Running a restaurant is always hard work, but since the global COVID-19 pandemic, it’s gotten even harder. First came the shutdowns and restrictions. Now, as restrictions are being lifted, restaurants are struggling with a severe worker shortage.

In the U.S., the hospitality industry has a deficit of nearly a million workers, making it nearly impossible for restaurants to staff up and return to pre-pandemic hours of operation and service levels. For quick-service restaurant operators, the problem is multiplied by dozens to hundreds of locations.

The staffing issue may last some time. One in three food service workers doesn’t want to return to the industry, according to recent research. In light of the labor shortage, how can quick-service restaurants adopt technology to accomplish more with less? Thanks to automation and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, operators can drive efficiencies, increase sales, optimize the customer experience, and reduce costs.

Low-power IoT solutions, in particular, provide the reliability, security, and scalability quick service restaurants need. It enables restaurants to handle anything from routine tasks such as monitoring refrigerator temperatures, to preventing water damage, to improving energy consumption across multiple locations. Plus, it is a cost-effective alternative to cellular or Wi-Fi-enabled IoT solutions that generally come with high price tags, which increases operating costs. Finally, the simplicity and security of deploying these solutions means that no complex on-site IT support is needed.

Automate Temperature Monitoring

A lot of tasks in restaurants—cooking, cleaning, filling orders—require actual human effort. Yet other, routine tasks can be automated, freeing up staff to focus on customers.

For instance, refrigeration units must run at certain temperatures to prevent food spoilage and maintain quality. Workers are assigned to check temperatures periodically and manually log them for safety and compliance purposes. While these checks are fairly simple, they’re frequent and time-consuming, pulling staff away from tasks that are more directly related to increasing customer sales and enhancing their experience. A more reliable and efficient approach is to equip refrigeration units with IoT-connected sensors to monitor temperatures 24/7 as well as streamline the temperature logging process for compliance audits.

When temperature fluctuations occur, the monitoring system alerts a manager so they can take quick action. This reduces the potential for error while improving food safety procedures and preventing inventory spoilage. Plus, freeing up a worker’s time from monotonous tasks boosts morale.

Prevent Costly Water Damage

Water from leaking pipes and faucets, clogged drains, and malfunctioning cooling units can severely damage buildings and equipment—and even shut down a site temporarily. Every year, these types of incidents contribute to $2.5 billion in insurance claims.

Preventing these incidents requires monitoring, but most businesses don’t have someone checking the plumbing regularly. As with refrigeration temperatures, the solution lies in IoT. In this case, sensors monitor water, humidity, and temperature to detect leaks and anomalies. Data is collected continually and can be used to reduce overall water use. More importantly, the sensors use wireless connections to send out alerts when something goes wrong, and automatically shut off the faulty valve, negating the need for human involvement.

This technology can make the difference between shutting down a restaurant for days for remediation or taking preventive action. As such, a business can avoid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in remediation and lost sales.

Reduce Energy Costs

Preventing water damage is a priority for quick-serves, but so is reducing energy costs. Restaurants draw a lot of electrical power for lighting, refrigeration, and air conditioning. And then there’s the gas used for cooking. While an office building uses $2 of energy per square foot, quick-service restaurants use as much as $12 per square foot.

Naturally, business owners have a great interest in reducing these costs, which they can accomplish by leveraging IoT-based automated energy management systems. With staffing shortages, the savings can help with hiring employees and offering a competitive wage. For instance, a monitoring platform can optimize the use of cooling systems and Air Handling Units (AHU)—which circulate and ventilate air inside buildings—by integrating data from the electrical grid to modulate energy consumption when rates are highest.

Even an upward adjustment of two degrees on hot days can significantly reduce energy consumption and, as such, deliver substantial savings to an operator. And because of automation and IoT connectivity, no human intervention is required. This lifts the burden of energy management from staff so they can focus on the customer experience.

Staying Competitive

Leveraging IoT solutions to automate time-consuming, routine tasks, gives restaurants a real opportunity to address the biggest challenges they are facing in the short-term—staffing. How long the worker shortage lasts is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime operators can leverage low-power IoT solutions to improve their operations and stay competitive. The longer-term value to restaurants is that they’ve built the foundation to easily leverage IoT for future business needs, enabling them to be more efficient and profitable while delivering higher quality customer service.

Monica Chitre is the Head of IoT Platform Product Management at MachineQ. MachineQ makes it simple for enterprises to build, connect and deploy low power, wide-area IoT solutions at scale.

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