The COVID-19 pandemic caused many industries to adapt, adopt, pivot, or close—and the restaurant industry was no exception, suffering more than most. Mass restrictions meant an abrupt switch to takeout only, front-line staffing challenges, and so much more. To survive the past few years, many restaurants were forced to go online before they were ready. Restaurant automation became a must-have rather than a nice-to-have, and those who could adopt these new technologies generally stayed afloat.
Today, some of this pivotal tech remains in place and continues to shape the industry. As a business owner, restaurant CEO, or HR manager, you’ll need to continue to incorporate new restaurant trends into your existing practices if you want to keep up with customer and employee demands. In this article, we’re exploring the trends and solutions that grew out of the past few years, those just gaining momentum, and how you can use these new innovations to help grow your restaurant business for the years ahead
The importance of technology in the restaurant industry
The restaurant industry is a crucial part of the American economy. The hospitality sector created 13.49 million jobs in 2019. In 2020, this number dropped to 11.26 million and was at 11.2 million as of 2021. The number of restaurant employees has been declining since the start of COVID-19, and tech is stepping in to fill the gaps. Having to operate with limited staff has led many restaurant owners to adopt these new technologies fast and continue to meet their customers' needs.
However, it’s not just HR teams that need to find ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions to keep the industry afloat. Customers’ needs are ever-changing too, and people need restaurants that can keep up.
11 ways automation is improving the restaurant industry
Despite what many assume, restaurant automation isn’t taking jobs from human beings; it’s actually created new job opportunities within the sector. Tech is filling in the gaps that restaurants are struggling to fill, while creating new demands for tech-savvy staff. Let’s take a look at some of these automation trends.
1. Cashless tipping improves employee satisfaction
Cash tipping will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to cashless tip technology, which has boomed in popularity over the past several years. New cashless tip methods like automated and digital tip payouts help save managers the time-consuming–job of checking the cash register, monitoring cash flow, and counting change at the end of each shift.
What’s more, keeping large amounts of money on site isn't the safest option, and managers can finally say goodbye to that risk, along with the worries of unfair tip distribution among a front and back-of-house team.
Sending instant, digital tip payouts (instead of using cash or putting tips on an employees’ paycheck) also boosts employee satisfaction, with faster access to earnings being a huge incentive that increases morale.
Branch offers automated and instant payments, including digital tip payouts, pushing the money to employee accounts for free. Instant cashless tipping gives your employees financial security and enables them to access their day-to-day tips easily–increasing employee satisfaction and reducing restaurant turnover by up to 15%.
2. QR codes supply more accessible menus
QR code menus are a restaurant technology that saw an abrupt increase in usage during the pandemic. It’s now here to stay. Many customers (and restaurants) prefer using QR codes over printed menus, even after the pandemic. According to a study by QSR, about 45% of Americans preferred viewing a restaurant menu, ordering, and paying for their food using their phones instead of interacting with the wait staff during the pandemic.
The same study also claims that 40% of Americans want to continue using this tech trend after the pandemic. Besides Americans growing fond of this new restaurant technology, there are various reasons restaurants are keeping it too.
With QR code menus, a restaurant owner can avoid printing costs, eliminate paper waste, and instantly update their menu without needing to reprint the entire thing. QR code menus that go beyond an online PDF and deliver menus via an app can also help a business learn what customers like based on food and drink orders. This data will help restaurant owners personalize menus for customer accounts, and even spot demand trends to better stock products in future months.
3. Self-service kiosks to battle staff shortages
You’ve likely seen self-serve kiosks around—they’re not new to the game—but they definitely received a UI and hardware upgrade in the last year. Self-service kiosks are free-standing ordering systems synced with restaurant point-of-sale (POS) systems. They allow customers to browse a digital restaurant menu, make orders, and pay via credit cards or other contactless payment methods.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the food and beverage industry has approximately 794.000 openings—aka staff shortages, which represents roughly 6.1% of its workforce. We can't expect these issues to be solved overnight, and it may be a good idea to adopt self-service kiosk technology to combat or complement staff shortage problems at your restaurant.
Interestingly, 44% of American customers claim that if self-service kiosks were available, they would use them the next time they visited their favorite restaurant. Self-order kiosks improve order accuracy as the customer enters their order into the system and reviews it before finalizing. It can help your restaurant deal with staff shortages, and can be seen as a safer way to order than face-to-face communications. Win win all around.
4. Digital payments to suit the modern customer and employee
Since 75% of Americans prefer paying for purchases using contactless payments, even after the pandemic, this payment technology would be a good idea to introduce to your workforce payments too, making for streamlined, quicker staff payments. After all, if money’s coming in to your restaurant digitally, why wouldn’t you pay your employees digitally, too?
Branch’s digital wallet is a user-friendly checking account that allows you to pay your employees quickly and at no extra cost. Employees can say goodbye to the wait time around cashing paper checks or depositing cash and you can easily push funds to your employee’s account in a few clicks. Avoid unnecessary fees and pay your employers on time every time.
