Originally published by Hospitality Tech Magazine
There’s no denying it: Restaurant operators have, over the past few years, been keeping back office technology implementation projects on the back burner and at a steady simmer.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and its anticipated aftermath, piled atop increasingly more significant existing challenges, have changed all that. Evolving customer expectations, new safety protocols, operating restrictions, and staffing obstacles are turning up the flame on investment in back office solutions and landing them a prominent spot on the IT “stove.”
“We’re looking at a very different restaurant technology picture now than we were before the pandemic began,” says Jean Chick, a principal in strategy consulting and restaurant and foodservice leader at Deloitte. “The restaurant of the future—really, the restaurant of today—requires a more comprehensive back office technology suite, with a tight integration of systems.”
In this report, HT looks at the latest developments in restaurant back office solutions and what’s driving them to the forefront.
DOING DINE-IN RIGHT
Whether they’re still limited to offering outdoor tables or once again permitted to accommodate customers indoors, restaurants have a ripe audience for on-premise service. A recent Oracle Food and Beverage study revealed that 59% of U.S. consumers plan to frequent a restaurant as soon as the law of their state allows. Of these consumers, 26% said they plan to dine out in the first week after authorities deem it safe to do so.
Yet just because some consumers are eager to return to on-premise dining, doesn’t mean they have no reservations about doing so. Statistics tell the tale:
When Toast asked 700 consumers what concerns them most about restaurant dining in a “time of Covid”, 48% said they are worried about restaurants’ overall cleanliness, while 30% admitted to concerns about contact with servers and other restaurant staff.
Restaurant operators are addressing these concerns with changes to dine-in protocols, like minimizing guest contact with waitstaff and other employees throughout the dining experience and eliminating printed menus. Solutions that integrate with restaurants’ POS systems and allow consumers to not only view a menu, but to order and pay for their food in touchless fashion without interacting with a server, are becoming a cornerstone of these new dine-in protocols. “Such technology makes sense if you look at the numbers,” notes Chick, citing a not-yet-released Deloitte study that revealed that 71% of customers now expect to find contactless options in restaurants. The Oracle Food and Beverage Study indicates much the same, with 35% of respondents expressing a desire to pay for food from their own devices and, we can surmise, order it that way too.
Order-and-pay technology designed for on-premise use comes in multiple flavors. Contactless Dining, a tool rolled out by Paytronix, is built on a mobile web platform. The platform uniquely identifies guests’ location using a QR code they can scan to find the link to a restaurant’s online menu. Guests then place and pay for orders on their smartphones, via a direct integration to the POS and KDS. Order For Me works the same way. Restaurants can add new QR codes if they add tables and can “turn off” menu items if the kitchen runs out of them. Waiter in Your Pocket ® from QikServe and Bbot, from the company of the same name, offer on-premise order-and-pay capability through QR and NFC technology.
DELIVERING ON DELIVERY (AND TAKEOUT)
Food delivery and takeout from restaurants was big before the virus arrived in the U.S., but the pandemic has pushed its popularity to new heights. “There’s been a huge influx; we’ve seen a 300% increase on that end since March 20, 2020,” Chick observes.
At the same time, curbside pickup has become a “thing” and won’t be kicked to the curb anytime soon. COVID-19 And The Future Of Commerce, a survey by text messaging solution provider Medallia Zingle, found that 87% of consumers want restaurants (and other businesses, for that matter) to continue to offer curbside pickup and other processes even when the pandemic is in the rear view mirror.
“While the pandemic kicked curbside pickup and contactless delivery into high gear, they’re here to stay even after the virus subsides,” states Mariam Reza, senior vice president, enterprise solutions, LivePerson. “Now that they’ve become the new normal, consumer expectations around making them (better) will continue to rise.”
Among other things, meeting these expectations means a tighter, easier integration of back office systems and curbside pickup and delivery apps. For example, integration with inventory management systems allows restaurant operators to order ingredients appropriately, ensuring that items are available when customers want them and that the right quantities are on hand. Vendors like Toast have integrated their curbside pickup and delivery apps with their entire back-office management suite.
Restaurant operators then harness the app or platform to find healthy workers with immediate availability.
WORKING THE WORKFORCE
Workforce management has always been a challenge for restaurant operators, with high turnover rates (averaging 75%, according to Toast’s 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report) and low retention numbers (less than two months for employees and four months for managers). The pandemic has thrown additional obstacles into the mix. Sourcing, recruitment, screening, onboarding, and scheduling of labor have become more difficult based on a reluctance among some employees to risk contracting the virus by coming to work and as operators struggle to balance staff levels so that there is sufficient coverage, but not too much to lead to untenable labor expenditures. Consumers’ concerns on the staffing side are also a factor; not surprisingly, a respective 45% and 44% of respondents to the Toast survey claimed to be worried about restaurant employees’ health and safety.
