Do you ever wish that you had a crystal ball that could tell us what’s in store for the restaurant industry in the coming year? As we close out 2022, food production is at risk. Climate change is wreaking havoc on traditional farming methods, with crops withering in extreme heat or drowning in mid-Western floods. We’re still facing product shortages, exacerbated by ongoing supply chain interruptions and the Russian-Ukrainian war stalling food shipments – including 9.5 million tons of grain. Inflation is causing food prices – and food insecurity – to soar.
Restaurant operators should leverage digital tools to fight these serious – and simultaneous – threats to our food supply. Technology can boost business operations in a variety of ways. Luckily, tech solutions have become more affordable and accessible for food businesses of all sizes and budgets, allowing them to increase transparency, accuracy, safety, and quality.
In the coming year, operators should rely on restaurant technology (ResTech) to help them:
1. Focus on Sustainable Food Production
As climate change puts traditional farming methods – and food production – at risk, there will be a renewed effort around sustainable food production, like vertical farming, hydroponics, and aquaponics. Technology is essential to address multiple issues, like making farming more sustainable, building new infrastructure, reducing our dependence on foreign food supplies, and increasing transparency across the supply chain. Tech tools will be instrumental in helping the food industry innovate to ensure that today’s problems don’t reduce our future food supply.
2. Increase Quality and Accuracy
Making a mistake – like serving a turkey burger instead of a veggie burger to a vegetarian guest – might not seem like a huge deal, but every error comes with a cost. Some of that cost is literal – your restaurant will need to throw away the wrong meal and remake it correctly. You’ll likely comp the guest as an apology, meaning you’ll make two meals and not get paid for either one. Suppose this happens multiple times per shift. These “small costs” will add up over time. Then, you may also have more intangible costs of an unhappy customer spreading poor word-of-mouth about your restaurant, negative reviews on social media, and decreased traffic, lower sales, and customer loyalty. To make your customers feel valued and appreciated – and to boost key metrics like visits and sales – use tech tools to get customers’ orders right.
3. Manage Suppliers All Along the Supply Chain
Your restaurant may be prioritizing safety and quality efforts, but are all your suppliers aligned with your safety and quality standards? It’s good practice to track and manage supplier certifications to ensure compliance. However, manually trying to manage multiple suppliers’ certifications is messy and overwhelming. Therefore, operators should use digital tools to organize, manage and track supplier certifications in a central location, which streamlines and simplifies this important task. You’ll be able to clearly see which suppliers prioritize safety and quality – and avoid the ones that don’t.
4. Overcome Ongoing Challenges
The food industry continues to face major, concurrent crises, including production delays, food shortages, and extreme weather impacting crops. Food businesses will have to work hard to keep the lights on and deliver products (and promises) to customers.
5. Boost Workplace Accountability
Organizations will need to prioritize broader social accountability, which includes hiring a diverse workforce to ensure your staff is representative of your increasingly diverse customer base. Now more than ever, treating employees fairly and equitably is key to securing a knowledgeable, stable, and productive workforce. Not only is fair, equitable treatment the right thing to do, but it will also help increase key metrics, including employee satisfaction, loyalty, and retention.
6. Train Differently (and Better) than Ever Before
Historically, food businesses trained employees by explaining how things should be done. But what if you thought about training differently? Instead of just telling employees what to do, explain why the rules are in place, and they’ll be more likely to comply. Also, transform from a punitive culture – where employees fear “getting in trouble” for asking questions or pointing out infractions – to a collaborative one, where everyone takes responsibility for upholding high safety and quality standards. Empower employees to ask questions, fix problems, and speak up if they see any noncompliance issues. Train, practice, demonstrate, and reinforce, using tech tools to amplify training efforts and reinforce knowledge.
7. Improve and Embrace the Hybrid Model
Since customers have become accustomed to the hybrid of in-person, pickup and delivery, restaurants need to excel at all these models, focusing on safety and accuracy for each. Implement best-in-class protocols whether your guests are dining onsite, picking up their orders, or having meals delivered. Ensure that all your employees understand your safety protocols, including the need to do temperature checks, avoid cross-contamination, use separate prep areas for allergy-friendly meals, etc. Also, make it standard protocol to inspect each meal all along the production line, including a visual inspection before serving the guest or packing a to-go order, to maximize accuracy.
8. Enhance Brand Protection
During the pandemic, travel restrictions and social distancing efforts meant that many restaurants couldn’t conduct third-party inspections per usual. As a result, brands had to be flexible, adding remote audits and self-inspections instead of solely in-person audits. This pivot may have been the best thing to come out of the pandemic! Now, it’s common to rely on this combination approach for more frequent audits, leading to continuous improvement. Now, brands can protect their locations and/or facilities, even if they can’t physically reach them for inspections due to travel, budget, or other issues.
While we can’t control the ongoing product shortages, supply chain disruptions, or inflation, there are certainly some things that we can control. We can (and should) leverage integrated tech solutions to improve the way we train, audit, manage suppliers, and boost transparency, safety, and accuracy. Implementing technology may be the single most important thing your brand can do in the new year.