One glance at what a single person can accomplish using a smartphone—communicate in an instant, pay bills, order groceries, go shopping—is more than enough proof of just how dramatically technology has changed modern-day life.
What’s more, tech advances over the last decade alone have resulted in a monumental shift for the quick-service industry, leading to innovations like mobile and automated ordering and the development of more efficient tools in the kitchen, at the register, and beyond.
And while advancement may come with opportunities, it also comes with challenges and risks, one of them being that automation and high-tech innovations may soon eliminate particular roles within the restaurant.
But as more quick serves and industry experts are discovering, technology isn’t so much eliminating the number of jobs as it is causing brands to reallocate their labor, evolve the roles that employees play, and shift the ways in which they find, hire, and train their employees in the first place.
Out of the dark ages
Long gone are the days when applicants would spot a “help wanted” sign on a restaurant window and fill out extensive paper applications before finally landing an interview. For many years now, brands and job seekers have been turning to online—and more recently mobile and social—recruiting platforms to post positions and apply to jobs in no time.
Not only has this shift greatly eased the stress of the hiring process for both restaurant applicants and hiring managers, it has also significantly increased the number of applications brands are receiving.
Eric Oppenheim, COO of Maryland-based Burger King franchisee Republic Foods, says his locations have received double the number of applications since using TalentReef, a social recruiting and talent management platform that gives Oppenheim’s hiring managers access to a bigger pool of more qualified candidates.
TalentReef in particular offers its clients a proprietary algorithm that scores applicants’ personality traits, skills, and integrity behaviors on a one-to-five-star basis, matching brands with employees who are the best fit for jobs they’re seeking to fill. This system increases the likelihood that a new hire will fit in culturally, have the skills necessary to excel in his or her role, and remain in a position longer, says TalentReef CEO John Raeder. It also saves time for hiring managers.
“It enables my managers to take a quick look, and anyone with a four- or five-star rating, they’re going to pay a lot of attention to them and filter out those who score lower,” Oppenheim says. “Managers are much more efficient in the hiring process, and they’re able to spend a lot more time working and taking care of the guests than sifting through papers to figure out who they can hire.”
Raeder says this type of technology can cut turnover rates dramatically—anywhere from 10 to 50 percent for TalentReef clients—and, in turn, allow staff at all levels to maximize revenue and create a more profitable business.
But technology-driven hiring methods aren’t just useful; they’re now essential for brands in the quick-service industry. “It’s really consistent with where the Millennial generation is right now,” Oppenheim says. “They want to be able to come in and apply on an app or a tablet.”
Not only that, but tech-savvy employees want to be onboarded and trained in the same manner, too.
“Companies that are able to do a lot of online training with mobile [technology] have found a real reception from the employees they’re hiring. It’s a more natural extension of the way they’re used to learning now,” says Lane Cardwell, director of the restaurant and entertainment group at Falcon Realty Advisors.
“You hand somebody a large notebook filled with pages, many of which are probably out of date, and they’ll look at it like, ‘Now what?’” he says. “But hand them an iPad with some program learning, some test questions along the way that make sure they are picking up the information, some videos that reinforce what they’re being told—it just makes it so much better for everybody.”
The rise of high-tech delivery
While tech-driven hiring, onboarding, and retention systems are becoming more common for limited-service concepts, brands are also turning to more efficient delivery platforms that increase the number of orders their restaurants can receive, deliver, and profit from.
“Delivery is becoming a bigger pain point in their business and is getting more expensive,” says Chris Webb, CEO of ChowNow, an online ordering system based in Los Angeles. “Staffing has always been a nightmare, and insurance rates continue to
That’s why some brands are going beyond in-house staff and traditional third-party delivery services like Seamless, choosing instead to utilize courier services like UberRush to maximize their delivery potential and efficiency, while cutting some of the costs associated with staffing an in-house delivery team.
Rather than preparing multiple orders for drivers to deliver to customers on a single route—which often results in a long wait time and less-than-fresh food for customers on the back end of the delivery route—the UberRush system allows restaurants to connect with an Uber courier nearby, who arrives just as the food is coming out of the kitchen. Orders are delivered directly to the customer, and the driver then picks up another order from a different restaurant nearby.
Rather than getting rid of their in-house delivery staff in favor of UberRush, Webb says, many of ChowNow’s restaurant partners are maximizing efficiency by using both sources in a “dual-zone” approach, where in-house drivers focus on close-proximity deliveries and couriers focus on those that are farther away.
“Because these drivers work off of tips primarily, they actually can do more trips per hour and thus they make more money,” Webb says of in-house delivery staff, noting that ChowNow is seeing many delivery drivers welcome the UberRush partnership rather than feel threatened by it.
The Lunchpad, an artisan sandwich restaurant based in San Francisco, recently began using the UberRush delivery service through its partnership with ChowNow. Though its mom-and-pop status means the Lunchpad is only capable of filling delivery orders for large groups or special catered events, the partnership has already made a noticeable difference in both the success of the business and the employees’ roles within it, says sales and marketing director Mickey Hubbell.
Hubbell says employees no longer have to stress about deliveries making it to their destination on time, allowing them to focus instead on product execution and quality.
“I think our employees are actually a little bit happier that somebody else is taking care of the delivery aspect,” he says.
Because UberRush allows for a higher volume of deliveries, Hubbell adds that there’s an opportunity to grow both the Lunchpad staff and the brand itself.
“The combination of online ordering—where the staff is not on the phone anymore—with the fact that they no longer have to assign drivers and manage them makes them a whole lot more efficient and they can process more orders,” Webb says.
But while technological advances in the delivery realm may be adding to jobs in the present (or at least not eliminating them for the time being), Webb warns that this trend could take a negative turn in the future, given other external pressures.
“It’s well reported that hourly wages are going up around the country, and it’s making it very expensive to staff delivery drivers,” he says. “As insurance rates go up over time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they move away [from in-house drivers].”
Cutting out the middleman
Another area in which technology is causing a shift in the industry is the rise of automation—primarily through the use of in-store, self-ordering kiosks.
Hardee’s is just one of the major quick-service chains testing these automated ordering systems. In early 2015 the brand installed about 30 kiosks in locations around the country.
Hardee’s COO Eric Williams says the kiosks are meant to provide guests a better experience and greater level of order customization. “We’re sort of cutting out the middleman to increase accuracy and efficiency in ordering,” he says. “Customers get exactly what they want and can check their own order for accuracy.”
It’s this elimination of the middleman that has some workers in the industry concerned about possible job loss thanks to increased automation. However, Williams says the kiosks actually allow for better allocation and utilization of its staff rather than the elimination of it.
“Even though a person may be ordering from a kiosk, you’re actually opening more order spaces for the customer to use. So instead of having one cashier and everyone in line, we might have a couple of kiosks … and now you open up more windows to serve people quicker,” he says.
This shift effectively allows each store to reallocate its labor to store maintenance, the drive thru, or the kitchen in order to produce food more quickly and accommodate higher order volume.
Not only are staff being used more effectively in the restaurants, but Williams also says crewmembers are even supportive of the technology, primarily because it improves order accuracy and allows them to interact with guests more closely.
“Our crew members are really excited about the kiosk and love teaching the guests how to use it,” Williams says. “It changed the role of the crewperson from taking an order to helping a guest take their order. Because of that, it’s been really well received.”