The human element remains one of the most important aspects of a positive customer experience.
As we enter the fall season, savvy restaurant operators and managers are reviewing where improvements can be made in advance of the holiday season.
Today’s restaurant landscape remains challenging. Competition is stiffening and restaurants are scrambling to onboard new staff, with the workforce demand expected to grow by half a million jobs by the end of 2023, per the National Restaurant Association’s “2023 State of the Restaurant Industry” report. Meanwhile, persistent inflation is driving up business costs, notably in food prices. Luckily, customer interest in restaurant experiences remains strong, with 84 percent of consumers saying they prefer restaurants over cooking at home per the NRA’s report. Yet according to Bluedot’s study, “The State of What Feeds Us Volume VII,” 50 percent of diners reduced their trips to sit-down restaurants due to cost pressures, leaving full-service restaurants feeling uncertain.
The initial gut reaction of many restaurant operators may be to find high-tech catch-all solutions to streamline operations, enhance the customer experience, and improve the bottom line. However, restaurant operators need to understand there is unrealized value in going back to basic technologies like business radios, pagers, and headsets. Expensive high-tech solutions make big promises, but sometimes revisiting fundamentals can make the biggest difference.
Maximizing Shoestring Budgets
Budgets are tight. Even though revenues are up, they’re still not on pace with pre-pandemic earning levels, according to recent research from the Association. Thus, identifying products that offer strong ROI is paramount.
Operators should ask pointed questions about technology investments. One great example is identifying if the technology is expensive, or the brand name. There are likely other companies offering similar technology for less. These alternative, simplified solutions may still provide the great features your restaurant needs, but at a more manageable cost. My advice is to pay close attention to product reviews to ensure user experience and quality standards are being exceeded.
Little Training Needed
Employee turnover at restaurants reaches up to 75 percent on average, which makes rapid training critical to maintain consistent operations. Naturally, low-tech solutions make training simpler.
Communication in restaurant settings is vital for success, and there are countless options when it comes to communication systems. In my experience, low-tech solutions like walkie talkies remove a barrier for employees to seamlessly talk with one another, given it’s as easy as push to talk.
Easy-to-use low-tech solutions like walkie talkies can be especially beneficial during busy holiday seasons when restaurants hire seasonal employees. Onboarding new workers can happen very quickly and enabling them with easy-to-understand tech can help reduce initial friction. Whether employees are new to the job or returning for the busy season, low-tech is the easiest way to get them up to speed.
Reliable At All Times
Low-tech solutions tend to have fewer points of failure and are less prone to technical glitches, malfunctions or security breaches. This makes them even more favorable for busy restaurant operators who already have enough extra work on their plates.
Depending on what platforms a restaurant uses, devices like cellphones or tablets can sometimes require additional IT personnel to be on board, which can get expensive. Additionally, internet service is not always reliable for tech solutions. A cellphone tower could easily go down in a storm or become overwhelmed if it’s a busy area, and rural areas don’t always have the privilege of broadband access. In these cases, low-tech solutions like business radios can help ensure operations won't get disrupted by technical difficulties.
Building Stronger Human Connection
The human element remains one of the most important aspects of a positive customer experience in any service industry. Three-quarters of customers agree they’d rather speak with a human over an automated system. High-tech solutions in restaurants have their perks—like a tablet game that keeps a toddler pleasantly distracted while giving the parents a break, or a QR code menu and ordering system that enables parties to order at their own speed. But, they can also take away from an authentic human-to-human experience.
For the workforce, low-tech solutions can help create a more fun environment by bringing employees together through teamwork and communication. For example, restaurant employees will have more time to get to know one another and support each other throughout their shift if they don’t have the distraction of screens and software.
Low-tech solutions can ultimately help get the job done without sacrificing human interaction, personal connections or customer relationships—all of which could easily be lost in a highly automated or digital environment.
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right technology for a restaurant’s employees, budget and operations. However, low-tech solutions can often be the simple answer that gets overlooked. By understanding how simple technologies can improve restaurant performance, operators can save time, money and effort while boosting operational excellence amid challenging times in the industry.