As we head into the New Year, restaurants of all sizes continue to grapple with a number of major challenges impacting the industry. Staffing continues to be a top-of-mind concern for many restaurateurs, followed closely by inflation.
Despite these challenges, restaurants are still planning for growth in the year ahead, with popular brands focused on continued expansion. Earlier this year, Yelp data showed that cuisines and restaurant categories like dinner theater (up 240 percent) and buffets (62 percent) all saw strong new business opening growth year over year.*
As restaurants expand and add new locations, many have had to adapt to navigate these uncertain economic conditions. For some, that has meant looking to supplement staffing gaps with technology and modifying or expanding the roles and responsibilities of current staff. Between supply chain issues, staffing challenges and increasing operation costs, restaurants have had to re-examine roles and responsibilities for employees and lean into technology to increase operational efficiency.
Automating the Front of House
Staffing is often the biggest cost for restaurants, accounting for about one-third of total costs. Front-of-house staff can be hard to recruit, are less tenured, and have high turnover. In fact the average restaurant employee tenure is just 110 days, according to a recent 7 Shifts study.
Ongoing staffing challenges have led restaurants to embrace technology solutions, especially for front of house roles. Restaurants, like California’s Squeeze-In, have adopted Yelp Kiosk for a self-serve waitlist feature for customers, allowing walk-in customers to add themselves to the digital waitlist, view live wait times and receive “table ready” notifications.”
Automating repetitive host tasks enables a restaurant to operate with a smaller staff and help mitigate labor costs, decreasing the need to hire as many employees and freeing up resources to raise wages for current employees. Restaurants, like Los Angeles’ Blu Jam Cafe, have embraced QR codes to navigate a limited front-of-house staff, allowing diners to view the menu, order and pay, and enabling front-of-house staff to focus on food running and seating.
Redefining the Role of the Manager
Retention is a continued challenge – restaurants are eager to hire and retain top talent amid the current high-turnover reality that they are facing. This issue can be particularly problematic when it comes to retaining restaurant managers, with many feeling under-compensated and overworked. This is one of the reasons Yelp recently launched the Servies, a new awards program to recognize front-of-house staff.
The best managers recognize that they have an ever-changing job and in the current landscape, this has never been more true. With restaurants automating front-of-house roles, managers are seeing their roles expand to maintain a high-quality guest experience. This can mean running food and answering diner questions about dishes in addition to their core responsibilities around people management and cash control.
Simplicity Is Key
Restaurants are continuing to see some of the hidden costs associated with too many vendors, including lack of integration, device proliferation, and complex systems. As restaurants move to an omnichannel model, they need vendors that are going to help them manage every aspect of their front-of-house in a seamless and efficient way.
A strong tech partner can be a key operational differentiator, helping restaurants reach more customers and integrating customer interaction channels. When implemented correctly, a technology solution can help staff spend more time with guests, turn tables faster and give decision makers easy views of performance data and a clear understanding of customers.
In the year ahead, restaurants are looking for ways to keep revenue coming in and drive growth, while also reducing costs where possible. This means investing more in infrastructure and embracing the ways that technology can fill operational gaps.