Restaurant Tech and Automation Solve the Restaurant Labor Cost Puzzle

Increasing restaurant staffing costs and shrinking employee pool

Restaurant automation!
Kiosk restaurant ordering system + hand-held tableside POS

Reduction of labor costs
Fewer employees serving more customers
Faster, more efficient service

It really is a great time to own a restaurant!  As we move toward the roaring 2020’s, advances in technology and automation are giving restaurant owners more tools to help them make it every day. It is hard to believe that most of the technology that operators are using today didn’t exist just five years ago.  Chances are pretty good that the tools that will be standard in most restaurants in the next five years have yet to be conceived. 

In addition to the new advances in technology, the restaurant industry is simultaneously experiencing a whole new set of challenges. Top-of-mind for most restaurateurs are the struggles they face staffing their restaurants and managing increasing labor costs. Unemployment is under 4% and the minimum wage is increasing across the country. This creates an interesting dynamic for the operator; fewer candidates to choose from, and an increasing cost burden to employ them.

Enter automation!

For full service restaurants, we are seeing major advances in hand-held tableside ordering solutions, while quick service restaurant operators are rapidly moving toward kiosk “self-serve” ordering solutions.

Tableside ordering technology is not new. Hand-held order entry systems have been around for decades–but most of the options (going back to the palm pilot) have, unfortunately, not turned out to be the effective, dependable solutions we all hoped they would be. Instead, fragile hardware, clunky operating systems, high acquisition costs and unreliable connection issues made it more of a pain than it was worth.

Thankfully, advances in smart devices and APP-based POS software have solved all of these issues and are, at last, creating user-friendly, reliable service solutions, while also solving labor issues for struggling restaurateurs. This solves a number of problems for the full-service operator. First and foremost: efficiency! Servers are now able to place the food and beverage orders while standing at the table, and communicate details about the order to the kitchen and bar without leaving their station.  And when the order is ready for pick-up the server is notified to the hand-held device, saving them countless trips to the POS, the kitchen and the bar – allowing them to spend more time in their stations servicing their guests. In most cases, this efficiency will also permit the restaurant to operate with fewer servers, solving both restaurant staffing and labor cost challenges.

Conversely, kiosk, or digital ordering is fairly new in the United States, even though it has been a staple in Japan for quite some time. There are many similar benefits that kiosk ordering provides to an operator that you also find in tableside hand-held devices. A reduction in the number of employees required to staff a busy restaurant, improved customer service efficiencies and lower labor costs are all benefits to kiosk ordering. The biggest difference lies in restaurant staff training. Most servers were using a screen of some type to enter orders long before the first smartphone arrived on the scene, so training a server to use a hand-held device is fairly simple. With kiosk ordering, however, it is the customer that needs to learn to place an order via a touch screen – and this can be a little trickier. Fortunately, most customers are using smartphones and tablets in their everyday life, so navigating their way around a touch screen is not unfamiliar. Additionally, large fast food chains have been installing kiosks into their dining rooms for the last few years, helping to familiarize customers with the technology and process involved in self-service order entry. I, for one, prefer to dine at a quick-serve restaurant that offers a kiosk option, as opposed to waiting in line. Customers surveyed are increasingly telling operators they prefer kiosk ordering as well.* In addition to the labor benefits, statistics also point to the fact that customer check averages also increase 13-30% when the customers place orders themselves!*

As unemployment remains low and hourly wages continue their upward surge, it is vital for restaurants to find ways to maintain an excellent customer experience while also exploring ways to bring down their labor costs.  Advances in technology and automation are providing powerful solutions to many of the issues facing today’s busy restaurant operator. It is a great time to own a restaurant – and very exciting to imagine what cool new tools will be helping customers make it in the next five years.