As a new year approaches, it’s prime time to take stock of what went well and set the stage for the tests you’re likely to face in 2020. For most operators, labor spending and management continues to be a perennial challenge, along with such obstacles as managing the complexities of your inventory and finding a profitable path to offering delivery. Restaurant365 shared a list of operational challenges operators can expect in the coming year, along with some suggestions on how to manage them. While it’s not the most uplifting of countdowns, it does cover some important territory and may help you prioritize the steps you want to take to build your business in the months ahead. We summarized some of the key challenges here – along with some tech tools that can help you manage them. First, to manage labor costs, particularly if your state is in the roughly half of the country that is increasing its minimum wage in 2020, make the most of tech tools that can save you time and money. By integrating your POS with an accounting and scheduling platform, for example, you can analyze your labor and sales data to optimize scheduling and improve your forecasting capabilities. If you struggle with keeping your inventory accurate and your ingredient costs in line, consider inventory management software that can guide the process from start to finish – and offer tools such as smart ordering and receiving, which can help you maintain profit margins on menu items and pinpoint when vendor costs are higher than normal. Finally, if you want to offer delivery in an effort to meet consumer demand, make sure you’re making data-driven decisions when selecting a service model. Restaurant365 advises you use operations software to automatically calculate and track your delivery profits based on sales, cost of goods sold, and delivery expenses.
Protection through encryption
Your access to customer data can help you strengthen your connections to customers – but only if they’re able to trust you with their personal information. As point-of-sale malware continues to pose problems for restaurants, does your technology go the distance in helping you protect the information customers share with you? Encryption technology can help in some important ways. First, as the hospitality website Emerging reports, encryption scrambles the data that comes across your POS, making it significantly more difficult for hackers to use any data they manage to steal. If you have staff taking payment from guests at their tables, introducing tableside technology, which often encrypts customer data when a card is swiped, can also prevent the skimming of credit card information en route to your POS.
Tapping into AI to perfect your scheduling
Imagine being in the midst of a dinner rush and having all of your best staff on hand to provide superior service to guests. Artificial intelligence (AI) is making it possible for more of those experiences to happen for operators. There is a lot of buzz about the potential of AI to tap into guest insights, but it can also help operators make more informed decisions about staff schedules and improve staff management. As Restaurant Technology News reports, AI can help operators adjust scheduling plans based on local weather or events that may impact restaurant traffic – and automatically match up that information with data on which servers have successfully upsold the most checks recently.
At a time when the need to minimize food waste is impacting restaurants’ brands and bottom lines, hiring suppliers with strong automation capabilities can help in several ways. Beyond offering the traceability of a food item through its supply chain, automation can also maximize the shelf life of the ingredients you prepare by shrinking the percentage of a food’s life cycle that must be spent in transit or awaiting transit. As Food Quality & Safety reports, automated order-picking systems can speed up and improve the precision of order picking, making it possible to reduce lead times, spoilage and waste.
Digitize your gift card business
Gift cards: they’re among the few gifts that are never returned. And they’re a win for restaurants. According to data from Givex.com, 65 percent of those who receive gift cards tend to spend about 38 percent more than the face value of their gift card. If your guests are interested in both purchasing gift cards and making payments via mobile, consider raising the bar for next year by providing digital stored-value cards that can be loaded onto a mobile app. Your guests won’t have extra cards cluttering their wallets and as Restaurant Technology News reports, digital cards hold a lot of appeal for guests who want the option of making fast, seamless payments.
