If you work in food service, trying to keep up with the rapid advances in restaurant technology can be daunting. Whether you own your own food truck or a small chain, robust POS platforms, customer analytics, and back-of-house management programs are changing how restaurants conduct business, reach new customers, and retain regulars.

According to the Toast Restaurant Technology Industry Survey, 73% of restaurants want to upgrade their technology – and customers are starting to expect a more high-tech dining experience, too. The same survey found that 79% of diners indicate that tech can make their dining experience better. When you consider that mobile payments for restaurant ordering are on the rise, as are the number of customer loyalty app users, that number is hardly surprising.

But despite the amount of new tech that rolls out each year, managers face the same old obstacles to initiating system upgrades: not only can new tech be expensive, but it takes additional time and labor to train employees to use technology effectively. Then there’s the significant amount of time managers must spend developing workable systems and routines for their new technology.

If you’re on the fence about why you need to upgrade the technology in your restaurant, we’ll show you where to focus your attention – and how you can take simple action steps to make new technology work for you and your staff.

Labor Management: Becoming More Efficient

Still working with pen and paper to schedule your shifts? You’re not alone.

A WorkJam survey found that 57% of restaurants still schedule labor manually, a practice that increases inefficiency and takes up countless manager hours. Just think about the raft of scheduling problems managers must handle on a day-to-day basis as requests for sick time or vacation come pouring in, or the high employee turnover rates that occur when workers have difficulty juggling busy schedules without advance notice of a shift schedule.

Eliminate these problems by embracing team management software to optimally schedule your employees. Digital platforms like Hubworks Zip Schedules make it easy to communicate quickly with your entire team through a single messaging system, and even allow other staff members to communicate about trading shifts. Stop using scraps of paper to remind yourself of employee availability and start tracking schedules digitally to improve employee retention and on-the-job workflow.

Without clarity around your shift schedule, labor percentage can creep up, making it difficult for management to accurately forecast labor needs and budgeting. But when you’re tracking sales data – and matching it with your shift schedule – it becomes much easier to address this problem head-on.

“You don’t want to overspend on labor costs thinking there will be more traffic when your hard data says there won’t be,” explains restaurant manager Matt Thompson at the Shift Note blog.

“When there are trends of low sales on certain days, or during certain periods of time, you can bet you will not need as many employees to be on shift,” Thompson adds. “Likewise, your data will tell you when you need more employees on shift to meet demand, ensuring fast and excellent customer service that will help maintain future sales.”

Whether you stick with Hubworks or scout around for a different POS, here are three action steps you can implement today to improve scheduling and efficiency in your restaurant:

  1. Make your shift calendar a priority.

Use technology to track employee availability and build your schedule in advance. This ensures your employees feel valued, while your managers benefit from advanced planning for dinner rush, or vacation and sick time requests. Advanced scheduling also helps staff bounce back from unexpected emergencies or absences.

  1. Integrate communication into scheduling.

Ditch the phone tree and seamlessly contact employees with a single message. Team management software also makes it easier for employees to contact one another, which can help managers focus their attention on more pressing problems.

  1. Avoid scarcity mindset.

Sure – you always want to put your best people on during your busiest times in the dining room. But without an easy way to track availability, forecast your labor budget each month, or ensure you’re not paying for labor you don’t need, your managers can feel like they’re just taking a stab in the dark when they’re drawing up a schedule. Use forecasting tools to plan for your labor needs and budget based on past data – then track how you’re doing in real time.

Case Study #1: Otto’s Bierhalle

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Their goal: As one of Toronto’s busiest bar chains, Otto’s Bierhalle needed to eliminate scheduling inefficiency and make employee requests easier to track and manage. According to the 7 Shifts blog, prior to making the jump to a digital platform, Otto’s Bierhalle struggled with a high labor percentage and occasional mix-ups due to their Excel-based scheduling system. Sound familiar?

What they did: The German beerhall switched to an online scheduling system that resulted in an overall 5% decrease in labor costs. Not only were managers better able to set and track labor budgets, but the platform also freed up manager time for more high-level tasks. Overall, the switch helped the Otto’s Bierhalle team improve communication and trust, which changed the working environment at the restaurant for the better.

Make simple shift templates, handle employee requests, and communicate in a snap – start your Hubworks Zip Schedules trial today.

Customer Data: Improving Your Guest Experience

When 68% of sales at fast-casual restaurants come from repeat customers, it’s in your best interest to make these customers happy, rather than devoting the bulk of your marketing efforts to cultivating new business.

It’s no longer enough to offer coupons for the occasional discount to earn the loyalty of your customers, either. With rapid advances in marketing and outreach technology, customers are more likely than ever to expect seamless mobile interfaces, targeted promotions, and rewards for their loyalty – even from small restaurant chains.

Large chains like Starbucks have rolled out successful customer loyalty apps that track past purchases and eliminate wait times, for example, while BoLoco uses beacon technology to ping customers with a personalized deal. But these efforts would mean nothing without the ability to track and analyze customer data in order to maximize the effects of your marketing campaigns. In fact, access to customer data is part of what cloud-based services like OpenTable use as selling points, says tech reporter Neal Ungerleider.

Detailed analytics allow you to “gain insight into…diners as a mass audience, [so] you have information to offer promotions, advertise to customers, or adjust your menu in a way that you couldn’t do just based on one-on-one conversations in between servings,” writes Ungerleider at Fast Company.

