Automating some restaurant operations can help take the pressure off.

It’s no secret the ongoing labor shortage has had an impact on the restaurant industry this year. The National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Industry Report found that 78 percent of restaurant operators don’t have enough staff to support customer demand. And with three out of four employees considering quitting their jobs within the next year, operators are beginning to find ways to adapt to reduced staffing levels as the new normal.

“When you compare the restaurant industry today to two or three years ago, you’ll find most employees and managers are newer,” says Erik Cox, vice president of product strategy at CrunchTime. “They don’t have the same level of experience, and they’re facing an enormous amount of pressure to do more with less.”

For more and more brands, automation technology is starting to present itself as a viable solution to take some of the pressure off. Whether it shows up as a robot arm in the line or an algorithm for certain back-office processes, automation can free up managers and employees to concentrate their time on tasks that need a human touch.

“Automation is about trying to de-stress the staff so they can focus on great service and great food,” Cox says. “We don’t have great computer chefs, and we don’t have robots that can make people feel comfortable and enjoy their restaurant experience. If we can take rote tasks off employees’ brains and help them focus on what adds the most value, it can remove the variability of having less experienced staff. You shouldn’t be dependent on which manager is in your store on Tuesday for the order to be right. Automation can cover that.”

Consistency is one of the biggest benefits of using automation in a restaurant’s operations, according to Cox. It can also serve to improve the employee experience. “Entering invoices, managing orders, putting together reports, and building your schedules are necessary evils,” he says. “It’s a business, and you have to make money and plan—but those are some of the tasks we can help with.”

Cox recommends finding an automation software platform specifically designed for restaurant operations, like CrunchTime. A platform can build up data and help support the anecdotal knowledge that staff might have. “Employees and managers used to be able to predict ordering and scheduling needs based on year-over-year trailing averages—but now with COVID-19, comparisons are much harder,” Cox says. “As humans, we tend to overreact. We’re very anecdotally driven. With a software platform in place, you can use data to offload those decisions if it’s going to be a standard week. You can save a lot of time and money.”

The most critical aspects of any restaurant are food and labor, of course, so it’s important to find a platform with enough depth to manage purchasing, inventory, and scheduling needs. “Ideally, everything is in one place, and the same forecast you used for ordering can also drive your labor planning,” Cox says. “Your system needs enough complexity to deal with the reality of restaurant operations. It has to have enough data to give you good insights, and the partner needs to be one who has both the experience and track record to ensure they’ll be around to support you for the long haul.”

To learn more, visit the CrunchTime website.

By Kara Phelps

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