Be the Netflix of the restaurant industry
A recent study by NCR and Technomic found that two-thirds of restaurant operators don’t use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their businesses. The respondents said that if they were to invest in AI, it would be to help drive their mobile ordering, mobile applications and promotions. The restaurant operators surveyed who aren’t yet using AI said they either don’t fully understand its potential benefits or they hesitate to invest in emerging technology. Where do you stand? If you’re among the hold-outs who think AI may have some potential to help your business, imagine being to your most loyal guests what Netflix or Spotify are to people who love movies and music – having the ability to match your guests with meals they may not have considered but are likely to enjoy. AI can both empower your ordering functionality and make it seamless. As a report in Restaurant Technology News explains, on top of allowing a guest to order via mobile app, AI technology can offer functionality like conversational ordering through Facebook Messenger or Alexa. Having voice and chatbot ordering powered by AI can allow your customers to use any kind of phrasing when they place an order. Then, based on a person’s ordering history and cross-comparisons with other customers who have similar tastes, the technology can suggest meals and upsell additional items they are likely to enjoy – instead of leaving those guest experiences to chance.
The added benefits of automated scheduling
Do you automate your staff scheduling? It’s not only a streamlined means of making sure you have staff when you need them. Granted, it can free up a lot of time you can devote to other tasks and also make it easier for employees to trade shifts and for you to foresee future staffing gaps. But more importantly, it can bring together both quantitative and qualitative data about your restaurant that, when assessed at once, paint a clearer picture of the financial health of your restaurant. As the tech blog KnowTechie explains, scheduling software tabulates your labor costs and sales, while also giving your team opportunities to leave feedback about how a shift went. When you see the full picture of sales, productivity and morale, you may more easily spot problem areas that you can address before they grow.
Prioritize your online platforms
Do you feel social media posting pressure? The need to post regularly to stay relevant can cause restaurant operators to focus too much on social media networks and neglect their website, which is the one place where you have full control over content (and is therefore where your online focus should be). Does your restaurant’s website tick all of the boxes when it comes to attracting visitors and giving them what they need? The Digital Restaurant suggests all restaurant websites have five features: First, you (likely) need a mobile-friendly design with mobile analytics, since most people are probably finding you with a mobile device. Just check Google Analytics first to confirm that your site is getting a lot of traffic from mobile devices before you invest in new design. Make sure your restaurant’s basic information is updated and complete. It should include your address and directions, operating hours, menu and nutritional information, phone number and email address/contact form. Next, ensure your site is easy to navigate, loads pages quickly and has a design that complements the design of your physical restaurant. Sites like https://www.usertesting.com/ can provide objective feedback about the experience of navigating your website. Four, provide some testimonials and social proof that other guests have had great experiences with you. That means integrating links to your social media networks and showing positive reviews from sites like Yelp. Finally, email continues to be the way to keep your guest connections strong, so provide links to subscribe to your email list – via a pop-up invitation and in relevant places on your site. Of course, once you have those basics down, you can continue to fine-tune your site with engaging photos, location-based personalization, online ordering and reservations, search engine optimization, and content marketing such as recipes, videos, articles or other content about your food, staff, values or other topics designed to help guests connect with your brand.
Tap into the tech ecosystem
Chances are you’ve already introduced technology to help you drive efficiency in different areas of your operation. But as technology develops and promises to improve more parts of a restaurant business, it’s difficult to keep track of what you should invest in next and which companies are in a strong position to help. One tool that may be of use to you in the coming year is this updated map of the restaurant tech ecosystem. A collaboration of TechTable, a platform and annual summit about innovation in hospitality technology, and Better Food Ventures, a food tech and agtech investment firm, the map spells out the many areas of the restaurant industry where technology is having an impact, along with key players in each area. It can help give you a sense of the hospitality tech landscape, whether you’re looking to build a smart kitchen or enhance your ordering and delivery technology.
It’s ironic but true: Amid the ongoing demand for fresh, whole, natural foods, there is also growing acceptance of food that exists only with the help of technology. According to Ketchum's 2019 Food Tech Consumer Perception Study, 77 percent of Gen Z respondents – those born between 1995 and 2010 – were generally most comfortable with tech-assisted foods. But other generations indicated acceptance of these foods as well: 67 percent of millennials, 58 percent of Gen Xers and 58 percent of baby boomers said they were willing to try tech-assisted foods. So whether it’s lab-grown animal protein or genetically modified foods, up-and-coming foods that are available through the help of technology may be increasingly welcome on your menu in the coming months.
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