When dining rooms abruptly shut down during the pandemic, restaurants quickly adapted. By either establishing new processes or shifting to new business models entirely, once-elegant spaces gave way to outdoor dining. Indoors were reconfigured for social distancing or managing delivery and curbside pickup. Plexiglass dividers became standard. But, after all of the effort and investment, restaurants are still operating below 2019 levels. The only constant seems to be change.
The pandemic is partly to blame for the slow recovery. Customers have been hesitant to return to in-person dining. But it isn’t the only challenge restaurants must overcome — the labor shortage is arguably an even bigger issue. Though the leisure and hospitality sector added 2.6 million jobs in 2021, employment in food services is still 653,000 below where it was before the pandemic really hit. On top of that, many employers are now dealing with high turnover, losing and taking on workers at a greater pace than usual.
Restaurant Labor Shortages
The ongoing labor shortage is impacting the entire range of restaurant segments, forcing operators to make changes to stay in business. From an operations perspective, this may mean offering in-person dining at fewer hours per day or fewer days per week and seating fewer patrons. Businesses may also abbreviate menus to make food prep workloads more manageable with a smaller staff. These measures may help keep the doors open, but they add up to fewer table turns and less revenue.
Employees are also feeling the pinch. They may be working longer hours and taking on more responsibility. Employees have options, however. They don’t necessarily have to stay in their current jobs. Some will leave, enticed by competitive offers and attractive signing bonuses. Others may opt to explore careers in different industries altogether, ones that offer stable hours and better benefits. In any case, departing employees make the situation even worse for the co-workers and restaurants they leave behind.
Furthermore, customers have quickly realized that eating out just isn’t the same as it was. The waits are longer. Favorite foods are no longer on the menu. The staff seems rushed and maybe even less friendly. At a time when restaurants need to rebuild, they can’t afford negative customer experiences. They can’t afford to keep hiring new people just to watch them leave. They can’t afford fewer tables turned and lower revenues.
So, how can restaurateurs take their power back?
Tech That Helps Overcome Labor Shortage Challenges
In the face of all of these problems, perhaps investing in new restaurant tech can help. Here are five technologies that can ease the burden of operating short-staffed in a constantly changing environment. What’s even better is that this tech can improve the customer experience while future-proofing your restaurant at the same time.
Freestanding and table-top kiosks allow guests to place their own orders when ready. As an added advantage, self-service kiosks have been shown to increase customer spending by an average of 20 percent, according to recent studies. Researchers attribute higher average tickets to customers’ ability to scroll through menu choices at their own pace, giving them privacy and control of their ordering experience. These unattended solutions are programmed to optimize the customer experience with smart displays and upselling suggestions, increasing the potential for impulse menu selections.
From an operational standpoint, kiosks cover the relatively simple task of entering orders into the restaurant’s system, freeing managers to reassign employees to higher-value activities, such as food prep or curbside pickup management. Additionally, kiosks with advanced capabilities can automatically update menus when items are 86ed, or even tailor selections to returning customers, personalizing their experience.
Kitchen Display System (KDS)
Modern KDS technology is designed to help fewer people manage more orders. An effective KDS routes information to specific food prep stations automatically, eliminating service interruptions and paper trails, keeping kitchens and food prep areas organized and efficient.
KDS makes real-time data accessible to busy staff, further balancing workloads and boosting productivity. When part of an integrated system, staff can also print to-go box labels as part of the workflow, keeping orders organized, reducing excess waste, and optimizing back-of-house operations.
Online and Mobile Ordering
When a restaurant implements online and mobile ordering solutions, employees no longer have to step away from other important tasks to take orders. Online and mobile ordering also minimizes human error from staff reducing waste and losses due to misinterpreted orders.
Additionally, when the online ordering solutions are integrated with the point of sale (POS) system and kitchen display system (KDS), work is immediately prioritized and scheduled, ensuring all food prep occurs at the right time. Fewer items are missed, and orders are ready for the customer efficiently and on time.
Furthermore, online and mobile ordering solutions drive repeat business and customer loyalty by providing customers with an easy, convenient way to order. It also gives restaurants valuable data they can use to personalize future orders on any channel.
Contactless Pay at the Table
Pay-at-the-table solutions increase table turns by eliminating the back and forth to stationary POS terminals, including the time it takes to wait in line to use them. Instead, wait staff can accept credit, debit, and touchless payment methods on the spot, allowing guests to check out with a tap or a swipe of a card on contactless-enabled devices. Portable receipt printers complete pay-at-the-table transactions, with staff providing receipts immediately after payment.
Another option for creating a quick, touchless payment experience is to print a QR code on the customer’s receipt, allowing guests to pay privately, securely, and conveniently from personal devices. Like contactless pay-at-the-table, QR code payments make settling the check a one-step process, saving time and helping staff provide service to more customers.
With ongoing health and safety concerns, antimicrobial covers add another layer of confidence, not only for staff but for customers as well. This helps people feel safer in your establishment. Available in multiple shapes and sizes, protective covers are easy to affix and remove, leaving zero residue. Once applied, anything from door handles and panels to elevator buttons are less likely to harbor and spread bacteria and germs. Antimicrobial covers protect workers and customers without needing constant staff attention and supplies.
In businesses where there’s a shortage of staff, antimicrobial covers can help keep workers healthy and on the job, too.
Smart Investments Deliver Value Now & In The Future
As the restaurant industry continues its slow yet steady road to recovery, it’s vital to make smart investments. Restauranteurs want to ensure survival through this labor crisis, but they also need to think long-term. By automating mundane tasks, technology can help restaurants increase operational efficiency, greatly improving customer experience. Plus, they’ll be able to function whether fully staffed or not.
When restaurants settle into the new normal, the technology used during the crisis will only continue to bolster customer dining experiences, proving strong ROI.
Those who last are the ones who act. Which technology will you be looking into?