As the immediate effects of COVID-19 subside and leisure activities return to pre-pandemic levels, consumers are starting to increase spending on luxuries such as dining out. However, the fragile hospitality industry is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, with the situation compounded by employees leaving the industry, rising inflation, and the increasing cost of ingredients and wages. A cocktail experts call the Great Resignation.
The State of the Restaurant Industry (2022) report, conducted by the National Restaurant Association, has found that 78 percent of restaurant operators do not have enough employees to support customer demand, with the restaurant and accommodation sectors having more than 1 million unfilled jobs. According to the research, 70 percent of restaurants feel they are lacking mission-critical staff, and with 3 out of 4 employees planning to leave their job in the next year, the situation shows no sign of abating. High staff turnover rates are fast becoming the Achilles’ heel of the hospitality industry. Half of the operators in the full service, quick service, and fast-casual segments expect recruiting and retaining employees to be their top challenge this year.
A staggering 75 percent of operators of understaffed restaurants have said that their establishment is more than 10 percent below necessary staffing levels, which is holding them back from rolling out new digital solutions and improving employer and customer experience.
Put physical POS in the past
Traditional point of service (POS) terminals tie employees down to physical spaces within a quick-service restaurant, leaving terminals with long queues of impatient customers at peak times. Mobile point of service devices (mPOS) bring ordering and payment processes into the twenty-first century, allowing employees to carry out financial transactions in a versatile way. By speeding up the payment process, service becomes more adaptable and the customer experience is significantly enhanced. It makes sense to use devices that bring greater efficiencies into businesses, helping drive growth.
More robust POS is also driven by ongoing customer demand for omnichannel ordering. Eight in ten restaurant operators say that the use of service-based technology provides a competitive advantage, with 38 percent of restaurant leaders in the quick-service sector planning to invest more in customer-facing and service-based technology. This comes as no surprise since 23 percent of consumers say they are open to new technologies that improve customer service, and 19 percent welcome digital solutions that make ordering and payment easier. Quick-serves of all sizes are ramping up investments in online and app ordering, reservations, mobile payment, and delivery management to gain new customers and build stronger customer loyalty.
Creating a seamless ordering experience across all of these touchpoints is vital in keeping customers engaged and improving their interaction with the brand. It is also important to note that employees are an extension of the brand, so the in-store ordering and digital ordering experiences need to complement one another. Aligning these interaction channels will support employees in their delivery of customer service and support, streamlining the customer experience and improving staff confidence in their capabilities.
Drive-thru the Great Resignation unscathed
Drive-thru wasn’t a new fixture when COVID-19 hit, but the pandemic only served to prove its utility and popularity, as customers opted for experiences that minimized physical contact. However, when employees are juggling customers both on and off-premises, maintaining a rapid and smooth drive-thru service can sometimes be difficult. But don’t fear: there are simple fixes that can enhance the quality of your drive-thru, and make life easier for your employees. The margin for human error between front and back of house operations has been minimized as orders automatically push through to the kitchen, through the use of KDS and POS. This has greatly supported smaller teams in carrying out daily operations.
In an attempt to give staff more support, quick-service operators have further digitized and automated the kitchen during the pandemic. Among leaders in the restaurant sector, 78 percent are saying that these solutions will help in navigating current labor shortages. While digitizing back-of-house operations has improved productivity, when it comes to client-facing service, 68 percent of consumers still prefer traditional service when dining, and 32 percent would choose a section where they order and pay using a tablet or smartphone app. The importance of getting the balance right between tech and traditional service is thus crucial to customer satisfaction. Having the right team on hand to delight customers is paramount, so quick-serves should continue to incorporate digital solutions that help employees navigate a fast-paced environment and deliver good customer care.
Employee satisfaction: the key to superior customer experience
The importance of good training for improving the employee experience is unparalleled. Ensuring staff are continuously supported in the workplace does not only drive efficiency but also improves employee retention. Research has found that 70 percent of restaurant employees feel that they do not receive enough hands-on training from managers, with 62 percent saying that a lack of training was the main reason for leaving their job. But happiness and fulfilment in the workplace go beyond training opportunities: more than half of restaurant employees say that a promotion would increase their happiness in the workplace. Staff are also expecting paid bonuses by way of recognition for their hard work. These changes in employee expectations are propelling restaurant operators to re-evaluate employee benefits. Around 75 percent of restaurant operators plan to invest more resources into recruiting and retaining employees, with most expecting labor challenges to continue in 2022.
Quick-service restaurants can expand their teams by showing employees they are valued. Good compensation, along with career progression opportunities and team-building activities should be a top priority for operators, as they embark on their search for new talent. One example of a brand that has successfully improved customer experience by focusing on employee satisfaction is Chick-fil-A. If you have visited one of their restaurants recently, you will have noticed that their employees are happy. This is because their staff receive thorough training on how to use the chain’s back-of-house systems and ongoing support as the business changes.
In a post-pandemic world, customer expectations for seamless, safe, and speedy service experiences are extremely high. Forward-thinking restaurants will recognize that this positive experience will grow from delivering the same quality of experience to everyone in the transaction chain. Incorporating the right digital solutions is key to supporting smaller teams in delighting customers. Good training and collaboration are also important in improving employee satisfaction and retaining talent. By finding the right balance between digital and traditional service, quick-serves and their teams will thrive.
Matt Pacyga is the Director of Product Management at Bottle Rocket. Matt is a digital product specialist with deep experience in the intersectionality between Quick-Service / Restaurant and retail technology. He's had the honor to work with such brands as Dairy Queen, Jamba Juice, and McAlisters, to name a few. Matt bridges the gap between business, technology, and product ensuring that customer expectations are met and businesses grow. He believes it's critical to align a brands omnichannel strategy with their retail technology strategy. Connected customer experiences thrive when brands can connect multiple systems seamlessly to exceed guest expectations. In his spare time, Matt mentors food tech startups through TechStars Farm to Fork program.