Automation could significantly help restaurants deliver high-quality experiences to customers more consistently and easily, according to a new Zenput and Technomic survey of 295 restaurant industry personnel.
That might seem like an obvious statement in this day and age, where digital ordering is on the rise and you can’t turn a corner without running into a self-service kiosk. But as Zenput and Technomic’s “2020 Restaurant Ops Report” suggests, the restaurant industry as a whole remains slow when it comes to adopting technologies that can automate more manual day-to-day tasks for restaurant employees.
Just 27 percent of restaurant operators said their company is embracing automation “to a great extent.” The number is higher among corporate stores (33 percent) than franchisees (18 percent). Meanwhile, smaller operators (think less than 50 units) are more likely to embrace technology that automates employee tasks than larger ones. The latter point makes sense, given the time, money, and sheer organizational factors needed to introduce new technologies across thousands of restaurant units.
But slow adoption will almost certainly speed up in the near future, however. As the report notes:
“The reality is that to remain competitive and consistently deliver positive customer experiences, corporate brands and franchisees need to find ways to get more out of every store and field employee they have. This means embracing new strategies, processes, and automation — technologies that will enable staff to focus on higher value activity and do it more efficiently.”
The report doesn’t call out many actual technologies, but it’s a safe bet to say the bulk of restaurant automation in the near future won’t be in the form of burger-flipping robots or widespread delivery via drone, which while promising are expensive and time-consuming to implement on a wide scale. Instead, automation will be software that streamlines day-to-day tasks like inventory management and bookkeeping, which in turn frees up employee time to focus on customer service. As the National Restaurant Association noted in its recent “Restaurant 2030” report, “Everything from inventory management to scheduling to payroll, taxes and bill reconciliation will be more automated in the restaurant of the future.”
Already companies like Fourth and HotSchedules, who merged in July of 2019, as well as Toast, LimeTray, xtra Chef, and many others, offer software platforms that automate “busy work” in the back of house — tasks such as order tracking, inventory management, and bookkeeping.
And while adoption of automation technologies may be low right now, approval is high among those who are already using them. The Technomic-Zenput survey notes that “83 percent of operators who embraced automation say their experience has been a positive one.” Operators cite more effective store operating procedures, clear visibility across store units, and the ability to quickly identify operational issues as some of the big benefits of software automation.
One of the predicted trends for restaurants in 2020 is that operators will focus on streamlining their tech stack and employing software more strategically in the coming months. In other words, rather than inundate employees with a pile of new digital tools to learn, restaurants will pick and choose which technologies are most effective at solving the big issues. Tech that can pinpoint and solve more operational issues is likely to be high on the list of many over the next year.