The leading restaurant brands of the future will be the ones that stay open and agile to change. New technology innovations in automation and artificial intelligence will assist restaurants in learning from their own and others’ successes and failures. Even today, restaurants are finding more efficient ways to spot problems and growth opportunities, allowing operators to correct or take advantage of situations in real time.
Johnny Tellez, vice president of international operations, training, and support at Focus Brands, has hit growth goals faster by wielding the right data insights. He compares sales data with other data points to understand how to optimize growth, operations, sales, and efficiencies. “By collecting data and comparing that data against sales figures from restaurants and brands within the organization, leaders from within can start to identify the best tips, tricks, and practices from restaurants across the globe,” says Tellez.
Tellez is also working on developing advanced analytics dashboards to help Focus Brands make comparisons between operational execution, sales, and profitability. “Those are all going to be front-facing to all franchisees so they can go in and get smart data to help them make decisions in their business,” he says.
One such dashboard is offered by Lineup.ai, a software company that provides an AI-powered sales and labor forecasting, employee scheduling, and workforce management solution for restaurants. Lineup.ai’s real-time analytics dashboard allows leaders to see data across all restaurant locations in one view with the capacity to drill down where there may be red flags or interesting trends. Lineup.ai uses machine learning algorithms to generate real-time sales and labor forecasts, helping restaurants optimize labor management and reduce expenses.
Alonso Castañeda, vice president of brand development and strategy at Savory Restaurant Fund, says foresight is important—that way, the franchisee, general manager, and local team are able to respond accordingly. Labor shortages have led many restaurants to implement self-order technologies, but without a properly staffed back-of-house, the kitchen may be left scrambling to handle the flood of orders. Kiosks, QR code ordering, and the launch of new ordering platforms can add tremendous value, but according to Castañeda, they can also create difficulty in throttling and order flow back-of-house.
“Without having business rules set and without foresight into the volume of orders, the order flow may not be able to throttle for your kitchen,” Castañeda says. “It takes intelligent forecasting to ensure the back-of-house is prepared to meet the order demand.”
Smart forecasting can help locations prepare and provide outstanding employee and customer experiences. Operators can feel confident they’ve ordered enough inventory and scheduled enough people. “Tech-empowered foresight and strategic response planning also enables consistent lead times and ensures that brands can live up to customers’ expectations,” says Castañeda.
Mark Mele, chief development officer of Paris Baguette, has over 30 years of leadership experience building and guiding franchise brands. Insights gained from tech have allowed Mele and his team to evaluate the optimal footprint for U.S. locations. For example, the brand’s operations team organized freezers and refrigerators in the back of the house. Mele says, “From a spacing perspective, there was a lot of waste, so we determined we could operate more efficiently by putting more equipment in each unit.” According to Mele, this is a significant key to efficiency, as the brand had been baking many items off-site at fallback locations.
Gathering information and recognizing growth opportunities and issues in real time can be difficult for large restaurant franchises. According to Tellez, varying time zones, language barriers, and the high costs associated with international travel are reasons why he shifted from in-person store visits to entirely virtual check-ins. “What has been interesting for us is that we are seeing better adoption and engagement from general managers through the implementation of virtual visits,” says Tellez. “They are active and go through the process while calibrating all along the way. We are coaching, teaching, and recognizing them. We see sales improvements year-over-year. We are very proud and believe there is a wide runway in the future for virtualized operations.” The process allows GMs to access meaningful, data-centric support 24/7 in their preferred language.
General managers play a crucial role in successfully implementing technology in a restaurant. They can provide leadership and guidance to ensure the technology is integrated seamlessly into operations, improving efficiency, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Mele says, “In order for the guest experience to be at its highest potential, there has to be a great general manager in place. It’s paramount.”
A general manager’s job is tough, but Tellez believes technology and support services help overcome specific challenges and advance the business, making the general manager’s life easier. AI tools allow general managers to gather more insights than the human eye or traditional methods. Likewise, the best AI uses machine learning to improve based on input that general managers provide. For example, if sales were zero on a certain day, the manager can add a note that the location had to shut down due to a power outage. Tellez says he has seen significant improvements in hitting growth goals by getting general managers actively involved in data collection and calibration processes.
Lineup.ai’s sales and labor forecasting helps general managers create a consistent process across multiple locations. Weather, events, school closures, local foot traffic, and more are taken into account across each restaurant location.
Consistency, after all, is key—and consistency just isn’t an area where humans are set up to succeed. Leaving forecasting to AI frees up general managers and employees to focus on revenue-generating activities.
When asked about the balance between human touch and automation, Bennett Maxwell, founder of the fast-growing cookie franchise Dirty Dough, says, “I think people want that human touch. I also think there is a fine line here. I’m leaning very heavily toward automation over the human touch. It would be ideal if I could control the human touch over a thousand locations and know that it is right every single time. I guess I don’t have a ton of faith in that. I think that the consistency will outweigh that human touch in most cases.”
A Forrester survey reported that 69 percent of companies who tried automation using AI were able to decrease operating costs. Lineup.ai aims to help restaurant managers save time and money by automating the forecasting process, streamlining scheduling, enhancing service, and improving employee productivity.
As Mele says, “I heard that it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you’re in the technology business first, and everything else is secondary.”
To find out more about Lineup.ai, visit their website.
By Olivia Schuster