Automation is the current buzzword of the year and certain industries have been making leaps due to automation innovation. Studies by McKinsey Global Institute reveal that 54 percent of tasks performed in restaurants and hotels can be automated.

The falling cost of machines coupled with the rising cost of labor makes automation an increasingly appealing option for fast-food chains.

Automation also plays a significant role in filling vacant positions in fast-food restaurants. America’s hospitality industry recorded 844,000 open positions in April of 2017, which represents a full one-eighth of available jobs.

Employees simply aren’t interested in flipping burgers nowadays, a role that the robot Flippy fills with ease. Freed from the menial tasks of production, they focus on more targeted aspects of the customer experience such as offering extra napkins and asking how the customer is enjoying their food.

Dunkin’ Donuts has tackled another common problem with automation: high turnover. Operating Officer Scott Murphy commented in the Wall Street Journal that “We spend a lot of time training people and a month later they walk out the door.”

Their solution was to assemble a focus group to discover the tasks that made employees quit. Some examples: labeling expiration dates for stock and digitizing quality specifications for coffee grounds. Then they aimed to automate those tasks to increase retention.

Fast-food restaurants that embrace automation can cut costs and focus their efforts on customer service. Here are some areas that fast food chains can automate to promote success and efficiency:

Food preparation

Many of Arby’s famous roast-beef sandwiches are now made by automated ovens that roast the beef overnight. This process means that employees no longer have to arrive at 7 a.m. just to start the three-hour roasting process.

Besides trimming hours, automation has also allowed the chain to focus on efficiency and service in other areas such as the drive-thru and attending to customers in the dining area.

Ordering and paying

Allowing customers to pre-order via their mobiles is another form of automation. Instead of waiting in line inside the establishment or in the drive-thru, customers place their orders and pay on a mobile app, reducing the task volume for cashiers.

Not only do mobile orders cut down on wait time, the more customers order and pay through their mobiles, the less room for human error with cashiers dealing with cash and counting change.

Major food chains already leverage the power of mobile to optimize their order and pay operations: Starbucks is one of the pioneers of this technology, allowing customers to pre-order and pay for their coffee and simply pick it up at their preferred Starbucks chain.

The popularity of the program (a full 30 percent of all payments came from mobile) inspired other chains to adopt it. McDonalds is scheduled to introduce mobile order and pay in 20,000 locations worldwide in 2018.

Automated menus

Automated menus are the new rage with fast food giant McDonald’s adopting new digital menu displays that feature things like changing menus depending on the time of day or depending on the weather to increase incentives to purchase certain foods.

For example, a milkshake might be highlighted on a hot day whereas a hot apple pie and coffee might be highlighted on a cold day. Digital menus have increased sales in Canada by 3-3.5 percent.

Employee scheduling

Restaurants need the way to reach employees about scheduling instantly and easily. Reaching a large number of employees through email or phone calls seems impractical when it comes to urgent notifications like shift moves and event updates.

So, using an automated text messaging system or app notifications allows companies to contact staff efficiently. For example, apps allow employees to text within the app, search for substitutes, swap shifts, request and schedule vacation days and other scheduling tasks that can be performed immediately resulting in better and faster scheduling.

The efficiency of such apps translates into savings with scheduling software reported to save up to 2 percent on labor costs.

Employee training

Training is a labor-intensive process, requiring hours of a manager’s time as they go through company rules and regulations and train employees on hands-on tasks. The onboarding process can also be automated with virtual reality software allowing new hires to tour a facility and attend training sessions virtually.

Employees can take tests on training content through games and other interactive programs, making the training experience more enjoyable for the employee and reducing managerial training tasks as employees complete training programs off-site.

Urgent communication

Managers often need to communicate time-sensitive information to crew members whether it’s an early closing due to weather, a new pay schedule, the opening of a new franchise, or any number of other issues.

Mobile messaging is usually an efficient way to reach employees and to be sure your message has been read immediately. Such instant mobile communication can be automated: managers can easily schedule texts, respond to common questions with automated templates, segment employees into groups.

If the message can be trimmed to a regular template and timing is crucial, mobile automation is a way to go.

What’s next:

Pizza franchise Domino’s has already delivered its first pizza via drone in 2016 to a customer in New Zealand. Though the drone campaign hasn’t taken off, the company does plan to introduce self-driving robots to deliver pizzas to customers that live within a 1-mile radius of stores in Germany and the Netherlands.

As automation takes the world by storm, quick service restaurants benefit from the low cost and increased efficiency. Automating things from cooking to ordering to employee-related issues to delivery can result in increased customer satisfaction, reduced costs, and increased profits.

Alexa Lemzy, the customer service manager at, a business text messaging solution. Along with testing customer relationship building tactics every day, Alexa writes what she has learned from other businesses and keep an eye on the growing power of mobile.
Outside Insights, Story, Technology