Do you run a restaurant and want it to grow? If YES, here are 20 unique ideas on how to automate your restaurant business for improved efficiency and profit.
Technology is taking the upper hand in the business world today. This is because, with the aid of technology, businesses have found creative ways to simplify their activities.
Automation has been a strong presence in the restaurant industry, and its presence started getting felt in the industry in 2015. Today, technology-driven automation in restaurants is becoming more and more commonplace as restaurants are finding creative ways to get robots to handle tasks in the restaurant in order to simplify service delivery.
Whether it’s a self-order kiosk, an online home delivery app, or the option to text in an order for pickup, there are loads of ways in which automation is being used to improve customer experience, streamline operations, augment a restaurant’s bottom line and improve sales.
In this article, we are going to discuss the few ways you can automate your restaurant business in order to improve your overall efficiency.
20 Unique ideas on How to Automate your Restaurant Business for Improved Efficiency and Profit
- Order ahead by text
Ordering by text is one of the first attempts of restaurants to automate their services. But this does not mean this restaurant automation method is outdated. This method of automation is great for takeaway restaurants, casual eateries, and coffee shops.
Ordering via text is a service which has gained a lot of traction in recent years. Basically, the idea is that you text a specific number with your order, sometimes paying in advance, or sometimes paying when you arrive for pickup.
Often, there is a special line for advance order pick-ups, thus making the process much quicker for customers on the run. This streamlined process appeals to commuters, or just people who hate waiting on line, and since the customer submits their own order, it can reduce the possibility of an employee transcribing their request incorrectly.
- Self-ordering centers
Self-ordering centers are increasingly springing up in the cities. Casual eateries, coffee shops, and busy, fast moving restaurant locations (such as in airports) are seeing huge benefits by moving toward a model where customers order either in kiosks or on tableside computer or iPad units.
The idea is that by allowing customers to order for themselves, it allows for easy personalization of their order, it improves the accuracy of how the food is delivered, and can make overall labor costs lower. Having a unit also allows the restaurant to engage the customer in other ways, such as asking if they would like to join a mailing list or a loyalty club, or promoting the restaurant’s social media channels.
- Join a delivery service
Another option for automating your restaurant is by joining a delivery service. Restaurant delivery conglomerates such as GrubHub are gaining momentum as one-stop shopping for people to order food online. This is beneficial to a restaurant in many ways. For one, allows customers to search for eateries geographically, so it may introduce new people to your cuisine just by searching by location.
For another, the ordering platform allows for customization and special orders, which the customer can detail and write out on their order for the restaurant. This helps avoid the confusion or possibility of an employee transcribing it wrong during a rushed phone order. While the “middleman” takes a fee, the greater volume of orders certainly makes up for it.
- Specials display board
Instead of using just any old board, you can switch to a computerized display board. A computerized screen or display, mounted in a lobby area or by the payment counter, can help you promote your restaurant and promote sales. For one, you can display your specials on the board, which can be updated automatically as you sell out or add new items to your menu.
It can also be used to promote short-term specials such as happy hour deals. You can also feature delicious-looking pictures of different dishes, which can help sell dishes or inspire customers to try out that specialty appetizer. You can also use the board as a mini billboard, promoting your social media channels or any upcoming events. This board has a lot of uses that can make things really easy for you restaurant staff.
- Point-of-sale systems
You’ve probably noticed how many restaurants have moved toward having iPad at their counter rather than a big computer unit or cash register. These are restaurant configured special POS systems. iPad point of sales systems can help automate your restaurant in a number of ways.
For one, having a point of sale system helps orders go right to the kitchen, transmitted digitally. While the time saved per interaction may be small, over time, it can add up in a big way.
Second, the point of sale display allows for easier inventory management (which can ultimately keep food costs down) and tracking of what dishes are proving to be the most popular. Third, particularly when accepting payment at an iPad point of sale system, it allows for customers to see suggested tip amounts right as they pay, which can help gently guide them toward leaving a better tip.
