One of the most exciting parts of watching Olympic swimmers race is seeing the “underdogs” come from behind and win. Knowing they have one last chance, these athletes harness every bit of their strength, move steadily to the front of the pack, and finish first in a dramatic moment.
The holidays are restaurants’ version of the Olympics; these final weeks are their last chance to surge forward. QSRs, coffee shops, fast-casual restaurants, and full-service establishments all have one more opportunity to win over new diners and achieve record revenues. The rewards could be sweet; Mastercard’s Spending Pulse report projects that 2023 holiday spending at restaurants will be 5.4 percent more than in 2022. Who will capture the gold? Those who provide a superlative experience to their diners.
Keeping Up with the Holiday Rush
Achieving that pinnacle is anything but easy, especially if staff can’t keep up with the crush of holiday customers. That is why multi-unit restaurants are leveraging a multitude of technologies to make every dining, delivery, drive-through, or takeout experience festive and memorable. For example, when a restaurant scales from 150 to 400 customers a day during the holiday period, technologies to improve order routing and drive-through queue management can enable teams stretched thin to serve customers efficiently.
Connecting with the Right Automation
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a powerful example of a back-end innovation that improves diners’ holiday experiences. Once restaurants connect their equipment—ovens, refrigerators, freezers, dish machines, fryers, HVAC, lights, and even their sound systems—they can control, monitor, and automate what’s happening at every location based on the data their connected equipment shares through the cloud. This lets restaurant operators preempt risks, tune up operations, offer a better dining environment, and make every experience a 10 out of 10.
Picture regional or national coffee shop brands with hundreds or thousands of stores. During the holidays, the regulars who order one latte every Sunday might need eight drinks for family and friends. Staff must be able to accommodate these unexpected additions quickly and efficiently without holding up other customers.
That’s hard when these team members, who are already stretched thin, are also responsible for ensuring that food is hot or cold enough, kitchen equipment is working at its peak, and items packaged for pickup or delivery aren’t soggy or cold when they arrive.
Plan Now for Impeccable Experiences Later
IoT enables short-staffed restaurants to automate routine but time-consuming tasks like temperature checks, turning on the holiday lights and music and distributing new recipes; it also helps them prevent potential problems that could dampen the holiday experience. If, in August, an IoT platform shows that a refrigerator at one of the coffee shop locations is struggling to stay cool, then the restaurant has time to repair or replace it before the holidays begin. That’s far better than having it go down on December 23—forcing staff to run out and buy fresh milk as customer lines get longer, with fewer on-premise people to serve them.
Consider a full-service restaurant that’s popular for office holiday parties. With everyone on overdrive, it’s easy for staff to forget periodic oven temperature checks that could lead to a batch of meat being plated before it’s fully cooked. Nothing can eliminate the promise of capturing new holiday diners for life like a foodborne illness, and IoT can prevent it.
On or Off-Premise, Experiences Must be Superior
For the 2023 holidays, it’s important for restaurants to capture customers’ hearts even when those customers are out of sight. That’s because these brands now build diner relationships both remotely and in person. US Foods recently surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and found that 57 percent preferred getting food for takeout/delivery, while just 43 percent preferred on-premise dining. That means the dining experience must be “consistently impeccable,” whether at a restaurant booth or in front of someone’s living room fireplace. Having pickup cabinets and food lockers to cater to takeout/delivery customers is just part of the equation. Ensuring that the packaged foods in these units stay at the right temperature is the remaining part, and IoT can help.
Making and Saving Money
During the holidays, successful multi-unit restaurants are also using IoT to:
- Keep store temperatures “just right” to encourage diners to stay for that last espresso.
- Distribute lucrative, limited-time offer (LTO) recipes to cooking equipment—replacing the traditional practice of mailing/delivering them on thumb drives, which restaurant teams may never properly install on their equipment.
- Synchronize the use of HVAC and other power-hungry equipment to minimize peak demand charges, which can comprise up to 50% of an electricity bill. These charges reflect the 15-minute intervals when business customers tend to “stress” the grid the most. New technologies integrating IoT and AI can help prevent excessive energy use during these times while keeping restaurant environments comfortable and inviting.
Your Perfect Memory
What is your perfect holiday dining experience or memory? Is it sitting down for lunch with festive music playing, a grilled cheese sandwich, a hot apple cider warming you all over, and 30 precious minutes to catch up on reading and wind down from shopping stress? Or is it connecting with “remote” colleagues in person over wine, funny Yankee Swap gifts, and shared successes? These memories are special, as are the restaurant brands they’re attached to. Technologies like IoT can help produce many such experiences—propelling restaurant revenues forward during the last leg of the holiday race.