Automation is happening in nearly every industry worldwide, and the pandemic displayed its vital significance even more. In the restaurant industry specifically, automating various functions from customer relations to kitchen tasks has become essential for growth and longevity. In fact, 50% of U.S. restaurant operators are planning to implement some form of automation technology in their business in the next two to three years.
There is a misconception that automation will take jobs away from workers, but in reality, automation provides help with mundane, repetitive tasks, allowing workers to expand into more complex roles. In this article, we’ll cover some of the pros and cons of automation in the foodservice industry and ideas you can implement if automation is in your restaurant’s future.
What Is Restaurant Automation?
As mentioned briefly above, restaurant automation is the overall use of technology to assist with various operations within a restaurant. Restaurants can use automation in delivery and takeout scenarios such as self-driving delivery cars or delivery robots, front-of-house areas in the form of self-service kiosks and tabletop payment devices, and in the kitchen and back-of-house operations to help with food prep, mixing, and even flipping burgers. Some automation you may have seen already from large restaurant chains includes Little Caesar’s pizza-making robots, Starbucks AI-enabled espresso machines, White Castle’s use of a burger-flipping robot named Flippy, and McDonald’s experimentation with automated drive-thrus.
Pros of Restaurant Automation
All of this talk of robots may seem extravagant, and maybe even out of reach for smaller fast-casual restaurants, but most automation is accessible for restaurants of any size. Automation has been proven to help decrease labor costs and other operating expenses, increase profits, provide a better experience for customers, and result in fewer staff mistakes.
Creates a Better Customer Experience
There are many ways automation can create a better customer experience depending on which technology you choose to use. For example, self-ordering kiosks can ensure customers’ orders are always correct since there is no need to communicate verbally with a restaurant staff member, thus, eliminating the potential miscommunication. When it comes to kitchen automation, various technologies in the kitchen can ensure customers receive their food quickly and efficiently even during peak hours, which contributes to a great customer experience.
Takes Boring and Repetitive Tasks off Your Staff’s Plates
Before the introduction of automated technology, many staff positions in restaurants were boring and repetitive: flipping burgers for hours on end, standing at a cash register, typing in orders, etc. Don’t get us wrong — these jobs are absolutely vital to the success of any restaurant. But with the help of technology, your staff members will have more time to work on tasks that are more complex and more engaging, which can help with staff retention.
Cuts Down on Mistakes
Automating anything can help cut down on mistakes, but this is especially true in front-of-house situations when payment is involved. Using either a self-service kiosk for orders or providing a table-mounted tablet to make payments will help reduce potential human errors in communicating an order and typing it into a computer. Additionally, automation in the kitchen can help support accuracy and compliance when it comes to food prep, such as the size and temperature of burger patties or the amount of salt in a spice mix.
Unlocks Higher Profit Margins
Using technology in your restaurant can save you money in the long term and increase your profit margins. It’s a myth in the hospitality industry that owners and operators must always operate on a shoestring budget. In reality, implementing the right skills and tactics can boost profit margins by using automation to your benefit. If you are seeing a lot of errors in the kitchen resulting in wasted food, using technology to automate food prep or cooking processes could be just what you need.
Cons of Restaurant Automation
While automation can offer some excellent benefits to your business, there are a few drawbacks to be aware of: high upfront cost, the newness (and possible unreliability) of some technological offerings, and the fact that automated systems can often lack the human touch. Below, we'll explore each of these drawbacks in greater detail and discuss their implications for your business.
Startup Costs Can Be Expensive
Purchasing automation systems can come with a hefty up-front price tag. You must also consider the installation costs of your systems, as well as the continued maintenance of the systems. This can vary greatly, however. It's worth noting that your investment in restaurant technology will pay off, and you'll reach a breakeven point with time. This is something you can take into account when planning and analyzing your business’s financial data. Learn more about investing in restaurant automation.
Automation Tech Is Still Very New
The new technology behind all of the automation systems is in its infancy, so there are bound to be some issues that come up on occasion. Being aware of this fact before automating your restaurant can help prepare you for potential headaches in the future. This is also something to keep in mind when vetting and testing potential automation systems.
Automated Systems May Lack a Human Touch
A personal connection can play a huge role in the customer experience, and automation inherently takes the human touch out of everything. Though you probably don’t need a personal touch when it comes to mixing spices or flipping burgers, you may want to consider how restaurants can present a human touch through a self-service kiosk. This could be as simple as a personalized banner note at the top of the main screen welcoming guests to the restaurant or a thank you note from the manager after the customer places their order.
5 Ways To Use Automation in the Restaurant Industry
Now let’s get into more detail about some specific ways to implement automation in your restaurant. Check out this example of how one restaurant owner leveraged a successful automation strategy.
1) Self-Service Ordering
Self-service ordering is the use of technology to allow customers to order for themselves without interacting with a staff member. This is usually done through a standalone kiosk, tablet, or mobile app, which is quickly becoming a consumer preference. In fact, Deloitte reports that 67% of consumers prefer to place their own orders using digital technology, rather than ordering from a cashier.
Self-checkout became extremely popular at the height of the pandemic and continues to be preferred by customers. Many technologies allow self-checkout, such as standalone kiosks, table-mounted tablets, apps, and the use of QR codes on menus.
3) Inventory Management
Inventory management can be a real headache for restaurants of all sizes, so automating it can make your and your staff’s work much more streamlined. There is technology out there that can keep track of orders and send notifications when inventory may be getting low based on how many menu items you sell. Inventory management technology can also be especially helpful if you have multiple restaurant locations.
4) Automated Delivery
One simple way to utilize technology for your deliveries is to set up an online ordering portal or start using a third-party food delivery app like DoorDash. In whichever scenario you choose, customers will be able to place their delivery order and pay all on their own without calling your restaurant.
A more complex technological advancement is drone- or robot-operated deliveries. This technology is in its early stages but shows promise for the near future.
5) Automated Reservations
Most restaurants have jumped on the automated reservation bandwagon — OpenTable has even become a household name among younger generations. If you haven’t automated your reservations yet, this can be a great place to start using automated technology if you’re not quite ready to jump into self-service systems. Automating reservations can save you and your staff time and is a relatively low-cost technological upgrade that can contribute to a better customer experience.
Automate Your Restaurant With INFI
There are so many different options you have as a restaurant leader when it comes to technology — it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game. You can try out one type of automation, see how it performs, and then slowly build from there. Exploring your options is vital to staying successful — and competitive — in our tech-heavy society.
If you’re interested in self-service kiosks for your restaurant, INFI offers solutions that can easily connect with your already-established POS system. Beyond enhancing your customer experience, our kiosks can provide business owners with valuable sales and inventory data and allow for real-time updates and upselling opportunities.
Try a demo today to see what self-service kiosks can do for your restaurant!