Restaurant Modernization — It’s More than Customer-Facing Tech

You may be tired of hearing it, but the restaurant business will never go back to the old way of doing things. Customer demand and hygiene anxiety has already made sure of that. 

Most agree that an integral part of moving forward is adopting new tech, and I am firmly on that bandwagon. Since the pandemic hit, most discussion has been around customer-facing tech like ghost kitchens, digital-only restaurants, and other no-touch processes. But what about behind the scenes? What do quality teams need to do to keep up with our new urgent need for tech and other changes to help us through today’s murky waters of standards management? 

I believe tech, especially quality management software (QMS), plays a big part behind the scenes of restaurants. But when adopting tech, it’s important to also recognize that changes to processes and operations must happen to make new tech as effective as possible.

Changes in Policies, Process, and Goals

The “old way of doing things” doesn’t just apply to adopting tech. Tech may demand that some processes change, but other changes in policy and goals may be due for some refreshing as well. For example, I see industry trends moving toward:

  • A more active and robust food safety culture
  • An increase in self-assessments at locations
  • A more collaborative stance with suppliers and vendors

As a bonus, many of those changes can be supported by tech. Let’s expand on these modernizing trends and how tech fits into changes in policies, process, and goals. 

Coach Employees to Be an Extension of Your CQO

Food safety culture may have been an afterthought before, but it’s now one of the hottest topics since COVID-19 became our collective challenge. Food safety culture isn’t just about making sure employees know the rules and asking them to follow those rules, it’s about creating an environment where employees feel safe, heard, and empowered. In essence, you’re creating an environment that makes every employee an extension of your chief quality officer (CQO).

Your location employees are your first line of defense, which puts them in a tough spot. They’re being asked to do more in environments that are far riskier than before. It can lead to burnout and turnover, which may also leave you open to more risk through increased mistakes and gaps in training. 

That’s why it’s important to coach employees (not just have them memorize rules) to help them understand why they’re being asked to follow certain rules. If they know why rules exist, it helps them buy into your food safety culture; It empowers them to identify and act on the right thing to do more quickly, which is CQO behavior. 

To reinforce support for your employees, ask yourself if your employee policies are punitive rather that supportive. Letting employees own up to mistakes without getting “written up” will encourage them to monitor their own behavior and fix issues rather than let them slide so they can avoid getting into trouble. 

Add Self-Assessments at Locations 

Even before the pandemic, customers at my software company, RizePoint, were trending toward doing more self-assessments at each location to track the results of big yearly audits and to get better views into how things are right now instead of a single point-in-time view. 

But if you’re still relying on manual practices, such as paper checklists, email blasts, and spreadsheets, this uptick in collected data will easily overwhelm your operations. These manual tools have their limits, and the collected data can easily be misfiled, misplaced, or otherwise lost. Using a QMS that includes integrated mobile auditing apps can almost eliminate lost-data issues because of human error, and they can make it easy for employees to quickly complete checklists and look up policies on the spot.

Sure, spreadsheets may always be a part of your work life but uploading your data into a QMS instead transforms that data into insights giving you — a source of power and confidence rather than an array of disparate data that requires an amazing amount of time to discern. 

Another upside to using a QMS is that it puts you ahead of the curve with how the FDA is planning the future of food safety. Their New Era of Smarter Food Safety will clearly require tech and a mindset of continuous quality as the plan rolls out. 

Don’t Forget About Your Suppliers 

Suppliers and vendors are struggling just as much as you are, and many are actively refusing or limiting audits as they try to reduce risk due to COVID-19. However, they still need to send you documentation and data in order to remain approved suppliers for your business. With the right approach, your common struggles can actually strengthen your relationship with suppliers. Reach out, see how you can help, let them know that you want to keep them as suppliers and work together to find solutions. 

You can also use some QMS platforms to help with document collection and supplier communication. You’ll get all your information in one place and be able to quickly recall information as needed. Some QMS platforms also can put tracking renewals on auto pilot, so never again will you have to search through hundreds of computer files to see who is up for renewal. 

Budgets Haven’t Changed, So Creativity Is Key 

If you’re wondering how your limited budget can accommodate tech adoption, try getting creative and rolling mossy stones to see what you can uncover. For example, it may be time for an audit of your tech stack to see what you can consolidate or remove from your lineup. In your considerations, think about what items can be consolidated into a single software solution, such as multi-functional QMS. 

Additionally, using virtual audits through your video meeting app of choice can save auditor travel costs. It may not fully replace a full supplier audit or corporate audit, but it’s a cost-effective and safer solution until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.  

The pandemic is forcing changes in the restaurant industry faster than we expected — changes that we thought would happen in the next five to ten years are happening now. But these are important, worthwhile changes that can improve your business. I’m not saying there haven’t been and won’t be (sometimes severe) growing pains, but as you work to change and modernize, you’ll surely come out on the other side stronger and with more ability to withstand the next crisis.