Automation provides relief for restaurants amidst staffing crunch.

Sponsored by CrunchTime.

Although turnover rates for hourly employees have stabilized this year, restaurants are still struggling with a labor shortage. In its 2019 Restaurant Industry Planning Guide, TDn2K reports limited-service restaurants are experiencing 132 percent hourly turnover and 50 percent manager turnover. Not only are restaurants spending significant time and money replacing staff, this high rate of churn creates training gaps that cause operational issues for brands.

“Restaurant staff can’t just show up and be effective at their jobs,” says Bill Bellissimo, CEO of CrunchTime. “There’s a lot of training, reinforcement, and support required to ensure that employees are delivering consistently high performance.”

Guests expect a consistent level of service from their favorite restaurants. When turnover is high, it’s often difficult to maintain that same level of service because it takes time for management to hire and train new employees. Trying to do the same with less is already a challenge, but the noise and friction around indoctrinating new team members when simultaneously running day-to-day operations compels managers to cut corners so they can get staff out on the floor faster. This creates gaps where inconsistencies can emerge and impact the guest experience.

Today, many restaurants turn to technology to reduce the burden of increased turnover. Automation tools help relieve that burden by increasing team efficiency and boosting consistency. Bellissimo says investing in tools that eliminate or streamline the mandatory and mundane tasks in the daily life of a restaurant operator serves as an important investment in the restaurant team.

“Obviously people want to work somewhere they feel valued,” he says. “They want to know they’ve got the right tools and training and that the company is willing to make an investment in them. Brands that invest in their employees are creating a supportive environment for them to be successful.”

To do so, Bellissimo says restaurants should set up systems that direct teams to identify priorities and act as “guardrails” when mistakes happen. This ensures critical tasks are executed correctly even if someone forgets. For example, you can have a perfectly optimized labor schedule, but if the underlying sales forecast is not accurate, someone calls in sick, or someone forgets to place a food order on time, chaos can ensue. The team may not be prepared to provide the level of service your guests expect from your brand. With the right balance of automation, restaurants don’t have to be disrupted when these events happen.

“If the system is automatically generating and transmitting the order to your vendors or dynamically generating a sales forecast based on deep analytics, it’s ok if someone forgets,” Bellissimo says. “Computers are really good at gathering, organizing, and interpreting information. Let the computer provide the guardrails to make sure the forecast is accurate, the labor schedule is optimized, or the necessary ingredients will be delivered on time. This takes the pressure off the individual employees to execute perfectly, because perfection does not exist.”

Still, Bellissimo cautions, automation is not a formula to cut staffing and remove the human element from restaurants. The hospitality industry will always be a people business. The key to systems and automation is figuring out how to amplify the skills of the people you have working in the restaurant.

“You’re never going to replace people,” he says. “People are critical to establishing brand identity at any hospitality venue. If you can get your people to focus on tasks they do really well, such as engaging and working with customers, promoting the team, and creating good food, that’s going to give them a lot more satisfaction than performing the more monotonous tasks. Then, when you support your team with systems that can perform the mundane, routinized tasks that systems can do really well, you’ve got a really great formula for creating satisfaction among your employees and guests. The prospect of being a ‘superstar’ at your work because of the investment your company is making in you and the tools you use is incredibly motivating.”

By Peggy Carouthers

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