If you’re new to tracking and analyzing customer data, here are three ways you can integrate customer data to target new and existing customers, generate powerful online reviews, reward loyal customers, and boost sales:

  1. Personalize, personalize, personalize.
    One size doesn’t fit all. You need a POS – or an integrated CRM – that tracks customer data, including dollars spent and spending habits. Generate personalized email offers tied to past purchases, or use beacon technology to send push notifications to past customers in your neighborhood who might be tempted by a time-sensitive promotion.
  2. Seek and reward feedback.

You’re down with Yelp reviews. You get why you need a Facebook page. But you haven’t yet integrated customer feedback into your website – and you should. Referrals are 15 times more likely to convert than other forms of marketing outreach. But beyond conversion and sales, it’s data that you should really be after. The customer data associated with feedback programs like FiveStars can drive loyalty, sales, and the success of your future marketing campaigns.

  1. Boost your customer retention efforts.

Integrating customer loyalty programs like Belly Card or LevelUp with your sales data can drive business, too. By eliminating wait times for regulars or rewarding customers for repeat business, you can both eliminate customer pain points and forecast sales more accurately each month. Other programs, like OpenTable, can even help you drive table turnover with carefully timed incentives, so your dining room is never empty.

Case Study #2: Chomp

Their goal: A popular burger joint in Warren, Rhode Island, Chomp wanted to better align their operations and marketing efforts for a more efficient – and profitable – business.

“Everybody’s got the latest, greatest way to get you data, they say,” Chomp owner Sam Glynn tells NextRestaurants. “I wanted to be able to capture data doing what we were already doing anyway – swiping credit cards.”

What they did: After implementing a data-rich POS, Glynn was able to track and measure customers by order and frequency of order, dining room occupancy, online reviews, and the success rate of marketing campaigns. As Glynn discovered, when you implement a system robust enough to integrate marketing and sales data, each of your individual marketing tasks becomes that much more powerful.

“The restaurant business is transitioning out of a time where everything was a gut decision and not backed up with any analytics, to now having a tremendous amount of valuable data to validate or discredit your gut,” Glynn says. “That’s very powerful stuff that can make your restaurant perform better.”

Analyze your sales data and drive customer loyalty with Hubworks Zip POS Dashboard.

Internal Tasks: Maximizing Your Inventory and Productivity

Writing a killer menu is one thing, but mismanaging internal tasks, from ordering inventory to marshaling staff, can eat into your bottom line just as quickly as a string of slow nights.

Any restaurant manager who’s run back-of-house knows how difficult it is to track, use, and order inventory with accuracy. In fact, as much as 25-35% of operational expenses go toward inventory in the restaurant business, making wasted inventory a huge drain on your profit margins.

With new POS, inventory management, and task management software, however, managers can stay on top of ordering to eliminate food waste and improve communication with their vendors. By digitally tying inventory management to actual – and predictive – sales, back-of-house management can make informed forecasts about which dishes will sell and how quickly menu items will move.

In the same vein, low employee productivity or a high turnover rate can drive your margins into the red. By helping track employee tasks and productivity, you can better set your employees up for success, identify good prospects for management, and lessen the effects of a high-turnover industry.

Maximize your inventory, help boost employee productivity, and generate data on employee performance with these easy action steps:

  1. Link kitchen management to inventory management

Good kitchen management is good inventory management – but you shouldn’t have to depend on guesswork to get your ordering right. Digitally track your inventory usage and make inventory management a daily part of your back-of-house routine, without getting bogged down in paperwork. Not only will you be able to better predict which menu items are likely to sell when you have more data, but you can also eliminate lengthy re-ordering processes with your vendors. This frees up your time to solve real problems.

  1. Train and track employees for success
    Good task management starts with excellent employee training and regular feedback. With a solid employee training program under your belt, you can count on advances in technology to help you track recurring shift tasks, collect employee data, and provide performance feedback. This makes each shift more productive and provides good employees a way to move more quickly up the chain of command.
  2. Update your records.

By using digital task lists, managers can receive updates in real time and provide easy-to-follow instructions for their employees. This eliminates guesswork on the part of employees and keeps everyone on track throughout their shift. Perhaps more importantly, when you use tech to manage your employee tasks, it’s that much easier to stay on top of state and federal regulations. Now you have a digital record that can help you prove that regular bathroom inspections – or cleaning out the walk-in freezer – have actually happened.

Case Study #3: Tava Indian Kitchen

Their goal: As a small chain in California, Tava Indian Kitchen wanted to better predict the needs of their kitchen in order to decrease food waste and maximize their profits.

What they did: By using detailed sales analytics and inventory monitoring, management was able to save “$1,000 per location per week,” according to Synergy Suite. Their upgrades helped management predict sales, link sales to supply ordering, improve food expenditures, and stay on-budget.

“Having real-time supply chain and inventory management means we’re in better control of our expenses,” Tava Indian Kitchen CEO Jason Pate told Synergy Suite.

Transform your checklist and supercharge your employee productivity with Hubworks Zip Checklist.

Whether you want to improve your labor percentage, drive customer loyalty, or cut food waste, using new restaurant technology to track and analyze data will help you eliminate uncertainty and ease the decision-making process. When you have compelling data from your POS to back up decisions about everything from shift scheduling to inventory ordering, you can make decisions that will drive the profitability of your restaurant. 

But profits aren’t the only place you’ll win – your employees and customers will be happier, too, leading to better customer service and the kind of word-of-mouth business that sets your restaurant up for long-term success.