According to new federal data, the restaurant industry has lost 5.9 million jobs due to the pandemic-related closure of dine-in services — roughly two-thirds of restaurant employees in the U.S. Now restaurants are navigating through the post-pandemic phase, but the recent wave of reopenings across the country has come with its own set of challenges.
The constantly evolving pandemic-related regulations and confusion forced many restaurants to lay off and then rehire staff. Weary of the uncertainty, many restaurant workers found more secure employment in other industries.
Now with the nationwide return to dine-in business, the restaurant employee shortage may be one of the biggest barriers to successful reopening and the survival of many businesses. Additional hiring challenges include lingering employee anxieties around virus exposure, a shortage of seasonal foreign workers, and generous stimulus payments that compete with restaurant wages.
Over the past year, a record number of restaurants have invested in technologies to create more efficient operations and facilitate online ordering and delivery.
In response, many restaurants have turned to technology to help address the labor gap. Over the past year, a record number of restaurants have invested in technologies to create more efficient operations and facilitate online ordering and delivery. Now another type of technology is helping some to stay afloat in spite of the labor crisis. Restaurants that have reinforced their operations with self-service technology, such as kiosks, are benefitting in this new reopening period where customer demand outpaces staffing levels. The benefit of such self-service options lies in their ability to empower consumers to safely order and pay for their meals, while helping restaurants to mitigate what will hopefully be short term labor pressures.
Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken had already implemented self-service technology across its franchise locations pre-pandemic. Thanks to its early adopter strategy, the restaurant chain is now better positioned to weather the current labor shortage. Since gradually adopting its self-service strategy, Rise now allocates the vast majority of its incoming orders to kiosks, having phased out cashiers due to the program’s success.
Rise also added heated food lockers so customers can pick up their orders and maintain a full no-contact experience – a welcome incentive for customers that also proved lucrative for Rise in the early pandemic period. As Rise has expanded its business into new franchise locations it has also shifted employees into different positions within its restaurants, decreasing its reliance on front line order takers.
The benefit of such self-service options lies in their ability to empower consumers to safely order and pay for their meals, while helping restaurants to mitigate what will hopefully be short term labor pressures.
California-based Indian street food concept Curry Up Now, is also now benefitting from a similar strategy having transitioned into self-service kiosks and finding that the option meshed well with its use of space and brand identity. Their customers also appreciate the no-line wait and independent vibe. In addition to offering social distancing perks, Curry Up Now found that the self-service kiosks empower their customers to browse and order at their own pace resulting in a positive and more comfortable experience – especially for the more self-reliant millennial and Gen Z cohorts. For Curry Up Now, kiosks also give their existing employees the chance to connect in unique ways with their customers where needed, rather than focusing solely on the order process.
Notably for both of these customers, they used the same physical format as a POS terminal. This has two huge advantages. First, if kiosks are less critical because the labor situation changes or consumers have other alternatives, the kiosk hardware can be redeployed. Second, the cost is nominal, especially when compared to a large format special purpose kiosk. Although special purpose kiosks may be more appropriate in some environments such as McDonalds, they’re not an affordable or practical option for most operators.
Technology like the self-service kiosk has experienced accelerated adoption during the pandemic, notably because it offers businesses the ability to pivot around unprecedented industry challenges. Ultimately, it has kept many restaurants afloat during the industry’s most challenging period.
Now, as restaurant dining rooms fill with customers craving an in-person experience and staffing shortages impede reopening, it may be self-service technologies that become the next industry advancement that helps to bail out struggling businesses. It allows restaurants to balance running short-staffed restaurants while also meeting digital age advancements that must be embraced to stay relevant and efficient within the new restaurant landscape.