Restaurants that use robotic chefs to prepare food and AI to take orders tend to generate breathless headlines, but as recent news from McDonald’s implies, operators may best handle the strains of labor inflation with mundane restaurant tech for the time being. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski acknowledged recently that automation wouldn’t be a “silver bullet” to solve the brand’s problems with labor inflation. (Restaurant Dive reported that its tests of drive-thru voice ordering were only 80 percent accurate, falling short of the 95 percent accuracy it sought.) Instead, the brand is focusing on customer data to make staffing decisions and reduce labor demand in its stores – something well within the reach of brands far smaller than the likes of McDonald’s. If you’re struggling with the challenges of labor inflation, harnessing your data may reveal some low-tech changes you can make to ensure you have the optimal number of staff at a time, as well as the ones who provide the highest levels of guest satisfaction.
After a period of two years when technology has demonstrated its worth across a wide range of businesses, restaurants are awash in new data – about their customers, equipment, sales, inventory and more. But any data you collect is only as good as the problems it actively addresses. Make sure the information you collect is working for you by regularly asking some questions of it: What are our most profitable menu items? What menu items need to be adjusted or could benefit from customization? How should I schedule staff during our busiest and quietest shifts? What clues do the data provide about items that could be ideal limited-time offers? Regularly assess the information you’re collecting and identify any loose ends. Any data you generate should help you solve a problem or make an improvement.
As labor challenges persist for the time being, consider adopting technology that takes some of the more tedious and time-consuming aspects of the recruitment process off your plate. App-based systems – Fliptable and JobToday are just a couple of examples – can help a business find new employees and manage the details of onboarding them, making it easier for existing staff to share job postings with others, candidates to apply, and employers to track a candidate’s progress in the hiring process – all through a simple swipe on a phone.
Replacing an employee can be an expensive task for restaurants – according to the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University, the cost of employee turnover averages around $5,864 per person for a typical front-line employee. That expense is all the more debilitating when staff leave frequently. You can minimize those challenges if you can find staff who are a good fit for your business from the start, then ensure they have a smooth onboarding process. New research from the HR tech provider Sprockets suggests a number of tech tools operators can consider for help. Among them: JazzHR and TalentReef can help you track applicants and data based on your specific needs so you can better target applicants suited to your business. Spark Hire and Honeit can provide interviewing support, including tools to help you get a better sense of a candidate’s personality and store the comments they share. Finally, your training program can pave the way for a productive employee relationship (or provide a reason for a new staffer to disengage). Eloomi and Axonify can guide you through the process of developing a program that works for you and also track an employee’s progress.
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 so many restaurant workers have left the industry, the first impression you make on a candidate matters. According to a recent webinar from the National Restaurant industry entitled “New Thinking for New Challenges - Technology, Workforce and The Restaurant Operator,” the technology you use during initial candidate interactions can help. That’s especially true because the millennial generation, which grew up around technology and is comfortable with it, will comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. The industry experts participating in the podcast suggest you have a strong online presence through your website, then enable candidates to apply for positions via a text or a scan of a QR code. Further, any information you request from a candidate on an online form should then feed into other forms (such as I9, W4 and WOTC tax forms) so you’re not asking for the same information multiple times.
If you’ve lost employees or have had to hire new people in recent months, you’re not alone. But the near-constant need to onboard new workers doesn’t have to require as much of a manager’s time as it used to. Technology can help you make onboarding and ongoing training more individualized and consistent. You can use it to create push notifications or reminders of lessons discussed during team meetings – or to provide a just-in-time alert if you need to communicate with your team immediately. Using tech in this way helps ensure that small learning moments are passed on to workers at regular intervals throughout the week or throughout the shift – not necessarily held back for the next team meeting or a shadowing session with a more seasoned employee. You can also save your managers’ time by logging training videos, checklists or other resources in an electronic library for later reference by staff as needed.
If you’re unable to fill staff openings – and unwilling to raise prices to make it possible to raise your hourly wage – technology is quickly becoming the alternative restaurant operators choose to manage business. In a recent article in the New York Times, Shana Gonzales, a Checkers franchisee, said she could fully staff her restaurants if she offered $14-$15 an hour, but that would mean increasing prices so much that her customers would be driven away. So instead, she has introduced voice-recognition technology in her drive-thrus that can take orders, accommodate special requests and modifications, and send that information directly to the kitchen and cashier. At the moment, this technology isn’t replacing staff – at least not on a one-to-one basis – but is serving as a support, allowing employees more time for face-to-face customer service. But it’s safe to say that operators who find ways to incorporate automation can operate more smoothly with a slimmed-down number of total staff. What repetitive tasks in your restaurant could be ones to automate?
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.
At a time when restaurant operators are scrambling to attract and retain staff, every little tool designed to make restaurant jobs worthwhile can help. One such tool is an on-demand payment app that can give employees instant access to the wages they have earned that day. A number of large brands have signed on to use on-demand payment systems including Branch, DailyPay and Instant. Beyond immediate payment of wages, an on-demand payment app might be used to distribute tips or bonuses, as well as to provide financial management tools to employees. As a result, they can help lighten the load on restaurant managers too.