Three years after the start of the pandemic and the restaurant industry is still experiencing setbacks. With inflation, a labor shortage, and the possibility of another recession, creating a more optimized workforce is vital and can help restaurants be more resilient in the face of challenges.
This article will take a closer look at the current challenges the restaurant industry is facing as well as the latest innovations that are helping the food and service industry bounce back.
The Current State of the Restaurant Industry
Though many operators in the business say conditions are getting better, there are still a number of hurdles to overcome. For example, while job growth is expected to increase by 500,000 by the end of 2023, the restaurant labor force is still thousands of jobs below pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally, rising costs as a result of inflation and supply chain setbacks are also still causing challenges for restaurant owners, with 92 percent saying that the cost of food is a significant issue. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding more from the places they visit, wanting better experiences overall, but staffing shortages make it difficult to meet customer demands.
Many restaurants are still having to reduce the hours and days of the week they’re open as they are having a hard time filling open positions and retaining workers. Furthermore, 47 percent of operators expect competition to be more intense this year, meaning they need to be at the top of their game if they want to continue attracting customers.
All of this is to say that it’s evident that something must change if restaurants are to survive in the face of so many challenges. Thankfully, the recent boom in technological innovations is making it easier and more possible for operators to make this happen.
How Tech Innovations are Helping to Address Current Issues in the Restaurant Industry
One of the primary reasons operators are more optimistic about growth this year is the technology that has become available, enabling more streamlined operations. By adopting these technologies, restaurant owners can not only optimize processes to save money, but they can also create better experiences for their workers and their customers.
Automation and Optimization
Automation technologies are helping restaurants in numerous ways, enabling them to create a more optimized workforce. For example, smart tech can streamline the reservation and food ordering process, which makes processes more quick, efficient, and hassle-free for both customers and workers. When technology can handle these simpler tasks, it also frees up time for workers to focus on other more important matters in the restaurant, such as providing more attention to the dine-in customers.
Automation technologies that help with customer orders are particularly useful in the quick service restaurant industry. Labor shortages are especially problematic still for quick-serves, but when operating with fewer staff, automation systems, and AI-powered bots can be used to take and process customer orders.
There are also automation technologies that can help on the backend of things, such as optimizing busywork processes, like data entry, scheduling, and inventory management. Certain tools can also help restaurants with their finances and budgeting.
Overall, using automation to optimize the restaurant workforce can help operators cut costs, run more efficiently, increase productivity, and provide better customer experiences.
Enhanced Food Safety Standards
Innovations in the food industry are also helping operators ensure that the food they are ordering is of higher quality and meets safety standards. This includes tech that helps create alternative proteins, which require fewer resources than traditional livestock-based meats.
There are also radio frequency identification sensors that can help track the conditions of food production at every stage of the process. For example, producers can receive alerts that let them know when conditions do not fall within optimal food storage standards, which can help ensure freshness.
Other technologies also help directly in restaurants with better packaging and storage techniques. This enables operators to ensure the food they have stays safer for longer, which can help reduce food waste and reduce instances of food-borne illness.
Improvements in Employee Training and Safety
AI technologies can be used to help with employee training in the food and service industry, which can help improve operations. Smarter training means smarter employees, which can help the restaurant run more efficiently, reduce instances of error, and ensure better customer experiences.
For example, AI-powered training modules can more closely monitor and collect data on employees as they train, such as how often they log on to review material, whether they are watching videos all the way through, and the success rate of their quizzes. These systems can also provide measurable results from the training, which can help indicate whether anything needs to be changed or updated.
Another technology that is helping with back-office type operations in the restaurant industry is AI-powered scheduling software. Most managers and operators are all too aware of the headache that scheduling conflicts can create. And this issue can be exacerbated when dealing with staff shortages. With AI-driven scheduling tools, however, the guesswork is taken out of the process, minimizing disruptions so managers can focus on other more important tasks.
Combatting Staffing Shortages
Though thousands of jobs are expected to be added this year, many restaurant owners are still struggling with finding and retaining workers. Luckily, technology can help operators create a more connected kitchen and do more with less when they don’t have enough people on hand to tackle everything.
With IoT technologies, operators can better manage the usage of equipment. As mentioned previously, they can use smart devices to help provide customer service when there aren’t enough staff around. And smart technologies can also be used to create and safer more efficient work environment.
When restaurants run more optimally and provide a safer environment, they are also more likely to attract and retain employees, which can help with the labor shortage issue.
The technologies above are going a long way toward transforming the restaurant industry and helping operators overcome the hurdles they have faced over the past couple of years. And as these technologies continue to advance, restaurant owners will be able to create even more streamlined and optimized workplaces that enable them to create better experiences and achieve greater success.
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business, technology, and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or getting into the latest tech.