The new technology coming to market holds lots of promise for streamlining orders, payments and data. But those capabilities are only as powerful as your weakest tech tools. If you’re still using elements of legacy systems from over 20 years ago, any benefits of new tech will be limited. Aiming for a cloud-based POS will help you adapt and upgrade more easily in the future, minimize any downtimes and boost your security – and you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. According to Upserve, many third-party vendors have cloud-based apps that allow you to maintain your rewards and promotions planning from legacy systems.
At the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference, Technomic’s Joe Pawlak had some good news about key segments of the restaurant industry (and less-great news about another) – namely that business for quick-service and fast-casual restaurants had returned to pre-pandemic levels, but fine dining was still three years away from a full recovery. To be sure, the technology that has kept businesses going during the pandemic has been a closer fit for limited-service restaurants. However, many of the tech tools that have been used to elevate efficiency and hospitality these past two years still apply to full-service restaurants, albeit in different ways. In a recent episode of the webcast Restaurants Redefined from Modern Restaurant Management, three industry professionals weighed in on how they see technology evolving for restaurants after the pandemic – particularly for full-service restaurants. At the front of the house, for example, technology can help ease some of the friction points. What if a restaurant could use geofencing technology to identify when a guest arrives and get a jump on preparing their favorite appetizer or having their usual wine on the table as they sit down? While a full-service restaurant might not want to use a QR code for guest ordering, offering a code (or other app-based option) for paying the bill when the guest is ready to depart could improve the overall experience. Empowering a server to offer a refund or other check adjustment on the spot as needed via tech tools can also boost service. At the back of the house, technology that minimizes human interaction – ovens, grills and other appliances that don’t require much human oversight – will help free up staff to elevate guests’ experience at the front of house. Finding ways to adapt the technology available – not so much to minimize human contact but to improve the human contact that full-service is known for – might just help hasten the recovery of these businesses.
At a time when every extra bit of profit is critical, it’s important for your customers to be ordering food from your restaurant app and, ideally, collecting their order from you – as opposed to calling a third-party delivery provider to bring it to them. If you’re trying to convert guests from third-party channels right now, focus on offering a good introductory deal that will entice people to order via your restaurant directly, then making it as easy as possible for them to stay with you as opposed to reverting back to the third-party app. That could mean placing a flyer in every third-party order bag that leaves your restaurant and including a coupon for a substantial discount off of a future restaurant-app order, as well as a QR code that the recipient can scan to get your app. From that point, you will have an entry point you can use to send subsequent offers they can redeem when they use your app and/or collect an order curbside. And while those offers may not be as substantial as the initial one, they can still provide a discount from what the customer would have to pay a third-party provider. You can also continue to use the data you collect from your app to make your offers increasingly customized. When you test the experience of ordering through your app and compare it to the ease of ordering via a third-party provider, where are the snags? Ironing them out should mean the difference between retaining the customer ordering via your app and having them return to the third-party app on subsequent orders.
If your restaurant has added a drive-thru or simply has more customers forming a line outside your door to place and collect orders these days, consider extending your wi-fi coverage to the area surrounding your facility. By having your staff walk back through the line to take orders and payments, you can not only cut wait times but also gain an opportunity to upsell your menu to hungry customers.
Do you use photos of menu items on your website? If so, how well do they represent the dishes you offer? Having clear, accurate photos of your menu items (both in online and in-store menus) saves time for your staff, who don’t have to answer questions about what a dish is like. What’s more, it can also drive other important efficiencies behind the scenes: According to research from Zuppler, compelling photos can elevate your effectiveness online. Having labeled images of menu items can boost your ranking in Google searches and also improve conversion rates, since fewer people abandon online shopping carts when they see a photo of what they are buying.
If you can automate food preparation as much as possible, you will reduce waste and grow your margins. While small operators might believe having a kitchen robot is an impossible expense, the pandemic may be changing that. The growth of virtual restaurants – and the creative approaches to challenges that operators have found during the pandemic – have increased the number of offsite options that can bring automation within reach for smaller operators. If you have food preparation tasks that could benefit from automation, consider other businesses in your area that likely have the same needs. At a time when so much food preparation is being done away from a restaurant’s public-facing location, you may be able to share the expense of a robotic machine based in an offsite kitchen that can churn out precisely chopped ingredients on a larger scale for multiple businesses.
Make way for automation
The pandemic has triggered what many journalists have dubbed the Great Resignation – an exodus of employees from the restaurant industry (and well beyond it) who are demanding better pay and more flexibility in response to the challenges of the times. In the short term, restaurant operators desperate for help in serving guests may bend to some of these pressures. But with the long-term sustainability of offering such benefits in question, restaurant brands have accelerated their investments in automation. To be sure, the human element is still an important aspect of service for many restaurants, but amid the current labor shortages, high employee turnover and increased concerns over safety and working conditions, why wouldn’t an operator be tempted to bring in a robot that never needs a break, complains, gets sick or asks for a raise? While quick-service restaurants are a natural place for this to begin, the automation trend won’t stop with them. What’s more, the lessons quick-service brands learn (and the degree of profitability they generate) as a result are likely to motivate restaurants across the board to incorporate automation in new ways. A recent Forbes report pointed to automation efforts already well underway at McDonald’s (AI-powered drive-thrus), White Castle (robotic fry cooks), Domino’s (robotic delivery through Nuro) and Taco Bell (fast touch-screen ordering and pickup with minimal interaction with staff), to name just a few. The accelerated adoption of automation could also accelerate its financial accessibility to industry segments beyond quick service. Where might your business most benefit from automation? Look for more opportunities to adopt it in the New Year.
Unless you are especially tech savvy, your IT budget may fall into the “set it and forget it” category: You know you need restaurant management technology and Internet connectivity but you may not have the time to dissect exactly where your technology dollars are going. But the landscape is becoming more competitive for restaurant technology and it’s a good time for an audit. A recent report from TekEfficient says there are a lot of opportunities to save money in a tech budget. It advises operators look into price drops and/or new competition offering promotional rates. Also try negotiating how much you get for the same (or a lower) price – such as faster Internet speeds at a reduced rate.
For most people, a smartphone is like an extra appendage that makes life a bit easier and more convenient. Having your employees manage their schedules via smartphone app is one small way to make their work lives easier and avoid burnout. If you’re not already using team apps and digital scheduling tools to manage your staff’s comings and goings, consider doing so as you get organized for 2022. They can help managers plan optimal scheduling based on sales forecasts and enable employees to check their schedule or swap a shift on the go.
At a time when restaurants may find it difficult to justify the fees that come along with third-party delivery, or risk having food tampered with or delayed in arriving, bringing delivery in-house may sound like a tempting option. The evolution of restaurant technology is helping to make that possible for more restaurants. Brands including Portillo’s and P.F. Chang’s adopted the restaurant delivery management platform CartWheel, for example, to help make the transition to offering in-house delivery for certain orders. The shift to the technology has also helped the brands create (or expand) new tip-generating roles for team members.