Across the United States, businesses are suffering from unprecedented staffing shortages in the aftermath of COVID. Nowhere is this more clear than in restaurants; many wonder if parts of the workforce left the industry for good and how they will fill that gap.
With a critically shrunken talent pool, restaurants are racing to fill positions in every part of the business — front of house, back of house, and corporate teams. Technology innovations offer the potential to bridge the gap between the need to keep their business running and deliver quality products and experiences to their guests. But while some may predict a future with burger-flipping robots, it’s hard to imagine tech taking the place of a skilled line cook, experienced server, or seasoned marketer. More realistically, technology advancements can eliminate superfluous tasks and automate components of complex ones. Here are a few examples of tech-centered solutions to ease the ongoing labor crisis in restaurants by putting more functionality directly in the hands of customers:
Digital Tableside Ordering to Support Service Staff
At full-service restaurants, servers are responsible for crucial tasks. Not only do they need to be aware of challenges that kitchen staff are facing and adapt accordingly, they are also the main point of guest interaction for on-premise dining. Reducing the transactional parts of a server's job allows them to focus on building relationships with their guests, providing superior customer service and managing the more complex requests and interactions.
Enter digital tableside ordering. Using a smartphone or digital device, customers can place orders, add to existing orders, and pay their checks right from their table without server interaction. Guests can also enjoy a much quicker speed of service and reduced wait times with the self-service nature of tableside ordering. For fast-casual or QSR brands, digital tableside ordering is equally beneficial. It relieves cashiers and reduces long lines. One example of a restaurant chain leveraging similar tableside technology is the growing chef-driven Mexican fast-casual concept, Tocaya. With busy lunch and dinner dayparts, speed of service is crucial even when faced with staffing challenges. Tocaya uses digital tableside ordering to give customers the option to quickly view the menu and reorder items without having to interact with staff or wait in line.
At Tocaya, each table is outfitted with a QR code and table identifier for guests to place instant orders on their own personal devices, without the need to download an app, and the food is delivered directly to the corresponding table. Because of the native integration with their loyalty program, Tocaya’s digital tableside capabilities ensure customer data is captured while customer patronage is rewarded with progress toward their loyalty account.
Digital Ordering to Eliminate Friction Points for Cashiers
Often cashier team members at fast-casual or QSR restaurants are expected to manage multiple jobs and side tasks to keep the entire restaurant running smoothly. For example, it is not uncommon for cashiers to also serve as expediters, manage drive-through guests, and fulfill drink and food orders.
Digital purchasing channels, such as mobile app and web, help restaurants achieve more sales per square foot by streamlining the ordering process–allowing more orders to come through directly to the kitchen. Customers skip the line entirely. And with more restaurants looking to gain an edge over third-party by incentivizing native digital purchasing with loyalty programs, customer adoption of digital ordering channels will only go up.
Restaurants can invest in optimizing their digital ordering channels in several ways:
- Building eye-catching menus optimized for ease of use during the ordering process
- Removing guest checkout to maximize data capture and enable features like one-click reordering and cookies that remember your last log-in for at least 30 days
- Integrating loyalty program or CRM so guests are incentivized to seek out and use these channels
With a tech stack designed to create an efficient online ordering ecosystem, restaurants can feel supported by owned digital ordering channels as a means to reduce dependence on staffing to meet their guests’ needs.
Loyalty Technology to Drive Daypart Engagement
Difficulty in attracting and hiring employees is certainly at the crux of the labor shortage crisis. However, once team members are hired and restaurants have invested time and money in their training, retaining new staff is key. For hourly workers, ensuring they have enough shifts scheduled to meet their earnings expectations is critical. This can prove difficult for restaurants with underperforming dayparts. Managers may struggle to justify staffing shifts if the sales cannot support the labor expense.
With restaurant loyalty technology, brands get to know their customers deeply, such as their preferences for everything from menu items to visit frequency. Brands like McDonald’s are using advancements in loyalty tech to encourage customers to branch out to new meal periods.Loyalty programs at their core are a tool to capture customer data so that marketers can personalize engagement. McDonald’s is using this data to understand how to get their coffee drinkers to come back for dinner or lunch customers to try a new breakfast item. Consider a lunch customer who orders with their McDonald’s app, integrated with the MyRewards loyalty program. Immediately following that transaction, McDonald’s can send that customer an offer to try a free muffin for breakfast within the next few days to encourage both frequency and the adoption of a new morning habit.
When strategic, data-driven marketing powered by loyalty programs is used to drive meal period performance, restaurants create shift opportunities for all day parts. This growth in sales warrants additional staffing, giving employees the additional hours and pay they are looking for to stay satisfied with their employer.
Marketing Automation to Maximize Team Bandwidth
The labor crisis has not been limited to just FOH or BOH operations staff. At the corporate level, marketing teams continue to be bandwidth constrained as businesses struggle to hire. While marketers have typically had access to a wealth of data and technology, the latest in marketing automation is how restaurants can make the most of even the smallest teams
Innovations in leading customer engagement platforms consolidate marketing technology by bringing email, SMS and push notification, and retention marketing all under one platform, while offering opportunities to automate many of these tactics.
Customer engagement platforms that are integrated with digital ordering or point of sales can leverage customer data to optimize marketing efforts. In these instances, marketers can send targeted marketing emails with messaging tailored to desired audiences in just a few clicks.
Thanks to these tools in marketing automation, data-driven marketing that used to take multiple teams weeks to deploy now take one person minutes. Manual steps like having to acquire and analyze data, create the audience segments, craft the message, and select the distribution channels are now streamlined to single-click commands.
The more advanced platforms are pushing the limits even further on the possibilities of what guest engagement can do for restaurants. Recently announced capabilities like automated A/B testing and Lifecycle Insights and Recommendations make it easy for small marketing teams to drive huge results.
These are just a few examples of how the latest in tech can equip marketers with leading guest intelligence and data analytics without the need to recruit or hire data scientists in a hugely competitive job market.