As restaurants strain to manage the ongoing labor shortage, as well as guest concerns over health and safety, technology may be able to provide some relief from the responsibilities associated with those concerns. Jim Balis, managing director of CapitalSpring’s Strategic Operations Group, recently told FSR magazine that robotics and AI can help reduce liabilities associated with safety and sanitation while automating tasks so that hours and staffing can be reduced. There is no risk of a missed shift, for example, and labor costs can remain fixed. Digital tools can help you improve line checks, conduct self-assessments and audits, monitor equipment, and track how well you’re adhering to cleaning and sanitation protocols. This year, more restaurants that are struggling to meet demand amid labor shortages will be turning to tech. When you’re short on staff, which parts of your operation become most vulnerable to health and safety hazards? Could any of them be automated or outsourced to a tech-based solution?
How well do you know the origins of the food you serve? Restaurants are able to collect a growing amount of information about the items they order – and that can enable much more powerful buying decisions and better management of food supply risks. Beyond fine-tuning inventory needs based on how your guests are ordering and helping you minimize waste, restaurant operators and other companies in the food supply chain are starting to use artificial intelligence to track and contain supply chain risks – say, tracking a recalled product and mining reams of data to identify trends from it or determine whether a specific supplier, distributor, or environmental problem is to blame. The company FourKites, which helps fine-tune shipment tracking for food suppliers ranging from US Foods to Tyson Foods, is one company bringing greater visibility to the supply chain.
There have been plenty of visible tech-enabled changes to the restaurant experience in the past year, including everything from contactless payment to the use of QR codes for ordering. While they have safety and efficiency benefits, they also change the experience of eating in a restaurant, which many people miss and are eager to return to. As many cities await the return of indoor dining, your restaurant might benefit from invisible tech that promises to boost safety – and as a result, could make your restaurant a more appealing option for guests looking to dine out. New systems and lighting are becoming available (and more affordable) that filter and purify the air and also clean surfaces in a restaurant. According to a recent Restaurant Dive report, an Ohio restaurant operator installed an AiroDoctor filtration system in May when indoor dining reopened in his area. He feels the system has helped guests and employees feel more secure – while also giving his safety-related marketing a boost.
It seems like just a short time ago that ordering via a touchscreen at your table – or scrolling through a wine list or viewing other menu-related content on a communal tablet at a fine dining restaurant – was considered futuristic. Now that contactless is king and shared touchscreens are tools consumers may aim to avoid (unless they have hand sanitizer nearby), where are we likely to see tableside innovation? On a recent Foodable podcast, Shaun Shankel, CEO of FreshTechnology and ToGoTechnologies, expressed optimism in QR codes as mobile payment vehicles. Already in use to help guests at some restaurants view menus during the pandemic, QR codes are likely to gain momentum as a tool that enables a touch-free experience at a restaurant. They’re another reason to ensure all content you create for customers – whether it’s your menu, your background story, or behind-the-scenes videos you produce – is easy to view, interact with, and (where applicable) pay for via a customer’s personal device.
As technology increasingly infuses organizations in all sectors and 5G becomes more widespread, cyberattacks are becoming a given – not a question of if they will occur but when. Security protections can dissuade cybercriminals but they aren’t airtight, so the actions an organization takes after a cyberattack are critical to getting back on track. It may take months to not only identify the problem in your system but to manage the financial costs, public relations challenges and other business disruptions a breach can cause. A cyber insurance policy may help, particularly for the post-breach protections it offers, including access to digital security experts who can clear your system and help reinforce it against future attacks. An FSR Magazine report says a cyber insurance policy may cost as little as $800 per year, and restaurants with existing firewalls and other protections in place stand to get lower premiums than businesses that haven’t yet taken those steps.
In recent weeks, the pandemic has led to increased vulnerability in the food supply chain, particularly as the FDA has relaxed certain standards and reduced inspections, and large numbers of sickened workers at Smithfield have forced the closure of one of the company’s largest pork production plants. Even before the pandemic, food traceability was a growing concern for consumers who care about where their food is coming from. As operators monitor changes to their food supply – both now and into our eventual recovery – technology will provide critical support. Mobile traceability tools, in particular, have the potential to fill some of the existing gaps in the supply chain, especially on farms, boats and other links in the chain where traceability tools haven’t been as widespread or easily deployed. You can believe that consumers will care even more about the origins of their food when this crisis is behind us. Read more in Food Navigator. (https://buff.ly/2KbIPca )
The number of internet-enabled devices is expected to reach 75 billion by 2025, or more than triple the number of such devices in use by the end of 2018, according to the technology firm ITProPortal. A technology-driven restaurant owner can adopt internet-enabled devices to monitor and manage everything from the operation’s food waste to its energy use. While these devices promise significant cost savings and efficiencies, their access to your data creates new points of vulnerability. It is increasingly difficult to prevent security breaches as threats become more sophisticated and employees who aren’t adequately trained leave a business exposed to threats. To help manage such threats, the tech security firm ControlScan advises operators to use next-generation firewalls to limit entry points for malware, and to use a managed security service provider that can identify vulnerabilities in a network, investigate and report security breaches, and troubleshoot other network security problems. Whether you outsource your network security or not, being able to keep tabs on your network in those ways is becoming increasingly important as businesses across sectors find that it’s not a question of if a security event will occur, but when.
How easy is it for your employees to check their email via the POS device they use at your restaurant? This happens to be among the most common ways that malware can infiltrate a restaurant’s systems, according to Restaurant Nuts. As cybercrime grows in sophistication, attacks will become more difficult to prevent, but you can take some steps to protect your systems. First, make your expectations clear with employees regarding how they should be using your systems (including what, if any, personal use is allowed) and how to avoid accidental malware downloads. Assign each server a different login code so if a breach occurs, you can track transaction data and more easily identify if problems have occurred during a particular employee’s shift. Beyond your employees, use password managers and two-factor authentication where possible to protect online accounts, as well as firewalls that separate different functions of your business so if a breach occurs, you might be able to limit the damage it can do.