If you’re not using technology to improve your employee engagement and retain staff, your competitors likely are – and that may well change the labor landscape for restaurants in the years ahead. According to Nation’s Restaurant News Intelligence’s 2023 Restaurant Technology Outlook, 47 percent of restaurants are interested in technology tools that support employee training and onboarding, 43 percent are interested in tools that support employee productivity, and 24 percent are looking for automated scheduling tools. AI is driving many of the new tools available in this area and delivering precise forecasts that allow operators to optimize staff headcounts according to demand, pay people on time, automate compliance, and gain more time to personally interact with staff and create the connections that encourage them to stick around. This will continue to be critical as wage increases and high turnover make it more expensive to train and employ staff.
In an industry that struggles to attract and retain staff, having to assign tasks that are not simply repetitive or dangerous, but which also simply keep people from the profit-making areas of their work, can make it difficult to keep your best employees. A talented general manager, for example, likely didn’t join the business for their love of paying invoices or reordering supplies. Automating such tasks has benefits beyond boosting the efficiency of your business. After all, when your senior-level staff can move repetitive admin off their plates, they have time to focus on developing new marketing ideas, helping chefs bring new menus to fruition, greeting guests and correcting problems that stand in the way of positive online reviews.
Explain what’s in it for them
What goes for your food safety management program also applies to your technology: When your team understands why you’re enforcing a process or using a particular tool, they are more invested in using it and making it work for them. Your staff may have good reasons to resist the technology you introduce – perhaps they think it’s too complicated to learn, or maybe they feel it’s there to put them out of a job. But in truth, restaurants that use technology to truly support their staff gain the most from their tech and team alike – by offloading repetitive tasks, making existing tasks easier/faster/more efficient, or allowing staff to focus on more customer-facing responsibilities. Make sure your staff sees how the new scheduling software will allow them to swap shifts quickly or get paid faster. Show them how the inventory management system helps them avoid having to return to a guest’s table and apologize that an item isn’t in stock. Or how the kitchen display system helps them impress an allergic guest by getting an order precisely right each time.
Managing labor inflation through tech
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.
Can your data answer your questions?
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.
Hiring with the help of an app
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.
There’s an app for that
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.
Lean on a tech trainer
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.
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