- Automated checkout
Waiting for the bill is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating parts of being a diner at a restaurant. For a server, it can be a tough call: is that group impatiently waiting for the check, or would they like to linger over coffee and dessert undisturbed for a few more minutes?
However, with an automated checkout system, which can be available either via kiosk or via tabletop displays, you can allow customers to check out when they want and how they want. This can help avoid an awkward dynamic between server and customers, and allows customers to settle up and pay as they are ready. This small service can be the difference between a frustrated customer and one who is excited to make a return trip to your restaurant.
- Automated food delivery
Automation is even affecting the way that food is delivered. In Los Angeles, a cupcake shop debuted a “cupcake ATM” that just about broke the internet with its popularity; elsewhere, sushi is delivered by conveyor belt as if it is riding a toy train, and there’s even a growing trend in dining wherein restaurants offer a (nearly) completely automated dining experience.
Creative modes of food delivery like this can help not only in reducing labor costs, but they also offer a powerful marketing opportunity for your business. It provides an interesting, novel experience, and is a great way to engage customers in a slightly untraditional way.
- Electronic payroll
Automation can also help streamline how you pay your employees too. Many restaurants have moved to an electronic payroll model, paying employees online, or using direct deposit. It saves checks, it saves time, and ultimately, it saves money, and is easier to track in accounting programs. Consider automating your payroll electronically; once you’ve created a great system, it will free up a lot of time for you or whoever handles your restaurant’s outgoing finances.
- Automate Your Social Media
It can be easy to get caught up in typing your next restaurant Facebook post or looking for the perfect Instagram filter. One way to save social media time is to automate your account. This can include features like scheduling posts, automating replies, creating and posting following a new blog, and posting based upon specific triggers.
Some, like Facebook, allow you to schedule your set posts months in advance, but there are many sophisticated platforms that allow you to do even more. Somet social media aspects should not be automated, though. These include:
- Responding to private messages: Respond personally to the questions, concerns and praises your followers are sending.
- Replying to comments: Show your followers that you care about them by replying directly to them.
- Re-posting the same content to each network: The networks aren’t all the same, so don’t treat the posting best practices equally, either. A 140-character tweet isn’t going to work on Instagram. Likewise, your audience members that follow you on multiple channels will tire of seeing the same content across markets.
- Automate Your Loyalty Rewards
Automating your loyalty rewards program can save you time and money. Rather than the cards that need to be printed and punched or stamped with each visit, consider automating your loyalty rewards cards by allowing customers to register with their phone number and email address.
It makes it easy for them to look up their information and provides you with a way to stay in contact. You can then use your software to track any rewards the customers have earned, point out how close they are to earning their next rewards, or allow them to redeem their rewards.
- Automate Your E-mails
E-mails are one of the easiest touchpoints to automate. Incorporating a system that accounts for the emails you typically send each customer guarantees that each patron will be up-to-date throughout your entire sales pipeline.
In addition to welcome e-mails, there are quite a few others that can keep your restaurant at the forefront of your customers’ minds. A ‘We Miss You’ e-mail, can be sent when your customer hasn’t placed an order with you in a set amount of time
An e-mail that sends out a regular newsletter or alerts customers to a new blog post, both of which provide customers with even more value. An e-mail following their dining experience that invites them to rate the meal they enjoyed for a discount or coupon they can apply to their next meal.
Restaurants have a great opportunity to build an expansive e-mail list. By offering online ordering, patrons can log in, save their payment information and view previous orders. They can also opt-in to your e-mails. Likewise, digital receipts are convenient for both sides. Customers have one less piece of paper to worry about and you can continue to build your email list.
- Offer reservation forms online
You can equally offer your restaurant reservation forms online. Your form may include some fields that allow people to notify you if they’re celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, or if they have special dietary restrictions. Do they need special assistance such as high-chairs or wheelchairs?
Imagine telling the hostess your name and finding a table not only with the right place settings, but also with a specialty menu for your vegan friend or the full birthday treatment for your friend without needing to call the waitress aside.
