Prevailing under pressure is nothing new for restaurants, but since 2020, challenges with competition, profitability, and meeting customer expectations have intensified. Many restaurants have altered their operating models to accommodate new consumer behaviors shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. They now accept orders online, in-app, and on self-service kiosks, as well as at the drive-thru, the counter, or a table. But many don’t have an effective way to manage the new ways they operate.
Adding to the challenges is a persistent labor shortage and rising inflation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2023 that food service and accommodations had 1.285 million job openings, meaning many restaurants are short-staffed. And although inflation overall decreased to 4.9 percent in April 2023, food prices were still growing at 7.7 percent.
To overcome those challenges, restaurateurs are looking for solutions that increase operational efficiency, control costs, and continue providing excellent service. David Vander Dussen, Epson product manager, explains that the top purchase intention among restaurateurs is expanding the capabilities of existing point of sale (POS) systems.
“Demand is high for restaurants that want to stay in business,” he says.
Where Restaurants Can Make Gains
Although optimizing customer experiences is paramount for building loyalty and revenues, restaurants must address more than customer-facing processes.
“Restaurants need to address both front- and back-of-house operations,” Ian Livesay, Epson product manager, explains. “As we look at total operations, the barriers between the two tend to disappear.”
Vander Dussen comments that many restaurant operators are seeking innovative solutions to improve their businesses. New technology, like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, can help identify and track orders or train new employees. However, “ Solution providers need to show them how it can be implemented,” he says.
Define Where Your Clients are and Where They Want to Go
Solutions providers have the opportunity to optimize a range of restaurant use cases. For example, before the COVID-19 pandemic, customers usually placed quick service restaurant (QSR) orders at the counter or drive-thru. An employee entered the orders into the point of sale (POS) system, which sent them to a kitchen printer or a kitchen display system (KDS). The process worked because operators could control how many orders employees took in a specific timeframe, ensuring a good workflow for the kitchen. Orders moved from prep station to prep station and back to the counter or drive-thru, where employees handed them directly to the customer.
Now, orders can come from more places. A restaurant can take orders from a third-party ordering and delivery platform directly through its website or with a self-service kiosk in addition to the drive-thru or the counter. Restaurants can’t anticipate how many orders are coming in at any given time, and the kitchen needs a way to accurately track the parts of each order and direct them to the correct destination, i.e., an Uber Eats pickup counter, staging for curbside pickup, the drive-thru, or the customer.
“Integration and partnerships are required. They will provide restaurants with the right software and hardware to do it well,” Livesay says.
Learn How Restaurant Operations Are Changing
Vander Dussen adds that it’s vital for solutions providers to understand their customers’ customers. For example, it’s necessary to research consumer preferences by generational differences. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry report, many millennials prefer online ordering and in-store self-service options. “Solution providers will find numerous areas where restaurants can invest in increasing efficiency,” Vander Dussen comments. “Understanding where an operation’s true needs are can make the most impact with minimal disruption to the business. This allows restaurants the ability to adapt in the future.”