Anyone who has spilled water on a laptop understands the relief of discovering that the machine works when it’s dry again. But anxiety about the incident still lingers. After all, hidden damage could manifest itself in the days or weeks ahead.
In a sense, this is the place the restaurant industry is in right now. Restaurateurs are seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel due to a variety of factors. For example, labor shortages, one of their biggest obstacles to growth, are easing, according to Labor Department numbers. Yet, threats to limited-service and full-service restaurants are still lurking behind the scenes.
Full-service restaurants, for instance, are particularly subject to the effects of inflation—as consumers appear to shift some spending to limited-service establishments and QSRs to save food costs. This migration could be a goldmine for casual/fast food brands if only they had the people to support them. Unfortunately, it turns out that restaurants’ staffing numbers are not as rosy as they seem; instead, they’re favoring the full-service segment, according to Black Box Intelligence. Meanwhile, the industry as a whole is dealing with supply chain shortages and a potential recession.
How can individual brands push forward despite these potential threats? Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) can help them maximize 2023 financials by:
- Offering a better experience to diners and employees
- Increasing efficiencies and lowering expenses
These technologies empower restaurants in various ways—from automating tasks to identifying emerging risks. All this happens when restaurant teams connect their building and kitchen equipment (HVAC, ovens, dishwashers, fryers, refrigerators, freezers, etc.) and control and monitor them in real-time from the cloud.
Relieving Short-Staffed Restaurants
Consider those short-staffed limited-service restaurants whose employees are hard-pressed to pay full attention to their customers while completing routine tasks like temperature monitoring. Automating these procedures can save about an hour of labor per day while improving the customer experience and equipment uptime, protecting inventory and more. It also relieves employee stress and helps prevent burnout in a high-turnover environment.
What tasks would benefit from automation? Sharing recipe updates through thumb drives is a common one. It’s not unusual for a fast-casual restaurant with over 1,000 locations to manually save the recipes on these drives and then send them to the field teams, and hope they’re properly uploaded. Unfortunately, up to a third of the locations may never receive them, or their staff may not take the time to plug them in. By automating this process through the IoT, brand quality becomes more uniform, limited time offerings are easier to roll out, and restaurants gain an advantage as consumers return for new favorites.
Imagine travelers pulling off the highway for the fast-food sandwich they’ve been craving, only to be disappointed because a fryer is malfunctioning. By automatically monitoring any deviations in fryers’ oil temperature, QSRs can proactively repair machines that aren’t performing the way they should and prevent this scenario. This also prevents the waste of costly oil and keeps food quality up to standard.
Speaking of waste prevention: Imagine discarding $20,000 worth of inventory and closing for two days because of a malfunctioning walk-in cooler. IoT technology detected a temperature change with one restaurant’s equipment in time to take preventive measures and keep operations humming.
When staff is 100-percent focused on their guests, it’s easy for them to overlook looming problems like these. Are the food warmer heat lamps completely turned off, or is a dial a hair away from the off position? These kinds of omissions have previously led to fires, resulting in thousands of dollars in headaches and lost revenue. Are QSRs’ parking lots staying lit beyond operating hours, so staff feels safe throwing out trash and getting into their cars?
Helping FSRs Improve Margins
The same technology-based practices that limited-service restaurants are adopting benefit full-service restaurants.
These FSRs are well-served to pay attention to this technology now because of heightened pressures on their profit margins (which are affecting the whole restaurant industry) due to higher expenses. Ninety-two percent of restaurant operators responding to a recent National Restaurant Association survey note that food costs are challenging for them, and 89% cite labor costs. Energy/utility bills are another obstacle.
Driving Down Energy Budgets
FSRs often have larger spaces to heat, cool, and light than their limited-service counterparts. That magnifies the importance of driving down their energy costs—as conversations about double-digit price increases swirl around their industry. IoT has delivered millions of dollars in restaurant energy savings through a combination of automation and alerts to critical problems—such as malfunctioning HVAC switches and overuse of energy during peak demand cycles. When facility managers have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of restaurants to monitor simultaneously, it’s easy for issues such as staff overriding HVAC controls to remain invisible. IoT puts that data front and center so restaurants can improve staff training and operations management at scale.
Since COVID-19 began, limited- and full-service restaurants have stepped up their technological innovation to regain strength. In 2023, building on this approach will help them preempt new financial obstacles and cook up additional profits.
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