Since the pandemic, restaurants have endured a plethora of issues ranging from fluctuating dining restrictions to supply chain issues to rising food prices. But arguably no issue has proven to be as constant and bedeviling as the labor shortage. Recent research has proven the industry is still struggling to rebound on staffing, reporting a woeful 500K fewer employees than before the pandemic. And now as a recession looms on the horizon, eight percent of restaurants are reportedly laying off employees heading into 2023, setting the stage for a tough season as holiday demand puts pressure on already-frustrated staff.
Experts know the pandemic has forever changed the way that restaurants operate, so it’s unsustainable for restaurants to continue turning to short-term cost saving measures that could have long-term impacts on the guest experience. Just as the pandemic fueled digital transformation via no-contact delivery apps, QR code menus, and digital ordering, restaurants challenged by lack of staffing will likely turn to technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) to alleviate pain points.
Demand for Dining Out Isn’t Going Anywhere
Even as consumers brace for impending economic uncertainty, demand for restaurant dining has yet to waver, with 58 percent of consumers stating that they are eating restaurant food more often this year compared to 2021. And as the holidays draw closer, restaurants can expect even higher demand than is typical the rest of the year, with holiday parties and increased foot traffic bringing in more patrons. Evidently, restaurants will still have to work to meet increased demand, and customer service must be a focal point even when tightening budgets. This means that restaurants will have to ensure that ongoing staffing issues don’t impact operations, even as the labor shortage has caused job vacancies of a minimum of six months for 67 percent of restaurants.
To take some of the pressure off of an already small staff, restaurants have begun turning to technology solutions with touchpoints in the front and back of house operations. At the forefront of these investments is artificial intelligence, which is a technology that, by design, is intended to accomplish tasks that are typically done by people.
Taking Orders with Artificial Intelligence
One place where AI has been making an impact as these challenges persist is with phone ordering. For restaurants with a high volume of phone orders, many employees can get stuck taking orders while other responsibilities fall by the wayside. But by implementing an AI-powered phone bot, consumers are able to place orders over the phone with the AI just as they would with a live person, while employees are able to focus on things like ensuring food quality and fulfilling orders faster and more accurately, all while improving customer satisfaction. True AI is able to learn the entire online ordering menu, so phone-in customers can customize orders just as they would if they were in store or talking to an employee. It’s able to understand accents, colloquialisms, and multiple voices through the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP), as well as engage with consumers to upsell on things like drinks and side dishes. In addition, AI is able to handle multiple phone lines at once, meaning the customer is never on hold and more calls are completed, leading to improved customer satisfaction and higher profits for the restaurant.
AI can also be leveraged for text ordering and marketing by sending an automated text message to the consumer after the order has been completed. From there, technology automatically sends customers text marketing messages, which gives them the ability to reorder via text when suitable to the restaurant.
By investing in technology that can connect front and back of house operations with labor-conserving solutions like AI, restaurateurs can not only ensure that their business is future-proofed from ongoing pain points like labor shortages, but can improve customer satisfaction, relieve employees of mundane tasks, and propel their operations into the future.