Robotic chefs may still sound futuristic – but they already have a place in restaurant kitchens. That’s particularly true for restaurants struggling to hire and retain staff, and those eager to get a better handle on food waste (so in other words, everyone). While Spyce claims to be the first restaurant with a kitchen run entirely by robots that can prepare complex recipes, a rapidly increasing number of brands are offloading repetitive kitchen tasks to robotic assistants. And as more venture into this territory, look for prices for this technology to fall. A sign of things to come: This year’s Consumer Electronics Show featured a kitchen robot from Moley Robotics that can prepare thousands of dishes, avoid allergens when requested, or simply guide a person through the steps of a recipe as they prepare it. While the price tag is steep at $340,000, it’s likely to challenge other companies in the space to accomplish similar tasks less expensively in the not-so-distant future.
The pandemic has pushed restaurant technology several years ahead of where it would be otherwise – and our increased ordering of takeout in the past year has made us more comfortable ordering food on our phones. Could allowing guests to order by phone work for you on-premise as well as off? At a time when labor is scarce, it may be worth considering. During a recent episode of the restaurant webcast The Barron Report, the founders of Branded Strategic Hospitality spoke about how they have invested in their entire tech stack, to include the app Bbot, which enables QR code scanning for ordering from the restaurant. If you have a tech-savvy guests who are just as happy to read a menu on their phone as on a piece of paper, you might try experimenting with QR codes for not only menu review but also ordering.
Third-party delivery apps have their benefits: Your restaurant may gain access to a more streamlined ordering interface that customers demand, as well as much-needed brand exposure. Unfortunately, you are likely paying dearly in exchange. But you don’t have to commit to one approach. You might diversify your business, with a small portion of your delivery going through a third-party app and the majority going through a white-label delivery platform – GoParrot is one example – that charges a flat fee for an ordering technology setup customized to your brand. It could be a way to offer guests a streamlined ordering process, retain your customer data and also gain the benefits of exposure on a third-party app.
At a time when restaurant operators are scrambling to attract and retain staff, every little tool designed to make restaurant jobs worthwhile can help. One such tool is an on-demand payment app that can give employees instant access to the wages they have earned that day. A number of large brands have signed on to use on-demand payment systems including Branch, DailyPay and Instant. Beyond immediate payment of wages, an on-demand payment app might be used to distribute tips or bonuses, as well as to provide financial management tools to employees. As a result, they can help lighten the load on restaurant managers too.
Bring the right tech mix to your service
Now that people are coming back to restaurant dining rooms, operators are having to determine exactly how much of their in-person service to bring back and which tasks to relegate to technology. Choosing what to do is about understanding your customers and the experience they would like, as well as your time challenges. A recent Restaurant Dive report indicates, that might be about shelving the QR codes in favor of paper because guests want to hold a menu in their hands, but keeping self-payment options because of how much time they save you when you’re trying to turn tables. Finding the right balance might also require you to be more methodical about when your staff have in-person interactions with guests to help reinforce the experience you’d like them to have with you.
You have heard about the need to eliminate paper-based systems in your business – and it’s not just about making sure your next inspection goes smoothly. It’s a major time saver across your operation, which comes in handy at a time when you need everyone on a shift to be working at full capacity. Francine Shaw of Savvy Food Safety advises operators to use digital quality management systems for a range of reasons: They allow for the fast and accurate updating of compliance information and instructions (and distribution to employees across all locations when time is critical). They make records easier to search and analyze, providing faster access during a food safety incident and enabling operators to quickly identify trends across locations. Finally, they ensure you’re up to date on safety checks – and that they’re being done correctly so you can step in with training on the spot when problems occur.
Independent restaurants have been in an especially tough position throughout the pandemic, lacking much of the resources and scale of a multi-business organization while also being hardest hit by the commission fees of third-party delivery companies. But as a result, independents are emerging as a segment of the restaurant industry that is ripe for innovation. Business at BentoBox, which helps restaurants build more robust, ecommerce-ready websites, has been booming since the pandemic started. It focuses on helping restaurants harness their customer data – and it has nearly doubled its client list in recent months. Grubhub, in addition, just launched a new web offering aimed at independent restaurants that includes a branded website, as well as the ability to create loyalty programs and promotions, process and manage orders, and view customer names, email addresses and past orders. The company says it is waiving its one-time setup fee for a year and will charge restaurants a $49 hosting fee per month, per location. Then there’s the commission fee if the restaurant opts to use Grubhub for last-mile delivery. Still, it may make sense for restaurants looking for a quick means of updating technology and offering delivery without sacrificing access to data.