At a time when restaurants are feeling plenty of friction from labor challenges, inflation and the supply chain, operators should be leaning on technology to remove as much of the remaining friction as possible. An impactful place to focus is on customer ordering and payment for both on- and off-premise meals. OneDine is one company that is enabling streamlined ordering and payment in both areas. When your guests place an off-premise order, can they easily input information about an allergy or dietary preference? Can they split the bill with a friend? Consumers are eager to share meals with friends again. Restaurants that can accommodate their different needs and preferences with a user-friendly interface, while also easing the stress of paying the bill, are in a strong position to attract guests looking to gather over restaurant food.
If there was one predominant theme to emerge from this year’s National Restaurant Association show, it might be that robots’ time has finally arrived. The labor crunch has made the need for new solutions all the more pressing and the recent show presented solutions including robots that can complete such tasks as bartending, cleaning and even climbing stairs to deliver orders. In the months leading up to the show, robots have taken on more of the monotonous, repetitive or dangerous tasks in restaurants, such as serving as fry cooks, with increasing frequency. Servi, a server robot that is being leased by a growing number of independent and national brands in recent months, costs approximately $1,000 per month. For many operators struggling to find staff, being able to count on an extra set of hands to complete tasks has been worth the cost.
As restaurants increasingly rely on online systems and tools to process guest orders and operate more efficiently, they need to take extra care in protecting their cybersecurity. The transition to new systems, as well as ongoing labor challenges, have created vulnerabilities that cyber criminals are eager to exploit. According to data released in late 2021 by Check Point Research, there was a 40 percent increase in cyberattacks globally over the previous year, with one of every 61 organizations worldwide impacted by ransomware each week. The risks are evolving, so operators should speak to their insurance broker to make sure they are aware of how to best minimize their exposure to threats including ransomware, malware, phishing and data breaches. It helps to provide ongoing employee training and limit the number of staff with access to sensitive information.
After a period of two years when technology has demonstrated its worth across a wide range of businesses, restaurants are awash in new data – about their customers, equipment, sales, inventory and more. But any data you collect is only as good as the problems it actively addresses. Make sure the information you collect is working for you by regularly asking some questions of it: What are our most profitable menu items? What menu items need to be adjusted or could benefit from customization? How should I schedule staff during our busiest and quietest shifts? What clues do the data provide about items that could be ideal limited-time offers? Regularly assess the information you’re collecting and identify any loose ends. Any data you generate should help you solve a problem or make an improvement.
While automation’s rise is no surprise, considering labor challenges and how automation can help address them, we are likely to see new applications that actually help restaurants strengthen human connections. If you’re considering the use of automation in your restaurant, focus on where it can best bring efficiencies to your business. For example, how could you use it to offload repetitive tasks – and retain staff in the process? Could you use the information you collect through the automation of tasks and challenge a talented member of your team to translate it into new initiatives to build your business?
Recently, Wing Zone announced a new type of franchise partnership with Wavemaker Labs, the technology incubator that launched Miso Robotics (maker of the famous burger-prepping Flippy robot). Wavemaker Labs will eventually open 20 Wing Zone Labs locations around Los Angeles that will be a cross between franchised stores and technology incubators. Their motivation is to develop a new process for automating the range of tech tools and systems used by Wing Zone – with fewer piecemeal tools and more start-to-finish systems that offer a connected, streamlined experience. It's a sign of what’s to come for the industry. As David Bloom, Wing Zone’s chief development and operating officer, told Nation’s Restaurant News, the partnership is not simply about introducing more robotics: It’s about using artificial intelligence to take an order, then having that order sent directly into the POS system, which gets sent to robots to cook, then gets sent to heated locker systems for pickup or delivery. It’s about improving the process, start to finish. When you adopt new technology, consider how it will mesh with your existing systems to iron out bottlenecks and improve your process of taking orders, preparing food and getting complete orders to guests
There is no shortage of news headlines about the need for restaurants to analyze their data – and to adopt technology that can provide clues about what is going well and what isn’t. But as restaurant operators struggle with labor challenges, adopt new tech to help ease them, and double down on data analysis to better understand performance, it’s important to remember the human element. Specifically, restaurants need to balance their data analysis with a more subjective review of the guest and staff experience. A recent blog post from restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates relayed the experience of the company’s CEO, who had visited a higher-end national steakhouse chain. He wanted to place a $100-plus takeout order, but there were only two staff members trying to serve the more than 60 guests in the bar area. After waiting for nearly half an hour to place his order, he gave up and left. The especially unfortunate part about this anecdote – and what it could mean for the industry going forward – is that the restaurant’s metrics for the night surely didn’t track the guests who left without food, or the staff members who were burning out from the workload or unaware of the people they didn’t have time to serve. According to their data, it may have been a high-performance night. The industry is at a telling turning point right now: Restaurants are trying to find their footing with smaller teams, and in many cases, are finding ways to use technology to squeeze out profits and otherwise make the current business climate more manageable. But while there are clear benefits to these new systems and ways of working, don’t forget to take a longer view and anticipate the consequences you may not be seeing – the ones your tech stack can’t track.