Times of challenge spark new ideas and we’re about to see an innovation boom in the restaurant industry – particularly when it comes to ghost kitchens. Technology companies, having assessed how the pandemic has forced restaurants to transform their sales models, streamline delivery and curbside pick-up, address labor challenges and take additional precautions to protect safety, are finding opportunities to help restaurants whittle down their operations so they can excel in those areas. Specifically, look for more opportunities for turnkey restaurant-in-a-box solutions that give operators the hardware, software and management technology to set up a mobile shop in a parking lot (and in the process, decrease the cost and risk of starting a business). Restaurant Technology News reports that companies like Reef Technology are focusing on “proximity-as-a-service” platforms for organizations ranging from restaurants to retailers to even healthcare testing centers. While such solutions lower the barriers to entry for people with little experience, they can also help experienced operators dip their toe in the water with ghost kitchens to determine their ideal sales model going forward.
Consumers don’t consider technology to be an eliminator of jobs but rather a means of improving convenience – and restaurants are investing in more of such customer-facing technology solutions this year. These were key tech-related takeaways from the National Restaurant Association’s latest state-of-the-industry report. When it comes to customer-facing tech, kiosks and other self-service technology still pay dividends. Their biggest benefit may be speed – by visibly reducing congestion and automating orders, they expedite the order process and shorten lines – but this technology is also winning consumers over for its ability to customize. The proof is in the payment: The convenience that kiosks provide can lead guests to spend 15 to 20 percent more per order, according to Pymts.com. #restauranttech
What if running a profitable restaurant became less about analyzing databases and spreadsheets and more about following AI-generated directions? That’s increasingly becoming a reality for some restaurants. In a recent roundup from Modern Restaurant Management about major disruptions to expect in the coming decade, AI applications were among the major changes industry insiders expect. David Bloom, chief development and operations officer for Capriotti’s, sees increasing potential for video to work hand-in-hand with AI – using facial recognition to identify guests and connect them with loyalty programs, reducing theft by video monitoring, and improving employee performance by monitoring their actions and providing on-the-spot upselling and service advice. #restauranttech
As labor costs escalate, how are you ensuring you have the right number of employees scheduled at the right times? More brands are adopting artificial intelligence-based programs to help with scheduling. Domino’s, for one, has been testing an AI algorithm to help ensure they are using the most efficient number of staff hours in their stores, Restaurant Dive reports. As major cities enact predictive scheduling laws designed to ensure a fair work week for employees – Widget Brain reports that New York, San Francisco and Seattle are among them – finding ways to use AI to forecast labor demand, and then build and fill schedules, can help operators not only maximize labor expenditures but also comply with the law.
Amid the restaurant industry’s struggles to retain staff – and cover the costs of employee turnover – some brands are trying to broaden their reach when it comes to hiring new staff, all while saving time in the process. Tapping into technology can help. McDonald’s, which has made announcements in recent months about promoting greater gender balance and diversity in its workforce, recently began using artificial intelligence-powered software called Textio to craft job postings and write recruitment emails designed to appeal to a more diverse audience, QSR Magazine reports. Five Guys is also among the brands using AI to screen and interview potential candidates, according to Glassdoor.
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.
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.”