There is no question that the past two years have been a rollercoaster ride for the restaurant industry and the world at large (in fact, “rollercoaster ride” might be an understatement). Though much ink has been spilled over the difficult hurdles restaurants survived — and thrived — through, it’s also important to highlight the positive changes that are transforming the industry, and that includes technology.
Technology, Then and Now
Traditionally, the restaurant world has been slower to adapt to technology and digital tools compared to other sectors. But the pandemic changed everything, and most of the technology that owners and operators adapted to stay afloat has become the new reality. Restaurants pivoted to contactless ordering with open arms for sanitary and social distancing purposes, and embraced digital platforms and apps that enabled streamlined delivery and curbside pickup. In the storm of the pandemic, restaurants were able to serve orders efficiently and maintain the best-possible experience — and customers loved it.
But restaurants shouldn’t stop their digital transformation journeys with the solutions they implemented during the pandemic. As we navigate this new world, expect to see automation take center stage, especially as we grapple with the effects of an increasingly tight labor market. In fact, a recent study from the payment solutions provider Square found that three in four restaurant owners believe that technology is the solution to the industry’s labor shortage.
The benefits of automation are two-fold for your existing and future employees and your customers. Automating key processes in your restaurant business not only takes stress off your staff’s shoulders in the form of time saved; it also increases order accuracy and speed of service, which translates into a better experience for your customers.
Here are some emerging advancements that will take automation to the next level in restaurants across the country:
Contactless ordering upgrades: Artificial intelligence (AI) programs like Siri and Alexa already make activities like grocery shopping easier than ever. Now imagine if you could enjoy the same benefits when placing your next drive-through order? Expect to see your favorite food franchises and QSRs adopt voice automation in drive-through settings to help ease staff members’ workloads, reduce labor shortage pain points and boost speed. Kiosk and mobile app ordering, as well as smart payment methods like QR codes, will also help ease front-counter and register staffing, so employees can focus on other priority tasks like order assembly.
Employee empowerment and support: Contactless ordering isn’t the only area in which restaurants will use AI; they will also deploy it to better support employees in their duties, foster teamwork and even boost order accuracy. Several restaurant brands are testing tools that track customer ticket times and identify which combinations of team members work together most efficiently during peak periods on peak days. This allows managers to produce the most ideal work schedules, which not only benefits the customer and their quality of service, but also makes life easier for employees. Restaurants are also using this same type of AI technology to track orders through completion and alert employees to errors or inaccuracies (say a missing burger or drink), so they can correct them before delivering the order to the customer.
Customer experience enhancements: Many restaurants are using geofencing, which utilizes global positioning systems (GPS) to define and identify a customer’s geographic boundaries, to create a better, more convenient ordering experience. For instance, by enabling geofencing via mobile phones, customers could pull up to a drive-through and see a welcome message on the ordering screen with a range of curated menu options based on their previous orders. Before they’ve even said “hello,” restaurants can customize and personalize a customer’s experience and interaction, which results in stronger brand loyalty, repeat visits and even new business via word-of-mouth recommendations.
Savvy social media marketing: According to the Boston Hospitality Review, 50 percent of Instagram users show increased interest in a brand after seeing an ad on the platform. What’s more, MGH found that 55 percent of people plan to go to a restaurant after seeing an appealing video about it on TikTok. Today’s restaurants can’t afford to underestimate the power of these social platforms as marketing tools. Hone your efforts on TikTok and Instagram and even consider hiring social specialists who are specifically responsible for managing your presence, promotions and engagement.
As we emerge from the eye of the storm, I would argue that there has never been a more exciting time to be in the restaurant space. So long as you focus your efforts on the tech upgrades that are best for your business, you can successfully harness innovation and deliver better results to your customers, while creating a rewarding, fulfilling environment for your employees.