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Help wanted: How automation and innovation can help restaurants manage the labor crisis

Photograph courtesy of Apex Order Pickup Solutions

The biggest challenge restaurant operators face today is the national labor shortage. Although the critical lack of workers troubles nearly every industry, it has hit the restaurant industry especially hard. And the shortage of workers negatively affects all aspects of restaurant operations.

Despite a steady trend of job creation in the first half of the year, eating and drinking places are still nearly 1 million jobs, or 8%, below pre-pandemic employment levels, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 Mid-Year State of the Restaurant Industry Update.

How can operators cope? Start by revamping recruitment and retention efforts. Then, make the most of available labor through automation and optimize workflows. Finally, offset labor shortages with technology, freeing up staff to enhance the dining experience.

Recruiting and retention

The competition to attract quality employees is fierce. Hiring is only the first step; retaining good workers is imperative. Operators can stand out by offering competitive compensation and creating a safe and supportive work environment. Reward hard work with recognition, performance incentives and the opportunity for further training and professional development.

In the long term, the cost of benefits is offset by the high price of frequent employee turnover in terms of lost profits and dissatisfied customers. Other ways to win over workers for the long haul include offering perks such as staff meals, flexible scheduling and subsidized transportation.

Implement automation and optimize workflows

With the labor shortage, it’s critical to consider automation in all areas of operations. Reservation software automates that critical function so that the host can focus on greeting guests and working the floor rather than answering the phone and taking reservations, for instance. Handheld POS systems could eliminate the back-and-forth between the register and tables, too, speeding up the payment process and, in turn, creating a better experience for busy diners. And scheduling software helps control labor costs, while maintaining optimum staffing levels, by making suggestions and alerting about possible conflicts.

Now, as people return to dining rooms, inefficient takeout practices are desperately in need of revamping as well.  Busy operations can no longer afford to dedicate employees to carryout; they need them in the kitchen or on the floor. Takeout is a lucrative business for restaurants, so investing in the right technology can enhance labor efficiency, throughput and customer satisfaction while increasing profits. In fact, consumers are demanding new technology: 53% of consumers want contactless payment, and 38% want contactless takeaway, according to Technomic’s Q2 2021 Global Consumer Trends Report 2021.


The case for automated food pickup lockers

High-tech food lockers are changing the way diners pick up their to-go orders and can also help with the labor challenges. Too often, kitchen or waitstaff must do double-duty taking time to run carryout orders to waiting customers. Smart food lockers like those from Apex Order Pickup Solutions are a labor-efficient option: takeout orders are simply loaded into secure lockers for customers or delivery drivers to pick up when ready. This frees up staff for more important duties.

The software that powers these lockers also provides data that operators can use to optimize steps in their order fulfillment processes. By locating the pain points and working closely with employees, they can reduce the time it takes to get off-premises orders to the customer. And they can view this data at one location or across an entire portfolio of brands.

Other benefits of using order pickup lockers include safety and order accuracy—only the person with the code can open the compartment to get the order, so there’s less likelihood of getting the wrong order and there’s no worry about multiple people touching bags. Additionally, pickup lockers help employees increase throughput during peak hours while minimizing the amount of time each customer has to spend in the restaurant—boosting customer satisfaction. Finally, pickup lockers eliminate the problem of many consumers gathering in a crowd near the door waiting for their pickup order. With automated pickup lockers, diners and delivery drivers can wait outside or away from the restaurant until they have the necessary code to open their order’s locker. Not only does this method eliminate crowds, but it speeds up the actual pickup process, too, as there’s no consumer-staff interaction needed.

Innovation and automation will be the name of the game for restaurant success in a post-pandemic landscape. For more information about Apex Order Pickup Solutions, check out https://apexorderpickup.com/



This post is sponsored by Apex Order Pickup Solutions