Artificial Intelligence has been carving out a space in restaurants as a means of delegating tasks and saving labor costs. Though AI-supported ordering is still a work in progress (as McDonald’s has discovered with recent tests), AI is also serving as a kitchen assistant that can nudge employees to catch errors early – before they get the attention of an annoyed customer. One company in this space, Agot AI, places cameras over the food preparation line to watch how orders are being prepared. It connects with in-store, online and drive-thru orders appearing on the kitchen display system and will alert an employee in the line if an order is missing, say, the extra packets of ketchup the customer requested. In the process, the information the technology gathers can help a restaurant flag repeat problems in the line and adjust training to better manage them, and even create a rewards system to recognize employees who successfully move orders through the line with accuracy and speed.
Technology should help make doing business easier and more efficient – not add a layer of extra equipment and complexity. It helps when you can use a single interface to manage many streams of business. One new tool from Nextbite makes it possible to manage their menus across a range of third-party delivery providers from one interface – kind of like a kitchen display system for managing external delivery streams. The single interface comes in handy when you have to remove or add menu items amid supply fluctuations, update pricing to reflect price changes from suppliers, and altogether make your menu consistent across many platforms at once.
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.
As supply-chain challenges continue to put pressure on prices, restaurant operators looking to make a profit – or to simply stay in business – need to understand the health of their business in small detail. While a POS system can collect reams of data about a business, the information won’t do much good if the operator doesn’t give the system the right prompts or know how to translate the information it collects into actionable insights. Your data can’t be a substitute for your own knowledge about your business. A recent webinar from Speedline Solutions covered how to use your POS to get to the heart of your objectives – and though the advice applies regardless of what kind of system you’re using, it starts with being able to ask some specific questions about your business (then leaning on your systems for help in answering them). Consider setting a general goal and then drilling down on it to get as specific as you can. For example, if you start by asking yourself how you can increase the amount of your average check, identify a more specific question you can ask: How can you entice more people to add the appetizer special to their order? If you’re wondering if you can raise your prices, how much you might be able to increase the price of your best-selling menu item before the price turns people away?
What’s next in customer-facing tech? Industry analysts say siloed tech solutions are out and all-in-one solutions are in. That means that any new tools and systems you adopt should be, above all, adaptable – to a range of surroundings, to the addition of new employees and sales streams, and to new applications that work alongside them. A new report from Restaurant Business also advises that new tools be payment-enabled and designed for easy transport. Servers should be able to carry them from tables to the drive-thru to curbside easily and without worrying about losing battery charge, and to process payments on the fly without having to return to the POS.
Just like flexibility has been key to keeping restaurants running in the past year, it’s also a critical aspect of any technology you’re implementing. Your existing system should not only be able to handle your current sales streams but also be capable of scaling up in different ways to accommodate changes. Flexibility extends to the ways in which you are able to collect and present data about your guests and other aspects of your operation. Even if you don’t know how the industry is going to evolve, your systems should be agile and user-friendly enough that you are getting the kinds of actionable information you need to be able to make incremental changes.
Restaurant employee theft is a common problem, accounting for 75 percent of inventory shortages and 4 percent sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. Your systems and tools can help you stop it soon after it starts – or even prevent it altogether. A TouchBistro report advises leaning on your POS for help. For example, your POS settings can help you place controls on what employees can do when placing orders – such as preventing the printing of a bill if an order has not actually been served, or the deletion of items on a bill before it is closed and then keeping the cash. Your POS reports can also help you investigate questionable activity by flagging transactions that were removed or modified after they were finalized and those that involved voids or discounts, and scrutinizing day-end reconciliations that create an opportunity for underreporting earnings. It can show you how many times a cash drawer was opened and by whom, so you can quickly identify the employees to speak to in the event of a shortage. It can also identify discrepancies between an employee’s scheduled hours and how many hours they are reporting. Beyond your POS, consider the use of cameras at your POS and inventory storage areas, which can help you send the message that you’re committed to keeping everybody honest.
Amid the labor crunch, restaurants have been facing a lot of upward pressure on their wages lately. As of May, 30 states, the District of Columbia and forty-five localities have set minimum wage rates above the federal level. But at the same time, many restaurants likely are not making best use of the tools they have on hand to better manage their labor costs and gain as much as possible from them. According to research from TouchBistro, 39 percent of restaurant operators are not using their POS to view labor reports. These reports can help you identify when you are overstaffed in your kitchen and dining room, which staff are successfully upselling most frequently and making customers the happiest, and which staff may be stealing from you. All of this can ensure you always have the right number of people on hand for a shift, that you’re rewarding and developing the right people, and that you’re quickly identifying sources of theft. It may even give you some wiggle room to raise your wages.
Consider it one of the pandemic’s silver linings. Before Covid-19, many restaurants were lumbering along with a patchwork quilt of technology – an outdated POS that made it difficult to pull information from the operation in an easy-to-analyze format, an overabundance of tablets to track orders, or any number of other siloed systems that were unable to eliminate time-consuming manual processes. But the demands of the pandemic have changed that, according to new research from J.P. Morgan and payment provider FreedomPay. Restaurant Business reports that the pandemic shifted restaurant leaders’ tech priorities from serving immediate needs to anticipating where business was heading and being prepared for it. One key insight from the research is the importance of data to maintaining a restaurant business in real time, responding to rapid change and enabling growth. Has your technology matured in this way since the pandemic started?
Times of challenge create opportunity – and more tech is emerging to help level the playing field for independent businesses trying to compete with large national and international brands. According to a National Restaurant Association survey, one-third of independent operators feel they are falling behind when it comes to using the technology that could support their business. But new products and payment structures are making these technologies more accessible for independents. For instance, Slice, the online ordering platform for independent pizzerias, recently launched a POS system and online rewards system designed specifically for those businesses – many of whom have been slow to adopt technology while the likes of Domino’s are tracking customer preferences, upselling repeat customers and enabling them to know when their delivery driver is on his way. A recent report from Food & Beverage magazine indicated that it’s becoming more common for restaurant technology companies to offer lower up-front costs and subscription fees, as well as leasing options to accommodate operators that can’t afford to make large investments in equipment up front. You may also be able to negotiate deferred payments and contracts that include consulting time. If cash registers and pencil-and-paper ordering is still the norm for you or if you’re simply not getting the kind of real-time information you need from your system, now is a good time to approach restaurant technology companies to see what they can offer independent restaurants. The Restaurant Technology Network is a good source for information and resources including pro bono consulting and you can always ask Team Four for help in getting started too.