- Automate your feedback system
Listening to customer feedback is the easiest way to know what your customers expect. Set a process where the feedback goes directly to management who can pass it out to different teams with actionable steps. Watch as your customers start bragging to their friends about all the changes they suggested at your restaurant.
- Deal with complaints on the go
You want to deal with all of your customer’s complaints quickly, but some people might be even more important. You can get a software that can enable you create conditional channels where regular patrons’ or VIP comments can get fasttracked to management. Responding quickly to an old couple who show up twice a week and always bring friends and family, can make a huge difference.
- Automate your supply chain
As soon as you have to tell a customer you don’t have a particular item, they start to doubt your ability to keep them happy. Use workflow automation to make sure your supply chains stay fresh and stocked.
In a world where customers demand a great experience, restaurants have a hard time just keeping up with the competition. Use restaurant customer service automation to demonstrate to your customers that you are there to keep that smile on their face.
- Tablet service
Recently, tablets have been showing up on more and more tables in American restaurants. A lot of restaurants now have tableside devices available so guests can order their meals, play games, and even pay their bills on a tablet. You can do so too.
Restaurants are using tabletop tablets that display their digital menu and allow customers to place and send their orders directly to the kitchen. Orders come out more quickly than if a table had to flag down a server during lunch or dinner rush. That means faster table turn – and happier guests.
Plus, since customers can dig deeper into the menu to discover more add-ons and extras than any server could recite, sales averages will see some increase. As an added bonus, some tabletop tablets come loaded with games and entertainment to add even more value to the customer.
Finally, many servers are using tablets for tableside ordering, firing drinks to the bar and food to the kitchen as soon as the guest orders them. This can improve turn time and efficiency in the kitchen and in the dining area.
- Drink Service Automation
Who said that bars don’t have room to automate too? Companies like Pour My Beer are allowing customers to, well, pour their own beer. Instead of waiting in line for your bartender to pour you a pint from the tap, customers can access their favorite beers whenever they want. During crowded events or televised games, this could be a game-changer for your bar or brewery to cut down on waste and sell twice as much beer.
Of course, this system must be regulated. In order to access the “beer wall,” customers must buy a radio-frequency identification (RFID) enabled wristband or card to access the machine. Then they simply tap the access point, select a beer, and start pouring. The units dispense only 32 ounces and no more than two beers at a time and the customer pays for exactly what they pour. When the limit is reached, customers can reactivate for more pints.
- Scheduling Software
Scheduling is like a tricky puzzle with moving parts. Many managers struggle to get it right. With last minute call outs and disappearing vacation notices, creating a staff schedule can be a nightmare. However, restaurant technologies can help you free up your restaurant operator’s time by streamlining the scheduling process. Many scheduling software companies offer features like:
- Automated Schedules: Once you know that a server or bartender can work every Monday night, you can log that information into the software. Every week, the program automatically schedules your employee for those hours.
- Vacation Requests: Your employees can enter vacation requests online. A notification will pop up if you try to schedule them for hours they requested off.
- Schedule Checks: Since most scheduling software is available online, employees can check their schedules through computers or mobile devices. No more disruptive calls from servers asking about their next shift!
- Handheld Entertainment
Restaurant tablets can do more than just help your guests place orders and pay. Companies like Buzztime offer restaurant tablets loaded with entertaining games and trivia. Guests can join nationally scheduled competitions 7 days a week, 15 hours a day. These restaurant tablets can even be used to run a live trivia event or poker tournament in your restaurant.
With the right handheld entertainment, you can attract a wide range of customers. Big groups may come in specifically for a round of trivia or solo patrons can dive into a digital arcade that’s “open” 24/7. Either way, restaurant technologies that offer tabletop entertainment are a great way to increase repeat visits.
- Automated Inventory Tracking
Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to spend hours per week manually logging your inventory? Now, there are systems that can automatically track inventory for you.
With traditional spreadsheets, you run the risk of clerical errors that lead to costly mistakes. Plus, if you want to run a comparison or check for inconsistencies in inventory – you have to manually configure data. Instead, inventory restaurant technologies can instantly run reports for you.
Some programs even automate order suggestions so you don’t over or under spend for the week.