Happy Diners, Happy Restaurant Leaders: It All Starts with the Right Connections

As summer begins, many restaurateurs expect added revenues, according to a recent Datassential survey—but how much will that truly improve their financial performance?

Close to 50 percent of the survey respondents predict their summer traffic or sales will go up. But there are counteracting forces at work. For example, Black Box Intelligence reports a decrease in restaurants’ year-over-year same-store sales and traffic growth for three consecutive months (through April 2023). Moreover, restaurants are challenged to expand sales when staffing shortages make it harder to pay close attention to their customers.

How can they overcome these hurdles? The answer lies in harnessing the power of connections. Successful restaurants already do this—helping friends, families, and couples strengthen their bonds while enjoying great food. Those that excel at connecting both people and equipment stand to gain even more—improving their competitive advantage and their top and bottom lines.

Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced this lesson. At a time when people were craving in-person connections, multi-unit restaurants needed to compensate for the financial consequences of forced closures and people’s fears about dining in. They found the solution by connecting equipment (dish machines, ovens, refrigerators, fryers, etc.) through Internet of Things (IoT) technology while people remained apart. By reading and acting on the data this equipment shared securely to the cloud, restaurants were able to maximize savings, improve margins, maintain their customer relationships in new ways, and stay strong.

Imagine what happens when restaurants routinely connect both people and machines. That’s what many are now doing to maximize the results of higher traffic periods (like summer and the holidays) and make further improvements year-round. This is helping them:

  • Save energy/resources and associated costs: During the summer, it’s tempting to turn up the air conditioning without thinking about it so that guests and staff stay comfortable. But when restaurants connect their HVAC equipment, they uncover previously hidden inefficiencies such as malfunctioning rooftop units or units running simultaneously during costly peak electricity demand periods. IoT functionality enables them to proactively identify and help prevent failing HVAC equipment as well as stagger HVAC operation to reduce electricity demand charges.
  • Prevent expensive kitchen equipment breakdowns and their ripple effects: For guests, summer conjures up images of their favorite restaurant promotions—from lobster rolls to new soft-serve flavors. But what happens if customers rush in the first week a special is offered, only to discover it’s unavailable because of broken kitchen equipment? Using IoT is helping restaurants prevent this disappointment, which can have lasting effects if diners go elsewhere and form a preference for local competitors.

The intelligence from connected equipment gives operators time to order preventive maintenance. Data indicating that fryers aren’t heating fast enough, refrigerators are struggling to stay cool, or that frost is building up in freezers are all warnings to be heeded. No restaurant wants to lose customers—or even submit to closures due to health regulations—because essential equipment is out of service, particularly in the summer. 

Moreover, ConnexFM research indicates that reactive repairs can cost up to three times as much as preventive servicing. As restaurants struggle to increase savings and profits, alerts to potential problems from connected equipment can save them significant money by preventing the need for expensive fixes.

  • Focus on ESG measures: Increasingly, restaurants are investigating IoT solutions to incorporate into more robust sustainability/ESG programs. This technology is helping them in many ways, such as detecting freezer malfunctions to prevent thousands of pounds of uncooked meats from going into landfills. Oil used in fryers has also become a precious, expensive commodity; discovering that staff isn’t filtering the oil frequently enough can correct behavior that would otherwise lead to excessive oil consumption, and insights into the fryer’s performance can help extend the life of the equipment, keeping it out of the landfill for a longer period.
  • Keep diners happy and safe: Through IoT technology, understaffed restaurants can automate routine tasks, such as temperature checks and the sharing of HACCP practices, which are vital to ensuring food safety. Automation enables wait staff to focus on their customers without as many administrative distractions.

Indeed, when multi-unit restaurants connect their machines, they also build strong connections with their communities of diners. When these customers are happy, restaurants’ leadership teams are happy, too.