If you’re not using technology to improve your employee engagement and retain staff, your competitors likely are – and that may well change the labor landscape for restaurants in the years ahead. According to Nation’s Restaurant News Intelligence’s 2023 Restaurant Technology Outlook, 47 percent of restaurants are interested in technology tools that support employee training and onboarding, 43 percent are interested in tools that support employee productivity, and 24 percent are looking for automated scheduling tools. AI is driving many of the new tools available in this area and delivering precise forecasts that allow operators to optimize staff headcounts according to demand, pay people on time, automate compliance, and gain more time to personally interact with staff and create the connections that encourage them to stick around. This will continue to be critical as wage increases and high turnover make it more expensive to train and employ staff.
Your restaurant’s presence online – and the tools you’re using to ensure it is appearing in web searches – are gaining greater influence in light of Yelp’s recent announcement that it has introduced new search features that use AI to generate smarter suggestions for users. The suggestions are reported to allow for more nuance in a person’s search and thereby guide the person to the precise kinds of businesses they seek. Their reviews are also going the way of product reviews and social media in that people will be able to upload short-form videos to support their reviews, as well as react to others’ responses as a means of encouraging people to engage with other reviews. Consider this in the language and tags you use on your website, as well as in your requests for feedback from guests. A video review from a loyal guest could be an especially valuable tool in helping you showcase your business – particularly if you offer a memorable experience.
Your restaurant’s mobile app can provide a treasure trove of useful data to help you grow your business. Increasingly, it’s how guests prefer to order (and a recent study found that 35 percent of guests said these apps encouraged them to spend more). But as Chick-fil-a has learned, a cyber breach of a restaurant’s mobile app can put these benefits at risk. Cybersecurity is an ever-evolving need for businesses, so ensure you have layered protections in place to avoid making your restaurant’s app an easy target for criminals. Ongoing testing, updating and patching are required to minimize the risk of threat actors seizing guest data. As a recent Modern Restaurant Management report suggests, frequent penetration testing can help identify security issues, as well as automated tests for security and compliance with industry standards for cyber protection.
Restaurant technology can feel like a minefield: The options are dizzying, new niches are emerging to support functions across restaurant businesses, and the economic climate is leading to both consolidation and the launch of new players. If you’re among the many operators planning to invest in restaurant technology this year, it may help to have a roadmap to help navigate the possibilities. The Spoon recently released its 2023 Restaurant Tech Ecosystem Map, which plots out companies by category. It’s worth a review if the array of options and applications in this space feel overwhelming.
If you rely on a POS system that suggests tip amounts at the end of a transaction, the IRS will increasingly be leaning on the data trail from these systems to keep employers and employees honest. As reported recently by Forbes, the IRS says in its Tax Gap Studies that it collects 99 percent of what it is due on regular wages – where taxes are withheld and reported to the IRS and to the taxpayer via a W-2 – as opposed to just 55 percent of what it is owed in tips. It’s something to keep in mind as the IRS steps up its auditing efforts. When tips were largely collected in cash, earnings were easier to disguise – but tech is changing that by acting as an automated auditor.
You’re likely leaning on your mobile app or website for more orders these days – and ensuring your service is seamless through these channels is key to bringing customers back. But this requires staying on top of the lower-tech side of managing this service. Specifically, your staff needs to be conversant in both how you interact with guests in person and through digital tools. That includes knowing how your online and in-dining room menus differ, having some baseline knowledge about how your ordering and payment systems work for those using them, and having some ability to troubleshoot the common problems that arise with these tools.
Third-party delivery platforms can be kind of a mystery for restaurant operators. They can be critical in helping restaurants accommodate guest preferences for delivered food, but much is unknown about them. For instance, how will your restaurant appear on their site? What factors determine better placement and exposure for some businesses over others? As a recent report from Restaurant Business indicates, several factors play a role. The tiered pricing structures of some of these services can determine a restaurant’s exposure on a platform, though selecting the lowest tier of pricing can offer more exposure on some platforms than on others, so it pays to shop around. Beyond that, your restaurant’s speed of preparation, historical order size, order accuracy, regular promotion offers and customer reviews all help inform the algorithm too. Boosting your performance in each of these areas can appease the algorithm — it’s hard to know if one factor is valued more or less than the next.
For certain takeout foods, an extra few minutes of time spent sitting out and waiting for pickup can mean the difference between a happy customer and a dissatisfied one. (Anyone who has eaten a soggy French fry from a takeout bag probably understands.) But what if you could orchestrate your orders to precisely coincide with the arrival of the people ready to collect and consume them? Geofencing can be especially helpful in preserving menu items that quickly decline in quality after they are cooked and removed from under warming lamps. Pymnts reports that McDonald’s, for one, is updating its mobile and payment functions to alert kitchen staff when mobile order-ahead customers are near the store. They are aiming to ensure that the customer’s order is ready and warm at the moment they arrive, all while boosting kitchen efficiency and enhancing the customer experience.
Feeling competitive? A lot of your industry peers are. Recent research from the National Restaurant Association found that nearly half of operators expect competition to be more intense this year than it was last year. Only 7 percent expect it to ease – and that’s in an environment where the majority of operators say there either the same number of restaurants or fewer restaurants than there were in 2019. Your technology stack can help you make sure you’re seizing every opportunity to serve guests well and keep them coming back. You can accomplish this in several ways: Smooth out and speed up your ordering process. Your mobile app can go far in representing the experience of your restaurant. Make it easy for people to view the menu, place orders and make reservations with a minimum of clicks and scrolls. Regular customers should have easy access to previous orders and be prompted with special offers and add-ons that complement their favorite menu items. In-house, consider incorporating tableside ordering and payment to improve order accuracy, expedite service, and ensure your staff can make best use of their time. Depending on your restaurant category, consider using digital menus and signage to update your menu in real time and draw guests to your most profitable items. Finally, your customer data – as well as information you collect about the competitive landscape – can help you better understand how people feel about your menu, keep tabs on your service, and allow you to stay nimble so you’re able to make proactive changes to benefit your business.