The rapid acceleration of technology in the restaurant industry has been a boon for customers and operators alike. For customers, it allows them to interact with their favorite brands via their always-present mobile device, leverage more personalized promotions and take advantage of convenient features such as order-ahead.
For operators, digital advancements have yielded cost-saving opportunities such as more accurate inventory and the exposure of energy inefficient equipment. Emerging technology has also allowed operators to develop labor management efficiencies. Restaurant franchisees, for example, can now keep track of payroll and HR paperwork in the cloud, and incorporate mobile scheduling.
In an industry with a notoriously high turnover rate and continuous pressures, improving labor management is one relatively simple solution to offset some added costs. Managing your restaurant digitally has plenty of advantages and with the rapidly changing workforce, it may even soon be necessary.
Digital-native millennials are expected to make up nearly 50 percent of the QSR workforce by 2020, according to Jeff Pinc, Director of Food Services, Panasonic System Communications Co. of North America.
Workforce Insight, a workforce management strategy and implementation consultancy, found that technologies that create mutual accountability due to team-based interaction, such as an integrated scheduling planning process, is becoming vital to involve the digitized generation.
"These technologies allow for improved employee interaction, creating a better work environment, thus leading to improved productivity, efficiency and brand trust," Pinc said. As a result, most of Panasonic's clients have adopted a digital interaction with their staff by exposing them to their schedules over their smartphones. Much of the hiring and training is also now done through in-store mobile tablets.
Workforce Insight's research found that QSRs save 4 to 6 hours a week when using digital-based scheduling. Replacing paper-based systems with mobile devices allow managers to handle training, scheduling, task and communications all on a portable device.
"Some examples include tracking food costs, accessing schedules and scheduling labor and using barcode scanners to check inventory. Access to food prep instructions, food safety, ordering and inventory have all taken the digital mobile turn," Pinc said.
Digital labor management tools give managers the ability to be more productive and alleviate some of the burdens of hiring and training. Hiring management software, for example, can help cull through applicants to find the best employee for the right job. Kronos, for example, has a hiring solution that helps managers match an applicant's traits and skills to those needed for an open role.
Snagajob recently released a posting/hiring app that allows employers to view a video clip of candidates and gauge their personality before scheduling an interview. Last year, Zax Inc., a Zaxby's franchisee, implemented Snagajob's solution to help recruit "superior candidates for both frontline and management positions," according to Zax Inc.'s HR director, Whitney Sidwell.
Sonic's company-owned drive-ins also recently implemented hiring software through its agreement with PeopleAnswers HR solution.
"To remain at the top of our industry, it takes great people who will stay longer and perform better," said Anita Vanderveer, vice president of People, Sonic Corp. "With both mobile and desktop access, PeopleAnswers is an easy-to-use tool for our managers in the field and our applicants, and it will bring consistency to our hiring process while increasing employee quality in all of our locations."
The web-based PeopleAnswers system includes a personality assessment to prescreen candidates. It also identifies the "Behavioral DNA" of existing employees, allowing Sonic to duplicate traits of its most successful employees in all of its new hires to improve productivity and increase employee retention.
Once hired, digital products exist to ensure a shift is properly covered. HotSchedules, for example, allows managers to create schedules quickly and push them out to employees, who can then request to swap or release a shift online or via mobile with a manager's approval.
"Going digital allows QSR managers to come out of the back office and onto the restaurant floor, increasing productivity not only by removing paper schedules altogether, but allowing them to oversee all aspects of their restaurant with the tap of a screen. This would bring hiring, training, scheduling, task and communications all into the digital space for the fast-paced QSR or fast casual environments," Pinc said.
Shifting HR information to the cloud also helps restaurants gain better data for sales and labor forecasting.
"Using this digital information from their tablet solution, operators can make more accurate decisions towards their goals with improved real-time analytics. It also allows restaurant management to stay in constant communication with staff, allowing staff members to access or request changes to their schedules wherever and whenever they want," Pinc said.
These solutions have become so efficient, one Papa John's franchisee, Jamie Pickett, has leveraged digital solutions entirely, allowing her to run her Boston store remotely from her home in Richmond, Virginia.
There are three types of systems Pickett logs into via a website – one for marketing, one for payroll and one for a virtual back office. The biggest challenge, Pickett said, is adopting a new mindset.
"We do everything remotely. It's not as personal; it a huge change. I learned how to manage by talking to other people about how they've done it. I learned you have to be OK with remote taking away everything personal. If you stress that everyone is a team, it goes long way," Pickett said.
Pinc said there may also some downtime for staff training.
"However, the benefits of a more productive and efficient staff greatly outweigh time spent on training," he said.
The upfront cost of any new technology solution has been a deterrent for many restaurant operators and workforce management is no different. Pinc said, however, the increase in employee demand – driven by the millennials – as well as the potential long-term benefits are driving more operators to at least start pilot programs.
"By improving employee interaction and creating a better work environment, restaurant owners are increasing productivity and efficiency, ultimately improving the overall customer experience. After just a short pilot period, restaurateurs are seeing the clear benefits and easily grasp the return on investment, which ultimately makes the concern of upfront cost go away," Pinc said.
The ROI comes quick, too, he adds. Workforce management solutions save managers time, provide them with the ability to access insight, view and analyze transactional data, prevent shrinkage and provide data that can be used to streamline procedures, enhance marketing efforts and inform merchandising strategy. Because of this extensive list of benefits, Pinc expects digital workforce management platforms to reach critical mass in the restaurant industry sooner than later.
"If a restaurateur is not currently using and engaging their staff digitally, they're already at a competitive disadvantage," he said. "With restaurant turnover as common as it is, the staff you're targeting to hire has probably already worked for a restaurant that has engaged them digitally, and you will be seen as behind the times."
Photo provided by YouTube user IreneWFM.