Recently, it seems like the hospitality innovations getting the most attention are also the flashiest. It makes sense: the robot that can make French fries or tortilla chips is an entertaining and innovative spectacle. But the underlying question remains: are these innovations really solving real problems for restaurants? Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have been forced to stretch resources thinner than ever, utilizing every staff member and budget dollar to maintain order volume and customer loyalty. Moving forward, restaurants need to consider practical problem-solving technology and investments to make the most of their budget and actually impact day to day operations. Three of those areas of investment are outlined below.

Mitigating Labor Shortages

If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that restaurants must work to reduce employee burnout and offer benefits to retain talent. In 2022, the labor shortage will continue to impact the restaurant industry—finding good, long-term staff won’t be easy. One of the ways to withstand the labor shortage is technology- helping restaurants maximize labor resources. This can take multiple forms- from streamlining the ordering experience with text ordering, to improving the employee onboarding program. Overall, these investments allow restaurants to free up employees; ultimately showcasing that they’re aware and invested in the employee’s well-being and job satisfaction.

As the job market continues to be in-flux, employees will be looking for the jobs that offer them the most flexibility, have the most comprehensive training and benefit packages and don’t run them ragged during a shift. In an industry that has historically and notoriously provided lackluster benefits and sub-par care for employee wellbeing, a shift in power has allowed employees to demand more from their employers and their workplace. By investing in tech solutions that will automate training and daily communications, restaurant owners and operators can ensure that their employees are coming and going from work with everything they need for a successful shift and positive experience.

Bolstering Ghost Kitchens

Another approach that restaurants have been pivoting to is the concept of a ghost kitchen. While the upfront investment is often costly, once complete, ghost kitchens actually serve as cost-saving measures, allowing restaurants to increase their location footprint and reach a larger demographic without opening brick and mortar locations. It requires fewer front-of-house staff, while still allowing customers to order via phone or online. These ghost kitchens, also referred to as delivery-only restaurants, have skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic- especially with the lingering labor shortage, this trend looks like it’s here to stay. Uber reported 10,000 delivery-only restaurants on its platform last year—up from only 3,000 in 2019, a 233 percent increase.

Implementing a ghost kitchen concept means more sales from off-premises customers, resulting in growth without the added labor expenditure. Overall, a delivery-only location with a lean team ensures the best way to get a maximum return out of a skeleton staff.

Improve Marketing and Brand Awareness

Marketing initiatives are a quick and easy way to increase orders and repeat customers. From social media marketing to brand promotions, marketing can often serve as a “set-it-and-forget-it” practice with actionable ROI. The right marketing tools can capture customer data such as preferred ordering time, common menu modifications and even requests—giving restaurants a plethora of feedback and actual customer preferences. With this rich customer data, those same marketing tools can offer even more personalized promotions and add-on recommendations which increase customer ordering frequency and cart size. Finally, social media marketing initiatives improve brand awareness and loyalty with little-to-no additional budget necessary. A restaurant with a strong social media narrative and active community can attract and keep more customers. A study from marketing firm MGH found that 71 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to recommend a restaurant that responds quickly to them on social media.

Overall, there are a number of ways that restaurants can continue to grow amid current industry-wide challenges. While they may not be as flashy as a French fry-making robot, these tech investments will help improve order volume brand awareness and staff utilization. It won’t always be the most attention-grabbing project that reaps the best results and if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes it pays off to do the most you can with what you have. Through initiatives like marketing campaigns, streamlined ordering options, or even reducing your restaurant location to delivery-only, restaurant owners will be able to grow their business and brand recognition with little-to-no budget expenditure.

Technology is the future of the restaurant industry, but sometimes it’s better to invest in technology solutions that solve your biggest business pain points rather than something flashy that’s trending on Instagram. It can make all the difference.

Shannon Chirone is SVP of Marketing at HungerRush, where she is responsible for the go-to-market strategy across product launches and features. She has over 15 years of experience developing and taking products to market that delight and deliver value to customers. Prior to HungerRush she worked across various verticals including entertainment, finance, social media, and technology.

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story, Technology