Digital payments are here to stay. Cash or paper checks are quickly dying out and any restaurant business will need to adopt digital spending and payment methods if they want to continue to delight employees and customers alike.
5. Automated inventory management software increases efficiency
Every restaurant needs technology to empower them to order the right amount of ingredients and utilize them. If you’ve had to do this before, you’ll know how much of a data processing headache this can be. Inventory management software tracks food and beverage stocks, predicts quantities, and schedules reorders. To do this, restaurant inventory management systems integrate with POS systems, enabling the software to accurately map inventory.
An inventory management system can provide you with real-time analytics and financial reporting showing where you’re losing inventory, how you’re losing it, and how you can prevent it from happening. This automated technology saves your restaurant a lot of time and money.
6. UX-friendly online ordering systems increase customer satisfaction
A restaurant's online ordering system can make or break their takeout success. When you avoid third-party apps like DoorDash, you take operational autonomy back, are less dependent on third-party marketing campaigns, and take a much larger percentage of the profits.
However, 88% of customers are less likely to return to a website with poor UX, and businesses can lose up to 35% of sales due to bad UX. It’s no wonder so many restaurants have relied on smooth UX experiences via third-party takeout apps.
Yet, that’s all changing. With the increase of no-to-low code website builders, restaurants are able to design and maintain online takeout flows as smooth as butter. The High Street Deli does a great job of this.
Once restaurant-owned websites integrate with well-known online payment tools—like PayPal or Venmo to make visitors feel more secure handing over their payment details—they’re able to deliver experiences that are beneficial to customers, and are financially beneficial to the growth of their business.
7. Chatbots for speedy customer service
With a declining number of hospitality staff available, restaurant business owners may need to adopt new technologies to help them run their restaurant businesses with fewer employees. Instead of having an employee make online reservations, answer customers' frequently asked questions, and gather visit feedback, chatbots are stepping in to help out. A chatbot can be automated to ask for online experience feedback, show the delivery status of your customer's online order, and even welcome back returning customers—delivering a personalized online experience that modern day diners love.
Of course, chatbots never sleep—at least those that we know of—using chatbots means 24/7 response times, and automation on keyword queries means a response in a matter of seconds. Chatbots are drastically helping meet customers' demands in real time, and in a friendly manner.
Psst: Chatbots can also offer fantastic query insights. By tracking common questions and keywords, restaurants are able to adapt their messaging to align more with the words their customers are using, and even tweak their marketing strategies based on popular inquiries.
8. Air purification technology for safer, in-house, air
Although customers are eating in-house again, hygiene standards have changed for good; it’s not uncommon for some customers to feel uncomfortable in a busy restaurant setting these days. Air purification can make many customers feel safe and at ease in your restaurant.
Air purifiers effectively kill germs and bacteria using ultraviolet light and bipolar ionization. They can help minimize the dust in the air, minimizing the chances of significant allergy triggers that may cause problems among your workers and customers—like sneezing and coughing, which will in turn make other guests feel uncomfortable.
9. Delivery robots and drones for faster deliveries
Bots and drone delivery were uncommon in most restaurants before COVID-19 struck. However, the pandemic forced many to use contactless delivery options, which spiked the demand for robots and drones. Due to the rise in demand, companies like Uber Technologies have consistently launched incredibly efficient delivery robots and are continuing to do so.
Introducing delivery robots and drones can enhance food handling safety, delivery efficiency, save on fuel and energy costs, avoid traffic jams, and can automate a vital segment of your delivery process.
10. AI-powered admin increase productivity
As you strive to meet your customers' needs, admin management will pile up fast. It’s work that has to be done, but few want to do it. AI automation tech can help ensure your business thrives in the competitive restaurant industry by helping with those mundane admin tasks that take so much time. Tools like Levity help increase your restaurant's productivity by automating daily, mundane tasks. Best of all, you don't need to know how to code to use Levity. Connect your workflow in minutes and use the power of AI to increase your productivity.
For example, let’s say you frequently get emailed resumes from prospective employees looking to join your team. Regardless of whether you’re actively hiring or not, you want to look over applications for promising candidates—that way you can give them a call when looking to fill a vacancy. Levity’s AI-powered email management capabilities can quickly scan incoming documents, compare them to previous applications, and provide you with information on whether they’re promising candidates or not.
This saves you time by identifying the strongest candidates without needing to sift through every last application.
11. Workforce management tools increase employee engagement
Proper communication is essential to ensure the success of any business, especially front-line businesses that handle distributed teams. To achieve this, workforce management tools are popping up to keep you and your employees in-the-know.
Sona is an award-winning app that saves managers’ time and money when handling distributed workforces. Through cloud-based scheduling you’ll be able to allocate hours to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Additionally, it offers an app so employees can be notified about available shifts on time–say goodbye to last minute staff shortages, and hello to the future of gig work.
Build better restaurant resilience by enabling tech automation
Technology, workforce, and industry trends can change so quickly that it's hard to fully prepare for what's to come. However, by adapting (even slightly) to the restaurant automation trends in this article, you'll be in a better place to minimize losses and stay at the forefront of your industry—and one step ahead of your competition.