What’s the next big thing in restaurant technology? Instead of kitchen gadgets and inventory software, 2020 may usher in the softer side of tech if expert predictions are correct. David Cantu, cofounder and chief customer officer of HotSchedules, foe one, told QSR Magazine that he anticipates more operators will harness technology to attract, retain and develop employees. Think tools to bring greater ease and efficiency to scheduling, enable better communication across the team, and encourage the sharing of feedback about a shift and the overall work environment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you use video to connect with customers and even staff? If not, doing so could pay off. Recent research from Brightcove found that 85 percent of consumers aged 18-34 say they have bought a product or service after watching a video about it. Further, consumers surveyed in the study said they find video to be the most memorable form of content ― they ranked it above display ads, email marketing, case studies, text ads, and other forms of promotion. Videos can help potential guests connect with your brand and share it with their friends, which in turn can boost your search engine optimization. Cake suggests using videos on your website and social media to share a seasonal recipe tutorial, showcase your restaurant’s interior or some interesting aspect of its history, introduce staff members or guests, or promote new food and drink menus. Since video can help people connect with your brand and present you as authentic and trustworthy, it can benefit your staff recruitment efforts too. Showcase your employees ― both in the front and back of house ― going about their daily work and talking about what they like about their jobs, which can help give potential employees a better sense of your restaurant’s work environment than any job description could. Toast suggests you use a gimbal or tripod to ensure your video isn’t wobbly, lighting (inexpensive lighting kits can help), and a microphone or voice-over recording. You can use free software to edit the video you produce and Shutterstock can help you licence royalty-free music for your video if needed. Once you upload your video to YouTube, share its link on your website job page, job applications and your social media platforms.
A restaurant server taking an order could have ample reason to avoid upselling a guest: Perhaps the guest or the server is in a hurry, for example, or the guest seems decisive about what he wants (or doesn’t want) to order. Valyant AI is trying to help operators avoid those scenarios. At the recent Restaurant Technology Summit in New York, artificial intelligence (AI) was used to show how restaurants can provide the human touch without missing out on opportunities to upsell. Restaurant Business reports that Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, and the burger chain Good Times are testing an AI system from Valyant AI that converses with guests placing an order and never misses an opportunity to upsell. Valyant’s CEO said the system once successfully upsold 23 percent of the orders it took in a day.
Finding and retaining talent is a perennial challenge for restaurants, and the millennial generation’s reputation for favoring flexible work arrangements stands to make things more difficult for the industry. So instead of fighting the inevitable, why not embrace it? If you’re able to adjust your labor model to accommodate a regular influx of temporary or even one-time staff of various skill levels (and particularly if you’re located in a metropolitan area) technology is quickly making it possible for restaurants to fill staffing gaps with skilled people. A recent report from Bloomberg Businessweek offered up the example of Pared, a staffing app founded by two tech and restaurant veterans that enables operators to fill last-minute staffing needs. What began as a Bay-area resource for finding dishwashers and prep cooks has since expanded to new cities (they aim to be in all major U.S. metro markets by next year) and to roles including servers, baristas and oyster shuckers. Operators are able to request various levels of experience as well. While some operators have found the app costly — a skilled worker can walk into a restaurant for one night and make a higher hourly wage than a longtime cook — they acknowledge that insurance, taxes, overtime and hiring costs make apps like Pared a viable alternative to hiring staff. As Wade Moises, executive chef of Rosemary’s in New York noted in the report, “Thinking about Pared now, I’m not sure if I should fire my whole staff or quit myself.”