ordering than those charged by third-party providers, and Google isn’t trying to get into the restaurant business (and, importantly, control the data of restaurant customers). While you make it possible for guests to order directly from Google, also make sure your Google-able information is up to date – and encourage happy guests to leave you a review to boost your presence on the search engine
If you’re struggling with labor right now, are there front-of-house tasks that can be offloaded to technology? Consider each step of the guest journey. In your dining room, can you encourage guests to use a QR code to view your menu, place a customized order and, later in the meal, order refills or dessert? Off-premise, can a customer just as easily navigate your site or app with a minimum of scrolling? Do you make it possible for them to make substitutions or additions? Implementing technology to make ordering and payment more seamless, as well as to automatically route orders to your kitchen, can greatly ease the burden on any front-of-house staff (and help you turn tables/orders more quickly too).
If you have a loyal base of customers, they are likely expecting you to have a digital rewards program that makes their patronage all the more worthwhile. But as these programs have become so widespread, it’s also become more difficult for operators to make them stand out. Research from Pymnts.com predicts that this year, restaurant brands will find more sophisticated methods of driving personalized messages and offers to guests in ways that don’t sacrifice profitability. That could mean offering menu items that are exclusive to loyalty program members, or simply gamifying your program with contests and virtual rewards. Late last year, Chipotle, for one, started offering achievement badges in its rewards program. They have no monetary value but have still resulted in a spike to loyalty program membership, according to a company spokesperson.
Elevating your loyalty program is key to retaining guests and maintaining profitability. Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI) integrated with a restaurant’s POS, online ordering and overall payment system is being used to ensure that the loyalty offers restaurant guests receive are precisely fine-tuned to their evolving preferences. As AI algorithms analyze data from customer orders, they spot patterns and adapt to them continuously – then translate that information into targeted promotions and coupons. These offers can mean the difference between retaining a customer who goes a bit out of their way to collect an order from you versus one who debates whether to use a third-party aggregator to order from you or a nearby competitor.
Even if you have already embraced digital ordering, QR codes and other front-of-house technology to help your operation run more smoothly, your kitchen may still look like it did a decade ago. The Spoon predicts the digitization of the restaurant kitchen will take off this year, enabling restaurants to run more nimbly and, by extension, better manage labor, monitor inventory and portion sizes, and reduce waste. Powerhouse Dynamics and Perfect Company are just a couple of the players bringing more real-time management and automation to the back of the house. Do you currently use just-in-time tools in your kitchen that allow you to flex in the moment with what’s happening in your business?
The end of the year is a time restaurant operators can count on for strong performance – with December typically the most profitable month of the year. But Black Box data from December points to sales growth of just 4.1 percent, compared to 8.4 percent in November. It marked the weakest month for the industry since the 2.7 percent growth reported in March 2021. In light of those results, a recent Restaurant Business report suggested guests may be questioning restaurants’ value amid steeply climbing costs. It’s no wonder – amid ingredient and labor shortages, along with escalating costs, something has to give. But all the same, operators can only turn those figures around if they can demonstrate the value of choosing a restaurant meal over one prepared at home. Staffing shortages can cause service to take a hit, but you may be able to help compensate for this with improved speed of preparation: Simplify your menu with speed-scratch ingredients or other elements ready to be added to a number of dishes. Remove friction from the process guests must go through when searching for you online and placing an order. That means monitoring your restaurant online to ensure information about your menu, hours and contact information is up to date on review sites, search engines and social media, as well as testing your online ordering functionality to remove glitches and ensure repeat guests are recognized in your system. Speaking of loyal guests, double down on your loyalty program and guest personalization, which will make it feel more worthwhile for guests to support your business (either in your dining room or through order collection), as opposed to having a third-party vendor drop off their delivery order. Finally, aim to appeal to guests’ own values by supporting local suppliers and sharing their business names with guests – an expensive meal feels more worthwhile to a guest when they know it supports their broader community.
As restaurants adopt more technology to efficiently manage everything from processing orders to monitoring appliances, they may also expose themselves to cyber risk. Cyberattacks have been on the rise during the pandemic as cyber criminals have tried to take advantage of vulnerabilities resulting from the widespread disruption to organizations: According to Check Point Research, there was a 50 percent increase in cyberattacks on corporate networks per week in 2021 compared to 2020. Hospitality businesses are especially attractive targets for cyber criminals because they process reams of guest payment information and may inadvertently provide easy gateways to launch an attack – such as a public Wi-Fi connection or an untrained staff member who opens a malicious email attachment. Make sure you’re taking steps to protect your business through staff training and secure software and systems. For example, limit the number of people who can log on to your network. Train staff to be vigilant about emails they open – by only opening messages and attachments from recognized contacts. Have staff use complex passwords that must be changed regularly. Use a firewall to separate transactions in the front of the house and the back. Have a secure, password-protected Wi-Fi network for guests that is separate from your business network. Ensure your malware protection is kept up to date. Finally, you might also consider a cyber insurance policy, which can not only help you recover financial losses due to a cyberattack but also includes post-breach support from IT experts who can identify the source of the problem and help your business get back up and running with minimal interruption.
This year, make it a priority to ensure all of the data you collect in your business can tell you a story – about what menu items and promotions your guests are buying, about when you need to reorder an item in your inventory, and about how much waste you’re generating (in food, energy and labor hours). One of the key benefits to the restaurant technology coming to market is that it can help operators pull real-time data about most every facet of the business – then translate that into actionable steps that can help you run your business more efficiently, squeeze out more profit and better weather the kinds of bumps the industry has experienced in the past two years. Looking across your operation, in what areas could you get a clearer picture of what’s happening day to day?
The supply-chain challenges of the past couple of years have put food sourcing under a microscope, demonstrating to consumers the need to know the origins of the food they eat (and to operators the need to be able to monitor and shrink the supply chain). QSR Magazine predicts that a key trend for this year will be technology solutions that help operators strengthen their connections with suppliers, ensure supplier data integrity and share accurate data with guests. Can you tell your guests a clear story about the path your food takes between its source and their table?