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.
As restaurant business rebounds and operators look to stabilize costs, adopting tech to help with labor management and fluctuations can help contain unexpected expenses – and reduce the staff frustrations that can lead to turnover . Make sure your labor management software is up to the task: It should help you forecast your sales and develop accurate staffing schedules based on those forecasts. Beyond that, it should allow employees some freedom and flexibility to swap shifts or request time off – all while requiring minimal involvement from management.
Even in more normal times, there is often waste lurking in a restaurant’s labor structure. You might have too many or too few employees on hand to serve customers or close for the night, or simply have too many occasions when your staff have idle minutes between tasks. Using tech to manage your labor isn’t about replacing your people with machines, but about accumulating evidence to demonstrate what labor is required to complete various tasks and then ensuring you deploy the ideal number of people to execute those tasks. You may feel that after many years running a restaurant, you have a good gut feel for how many people you need and when – but you might be surprised by the hidden waste that tech can reveal to you. (Noodles & Company learned recently via the use of HotSchedules, for example, that having five or six employees handle closing-shift duties was taking one hour, while the same duties took just 45 minutes when they scaled the number of closing-shift staff down to four people.)
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.