As of April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality industry—including restaurants—had lost 2.8 million jobs since February 2020, mostly related to COVID-19. As the economy reopens and the industry rebounds dramatically, tight labor markets have made it difficult for many restaurants to find enough workers. These labor challenges, matched with consumer preferences for touchless technology, show just how important it is for restaurants to digitally transform to meet both business needs and those of consumers and employees.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, 80 percent of ordering, checkout, and payment services will be contactless. In the quick service restaurant industry, businesses must act quickly to prioritize the health of their bottom line. Much of that reprioritization can be done with contactless technology.

There are a number of technologies to not only help restaurants through this tough time, but also enable quick service restaurants forward to become digital-first experiences for their consumers. With a future-forward strategy to transform into a more digitally-native storefront, quick-service restaurants can not only avert challenges in hiring and retaining employees, they can also create increased brand and store loyalty amongst their consumer base.

Using technologies ranging from smart food lockers, to digital menu boards, self-service kiosks, mobile technology and back of house data analytics—quick-service restaurant managers will find that they can retrain their current employees to fill higher-skilled, value-added roles. They can leverage the technology to do the work of keeping operations smooth and efficient, as they refocus their energies on taking care of their customers as demand and traffic continue to rise.

Rethinking Front-of-House Touchpoints

Restaurants need to reinforce their operations with contactless technology to reap the benefits of the next chapter of the quick-serve industry where customer demand is far outpacing staff levels. Self-service kiosks not only deliver a personalized consumer experience by decreasing order time and increasing customer throughput, they also decrease the number of staff needed to take orders and relay them through to the kitchen and staff interacting with consumers in the dining area.

As order-ahead models of food pickup continue to gain popularity, solutions such as food lockers enable the success of a seamless mobile ordering and pickup experience without direct human interaction. With contactless order and payment solutions, restaurants can offset the need for more staff by introducing efficient, low-maintenance technologies. Additionally, with self-order and payment technologies, the QSR empowers its consumers to order from either their own personal device or the low-contact devices in-store. With the ordering power in the hands of the consumer, we’ll likely start seeing an increase of units per order as there is no pressure to be quick with a front-of-house staff member.

According to a recent survey conducted by Panasonic and Harvard Business Review, 71 percent of respondents in the quick-service and fast-casual industry cited digital transformation as very important to business agility, more than any other factor. The time is now to embrace agility. As it becomes increasingly harder to find new employees and retain the existing workforce, quick-service managers and owners must embrace an agile and flexible mindset. Innovative new technologies can be used to augment human labor to provide a new model for success and profitability. The challenges with the cost and availability of labor, matched with the rising cost of food and unpredictable nature of supplies, demonstrate how critical it is to also have strong data analysis tools to better prepare your business for success.

Uplifting Back-of-House Functionality

While the ongoing labor crisis predominantly affects front-of-house staff, it is crucial to also consider the importance of back-of-house functionality. Back office analytics solutions offer real-time data into peak times, employee schedules and food supplies, ensuring restaurant managers can optimize their stores for a better customer experience. Utilizing contactless technology throughout a storefront, paired with visibility into real-time data and analysis, store managers can leverage insights to help increase efficiency, profitability, and consumer satisfaction.

As the labor crisis soldiers on, and quick service restaurants continue to see a significant uptick in business, store managers must act quickly to adapt to the evolving climate. Consumer demand is growing for enhanced, digital experiences, flexible ordering and pickup/delivery options, with a focus on speed without compromises to quality. Technology that helps uplift current worker and restaurant performance is a key strategy to add value to a restaurant’s bottom line and both meet and exceed consumer expectations.

Eric Symon is the VP of the Enterprise Process Innovation Center at Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America. Eric drives global teams to increase growth of businesses in the QSR, food services, retail and manufacturing markets.

Outside Insights, Story, Technology