Restaurants Turn to Tech in Ongoing Labor Shortage

Restaurants Turn to Tech in Ongoing Labor Shortage
The dining room of a Tacos 4 Life restaurant. (Photo courtesy of Tacos 4 Life)

Restaurants have been plagued with difficulties since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just when things seem to be getting better, new problems arise. As many restaurants have reopened or moved back to serving more dine-in customers, ongoing labor problems cause concern, both in the restaurant and its supply chain.

According to the National Restaurant Association, a June 2021 survey showed difficulty recruiting employees is at its highest level ever, with 75% of restaurant operators reporting it as the top challenge. Restaurants are not the only businesses in trouble. In August 2021, there were 1.7 million job openings in the leisure and hospitality industry, with unemployment numbers in the same industry at 1.2 million, leaving more jobs open than there are workers to fill them. Arkansas is struggling alongside the entire nation.

The labor shortage has resulted in restaurants scaling back hours of operation, reducing restaurant capacity or shutting down indoor dining altogether. While these fixes reduce immediate concerns, they are not long-term solutions. That’s where technology can play its part, but only when implemented properly.

Large fast food franchises were the first to begin looking for ways to decrease in-person contact between customers and employees and focus on drive thru, takeout and delivery options at scale. Technology innovation and efficiencies are key to driving restaurant operators’ ability to maintain operations while facing a workforce problem.

How can Arkansas restaurants incorporate the technology necessary to meet the needs of their customers in light of the ongoing labor shortage?

Front-of-house Efficiency

When a business increases its front-of-house efficiencies, it is better able to keep the flow of customers moving smoothly and avoid bottlenecks. Using tools like online ordering and kiosks are good ways to increase that efficiency.

An emerging solution to consider in the point of sale space is cloud-based systems that enables customers to order and pay at the table. Systems like this increase efficiencies by eliminating walking time and immediately inputs orders for the kitchen or at the bar.

Designating pick-up stations for those online and kiosk orders, as well as other tools, can help increase those efficiencies. Restaurants that want to keep a steady dine-in business going may want to consider implementing an effective online reservation system to help them manage the flow of customers without taking up staff time to take reservations by phone.

Other areas for improvement won’t be as visible to the average customer. Those include the tools the staff uses to keep the dining room running smoothly, including tabletop management software and inventory management systems.

Dining Room Kiosks

Incorporating kiosks in a business’s dining room streamlines the ordering experience for your customers and frees up staffing availability to focus on order fulfillment and back-of-house activities.

In addition, customers are able to place and pay for orders without risk of COVID-19 exposure from face-to-face contact.

Kiosks can range from larger, standalone kiosks where customers can order when they enter to small tabletop units that allow customers to order, pay and request additional service right from their seat.

Online Ordering

Online ordering via a website, app or third-party service, helps reduce the burden on staff and keep dining room congestion down.

Many businesses implemented or improved their online ordering systems in 2020, and are still working to implement new and better systems. An effective online ordering system will offer customers a smooth, seamless experience, while offering opportunities for upsells and add-ons and integrating seamlessly with the restaurant’s inventory and order management software.

Use Technology to Become Pandemic-ready

While restaurant operators have little control over things like a global pandemic or national labor shortage, they can implement new technology and processes to increase their restaurants’ efficiencies even in difficult circumstances. It's the best tool available for long-term success.

Andrew Faulkner serves as the owner and chief executive officer of Staley Technologies in Little Rock. Prior to purchasing Staley Technologies, Faulkner owned and operated Advanced POS Solutions (APS), also in Little Rock. He earned his B.A. at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and J.D. from the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. Faulkner’s partnership with NCR (National Cash Register) propelled APS to be one of the fastest-growing VARs (Value Added Resellers) within NCR’s channel. In June of 2017, he was honored to be placed on NCR’s Reseller Advisory Board, a distinction only offered to 7 VARs in North America.

Under Faulkner's direction, Staley Technologies and APS have merged, and Staley Technologies is well-positioned to offer full-service technology solutions to help enterprises respond to the ever-changing digital landscape.