As restaurant business rebounds and operators look to stabilize costs, adopting tech to help with labor management and fluctuations can help contain unexpected expenses – and reduce the staff frustrations that can lead to turnover . Make sure your labor management software is up to the task: It should help you forecast your sales and develop accurate staffing schedules based on those forecasts. Beyond that, it should allow employees some freedom and flexibility to swap shifts or request time off – all while requiring minimal involvement from management.
The past year has changed how restaurants compete. Restaurant success has become less about décor or even brand and more about how smooth, fast and engaging the process of ordering and accepting food is for the consumer. These changes may be permanent. This QSR magazine report predicts a more tech-focused future for the industry – with less differentiation on price across restaurant categories and more differentiation on the efficiency of customer interactions than there has been in the past. That means it’s become all the more important to have digital architecture and a user interface that presents your food in a compelling way, makes it easy and fast to place orders, enables customization to customer preferences, and includes a reliable “last mile” off-premise solution for getting food to customers.
As the contactless restaurant experience has become the norm over the past year, some restaurant operators may worry about permanently losing the kinds of quality in-person connections with consumers that once helped them build and sustain relationships. As we emerge from the pandemic, how will restaurants be able to deliver personal service in an era where physical distance, minimal conversation and touch-free experiences continue to be encouraged? The good news is that while technology enables more low-contact experiences, it also helps businesses get more personal – and restaurants can use it to build relationships in new ways. To a great extent, consumers have lived their lives online throughout the pandemic. They have become more accustomed to the Amazon experience – being able to order an item in a minimum number of clicks, having the site predict what they are apt to enjoy, and being less suspicious about having companies track the items they buy and enjoy. Some restaurants are literally using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide an Amazon-style experience. Using that kind of approach – and there are many services that can provide it – a restaurant with a strong command of its customer data can direct different targeted promotions to people whenever they happen to be in the neighborhood or on the days they are apt to crave a particular order. What better way to deliver personal service than to predict what a person wants before they even know they want it?
Cyberattacks have been climbing during the pandemic. Restaurants are likely to be an attractive target for criminals for a couple of reasons: Operators have transferred more of their processes online during the pandemic, all while they are trying to cut costs (and perhaps investing in only rudimentary cyber protections as a result). In a recent episode of The Main Course podcast, litigator and cybersecurity expert Jacey Kaps weighed in on what operators should be doing to protect their data right now. At a minimum, he said, they should have a written data security plan that details how they collect and store data, how often they update software and firewalls, how they ensure vendors are using best practices and how they train employees on data security. That last part is likely the most important – network security expert Max Cline of Netsurion told Fast Casual that employees are always the weakest link in the chain and must be trained to identify potential cybersecurity problems.
Drive-through restaurants have done well during the pandemic. Restaurant Dive reports that the share of trips on Waze to businesses with drive-through options jumped 25 percent between the beginning and end of 2020. It’s not difficult to see why: Drive-through restaurants’ use of smart, artificial intelligence-driven menus allows them to adjust options depending on the weather and to upsell customers with tempting options based on their past orders. Some are now adopting technology that enables guests to order directly from their car while in line, minimizing wait times. But these solutions are not necessarily just in the purview of drive-throughs. When you look at your business and how you get food to guests, where are your bottlenecks? Could you enable processes in your operation that would help you attract traffic from potential guests on a nearby highway, call up guests’ past orders and suggest additions they’re likely to crave, or speed up your wait times by allowing a person to order from you easily before they even arrive?
How well do you know the origins of the food you serve? Restaurants are able to collect a growing amount of information about the items they order – and that can enable much more powerful buying decisions and better management of food supply risks. Beyond fine-tuning inventory needs based on how your guests are ordering and helping you minimize waste, restaurant operators and other companies in the food supply chain are starting to use artificial intelligence to track and contain supply chain risks – say, tracking a recalled product and mining reams of data to identify trends from it or determine whether a specific supplier, distributor, or environmental problem is to blame. The company FourKites, which helps fine-tune shipment tracking for food suppliers ranging from US Foods to Tyson Foods, is one company bringing greater visibility to the supply chain.
What’s the best way for you to get take-away food to your customers? As operators adjust to new, late-pandemic conditions – including a lack of available labor and an increase in potential vendors and tech-driven solutions to provide support – they are making changes to how they handle delivery. Panera, long held up as an example of how a non-pizza restaurant can accommodate in-house delivery, recently announced it would be switching to third-party delivery – at least for now. In the meantime, the food delivery robot is becoming a far less futuristic concept than it ever was, with companies including Nuro, Kiwibot, Tortoise and Starship Technologies rolling out options for last-mile delivery. Those robots also happen to relieve some of restaurants’ labor, food safety, marketing and profitability pressures, so they could make the delivery landscape look a whole lot different in the coming months and years.
Imagine if your kitchen technology could let you tap into the cooking expertise of chefs from around the world. Artificial intelligence is now powering intelligent restaurants like a new one in Naperville, Ill. by Nala Robotics. The company says its restaurant can make “dishes from any cuisine around the world, using authentic recipes from celebrated chefs,” and easily change menus and adapt dishes to any number of customer modifications. Whether restaurants choose to adopt AI in their kitchens or not, these robotic assistants are likely to change what restaurant competition looks like – and what consumers expect from restaurants.
Digital restaurant sales still have room to climb. According to new data from market research firm Incisiv, digital sales will comprise 54 percent of all limited-service and quick-service restaurant sales by 2025 – a 70 percent increase over pre-pandemic estimates. Forbes reports that as restaurants look to position themselves to accommodate more digital sales, new partnerships between tech companies and large restaurant brands are focusing on such aspects of the customer journey as using artificial intelligence in marketing, accepting customer orders via social media and messaging platforms, and enabling autonomous driving as a means of making delivery financially feasible.
The pandemic has sparked innovation across every corner of restaurants – and outdoor dining areas, having become a critical part of the restaurant ecosystem in the past year, are no exception. Restaurant Technology News reports that smart pergolas, awnings and screens that can be controlled with the touch of a button are now helping restaurant operators manage everything from shifting sunlight to inclement weather to insects. Having a fast, low-touch means of adjusting your outdoor dining area to accommodate the elements may make sense as business builds back up again – and if your outdoor dining area has become a year-round (or near-year-round) part of your restaurant.