It’s a new day and age, where speed, accuracy, and efficiency are processed through automation. But how much tech is too much? How can restaurants use automation to augment the customer experience without replacing the human element? Now that we’re beyond the great restaurant recalibration, how do brands use automation for the greater good?
Restaurant Staffing Crisis
No matter where you are, you’re bound to find restaurants looking for talent; with many reminding customers to be kind to the shorthanded staff. When restaurants struggle with labor shortages, the customer experience is negatively impacted. Long-term implications are loss of loyalty, bad reviews, lost revenue, and other issues that erode business.
The restaurant industry is in the midst of a staffing crisis. According to a report from Washington Post, “the restaurant industry’s year-over-year quit rate jumped from 4.8 percent to 6.9 percent — a larger increase than in any other job sector — yet the hiring rate remained steady at 8.1 percent. As a result, restaurant job openings increased from 5.8 to 8.4 percent.”
Doing More with Less
As people work from home, many have pulled away from the restaurant industry, whether it be for other jobs or lifestyle. The National Restaurant Association reported in their State of the Industry report that at least half of all operators in fast food and fast casual, as well as full-service and quick-service segments, expect recruiting and retention to be their top challenge in 2022 and beyond – and 70% report not being able to staff sufficiently to meet their current level of business.
Consumers are looking for healthier options when dining out. But they also treat dining out as a form of entertainment and connection. So when the experience is disappointing, it leaves a negative dent in the restaurant biz.
According to data reported by CNBC:
- In the first quarter of 2022, customers mentioned short staffing three times more often in their Yelp reviews than in the year-ago period. (Mentions of long waits rose 23%).
- The American Customer Satisfaction Index found that consumers were less happy with fast-food chains this year compared with 2021 — the sector’s score slipped to 76 out of 100, from 78.
- The customer satisfaction scores for independent and small chain restaurants also dropped this year, to 80 out of 100, from 81 (national full-service chains saw their scores fall even more year over year: Dine Brands’ Applebees dropped 5%, Darden Restaurants’ Olive Garden 4%, and Inspire Brands’ Buffalo Wild Wings 3%).
Technology Helps Restaurants Deliver a Better Experience with Fewer People
It’s tough for operators to build a healthy staff, but automating everything isn’t the answer either. There needs to be a clear and definitive balance between automation and human experience.
It’s not impossible to leverage tech alongside human talent and experience. In fact, most restaurant operators are using technology to make their existing staff more efficient.
From Transactional to Experience Focused
The make-it-or-break-it moments for the guest experience happen at the beginning and end of the visit. If those two moments aren’t perfect, whether they’re forced to wait too long or struggle to get attention, it can sour the entire experience.
Leveraging technology that allows guests to place orders and pay at a kiosk, on their cell phones, or through tableside technology not only speeds the process but also allows available staff to manage more guests. It also shifts the interactions between staff and guest from transactional to experience-focused.
Customers Want Convenience and Human Connection
When used effectively, technology gives restaurant staff the time to create moments of deeper engagement with their guests. It also helps reduce the pain of labor shortages, which guests experience with longer wait times, poor service levels, and order mistakes.
The good news? Restaurant customers are open to and welcoming of technology that improves the experience and speeds up the process. According to PYMNTS,
- Two out of five restaurant customers believe online ordering or payment features could incentivize them to make more purchases from a restaurant.
- One-fifth of restaurant consumers are technology enthusiasts who would be encouraged to increase their spending through the use of QR code menus, restaurant-provided devices, mobile device payments and orders, self-service kiosks, and automatic orders.
- Technology-incentivized consumers purchase from restaurants more than other customers.
Happier Customers May Lead to Better Staff Retention and Revenue Growth
Technology has the power to help restaurant operators deliver a better experience without completely eradicating human-to-human engagement. Happier customers tip better, which has the potential to increase staff retention. Happier customers also make return visits and leave better reviews, which encourage more guests to visit, driving up revenue.
The bottom line for restaurant operators: Technology can be implemented in such a way as to enhance the guest experience without removing the human-to-human hospitality guests desire. It’s a win-win.