Recent additions in the workforce management, scheduling, and time and attendance category reflect and seek to address these headaches. The SnapShyft Marketplace from Snapshyft comprises a mobile app and SaaS platform for staffing on-the-fly. Prospective employees, including servers and kitchen personnel, sign up to find opportunities. Restaurant operators then harness the app or platform to find healthy workers with immediate availability.
Similarly, ADP Marketplace provides a one-stop digital HR storefront that allows employers to build what the company calls a “customized HCM ecosystem,” with access to more than 493 solutions from 240-plus partners. Operators can try, buy, and implement solutions for time keeping and learning management (along with financial wellness). All solutions seamlessly integrate with the entire ADP platform, paving the way for data-sharing across HR solutions, says Neema Ardebili, ADP’s director of global franchise.
Several vendors are addressing the need to keep employees safe (including by eliminating the need to physically touch potentially contaminated time clocks) and, in some cases, to train staff on safety protocols and enforce best practices. ADP now offers the ADP Time Kiosk App, which lets employees use facial recognition technology to identify themselves as they clock in and out and voice commands to initiate or end shifts and take breaks. Managers can stagger shifts and breaks to avoid employee “crowding” and harness an analytics function to look for patterns in employee absences that may indicate an outbreak.
An app from OpenSimSim allows staff to clock in and out of shifts on their own mobile device. Employees who fall ill can be automatically unassigned from shifts for a set period, and managers can check the app for available replacement employees. The app also has a messaging feature that managers can use to communicate with and remind employees about the latest hygiene practices and government regulations.
Newer time-and-attendance tools can also be leveraged to assess employees’ health before they begin their shifts. In addition to built-in alerts that make it easier to plan schedules in accordance with weather conditions (e.g,, scheduling fewer employees when heavy snow is in the forecast) SynergySuite’s Clocking app has an optional integrated health assessment feature. If the feature is activated, employees cannot clock in until they have passed a mandatory health assessment. ADP and OpenSimSim solutions have a similar feature (OpenSimSim’s version incorporates a mandatory temperature check). The latter also has a tracking capability that allows managers to track which employees have undergone and completed COVID-19 training and, if needed, to automatically block any employee who has not done so from the pool of available staff members.
Enhanced communications tools, too, have joined the ranks of back-office solutions for workforce management. One example is Red Book Connect’s Digital Red Book, which operates entirely on mobile and is offered with an optional ruggedized iPad. The tool is designed so that the corporate office can communicate goals and practices to managers on the front line, in real time. Managers can then track the progress of everyday tasks, monitor key performance metrics, and document shift and inventory issues while providing immediate communication between shifts and across multiple locations.
Fatburger has rolled out Digital Red Book at 150 corporate and franchise-owned stores. “The ability to have a truly customized manager’s log, as well as centralized, online access, is exciting,” says James Newell, vice president, operations. “They can take notes, see tasks, pull up a contact, take a photo, and contact their staff.”
ONE FOR ALL, ALL FOR ONE
In yet another twist on the back office, workforce management platforms are being combined with other functionalities in an “all-in-one” approach. Restaurant365 has expanded the feature-set of its cloud-based restaurant management offering, which combines key restaurant modules with an accounting backbone. A Profitability Report enhancement analyzes trending sales and expense data to determine which of a restaurant chain’s locations will show a profit, break even, or lose money during a specific period. The Order Mode Profitability Dashboard reports profitability by service type and delivery provider (e.g., DoorDash vs. Uber Eats); users get a clear view of on- and off-premise performance and can drill down to the menu item level to identify their most and least profitable menu items by segment.
Meanwhile, a Smart Labor component optimizes labor usage by creating custom labor models. Operators can see pre-populated, intelligent labor recommendations for each hour directly on the scheduler. An editable manager log task list with daily activities appears on the Health and Sanitation Checklist.
Similarly, Kronos’ Workforce Dimensions From Kronos Incorporated offering consolidates key workforce management functionalities while allowing restaurant operators to integrate solutions that are critical to their individual business–such as learning tools, communications tools, guest satisfaction surveys, back-office solutions, POS, and others. This way, restaurants experience zero technology disruption, according to the company.
The SNAPSHYFT Labor Marketplace is a cloud-based Staffing-as-a-Service software and mobile app connecting food & beverage and hospitality operations with actual industry pros, on-demand. We help fill shifts fast. SNAPSHYFT is currently available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.