A staggering 144% — that's the average monthly staff turnover at fast food places due to the pandemic. With the Great Resignation ravaging the food service industry, an effective retention method has never been this vital.
Restaurant owners eager to solve their employee retention problem would be wise to consider the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence.
Automation and artificial intelligence in the restaurant business is more common than you might think. Think about how often you see self-service options like ordering kiosks and automated reservation bookings.
Consumers increasingly expect their ordering experience to be more like shopping on Amazon. Before choosing a restaurant, customers can check wait times from their phone, review menu pricing, and use online ordering to pick up food curbside or in a drive-thru if they don’t want to dine in. Some businesses are even offering voice ordering on Alexa and Google Home.
All of those quick-service tools are designed to serve more customers with less need for human labor. Think of them like virtual assistants for your real staff.
But what if you could go further? You can use that kind of artificial intelligence to streamline your business and keep your restaurant staff happy and well-paid.
Here’s how restaurants are using AI:
1. Efficient Staffing
One of the most common complaints from restaurant staff is that their shift is either over- or under-staffed.
When there are too many people scheduled on the same shift, tipped employees don’t earn enough money to justify the time and effort they put in to be there.
When there are too few people on a shift, the workload is exhausting and service levels suffer. Plus, when there’s more human error, customers may tip less.
This is also a problem for you. When you schedule too many people early in the week, they’re not available on days when you don’t have enough help. The customer experience suffers when your staffing levels are off, and that contributes to expensive problems like food waste and lost customer business. Inefficient staffing is bad for retention and it’s bad for your bottom line.
The best way to ensure you have the optimal amount of staff at any time of day is to use an artificial intelligence tool powered by machine learning. An AI scheduling tool for restaurants such as Lineup.ai can look at past POS data, account for internal and external factors, and more accurately predict your staffing needs.
A good scheduling algorithm will also optimize the scheduling across the entire team. Your most experienced team members get the most valuable shifts, and trainees work when there’s enough time to give them the guidance they need.
That brings us to the next way that machine learning can help you keep your staff happier and more likely to stay.
2. Better Work Environment
We’ve already discussed how optimal staffing maximizes the tips that your staff earn. Now, let’s talk about how implementing AI tools can make the customer experience better and your servers’ lives easier.
Being in restaurant management, you know that food delivery services are now an expected part of the dining experience. You also know that it can be a huge pain to maintain service levels for dine-in customers while you’re dealing with online orders and delivery pick-ups.
None of your servers want to waste time managing delivery people when they could be helping their in-person (tipping) customers.
AI can solve that problem. Self-service kiosks for food pickup take a lot of the logistical demands away from restaurant operators and allow those delivery people to get in and out faster. It’s a win-win.
Your staff will also appreciate all the ways that artificial intelligence can streamline operations. Your AI tools can help you keep inventory stocked so that you don’t have to 86 popular menu items, and when supplies start to run low, you can see it in real-time and react appropriately.
Perhaps most importantly, the tech tools you use to make your restaurant more efficient help you keep your customers satisfied.
One of the main reasons that food service staff are quitting their jobs at such high rates is because they are forced to deal with disgruntled, rude customers. It’s a big problem in the restaurant industry right now. When you address those service issues with smart implementation of technology, you create a much better working environment for your staff.
3. Equip Your Staff the Right Tools
Your staff are your most important resource, so they must have the right restaurant technology to streamline their day-to-day operations. For instance, handheld point of sale systems can help your servers turn tables 15-20% faster, which translates to more tips per shift.
It’s not enough to just give them a tool and hope for the best. You need to make sure that they can access the tools easily and use them effectively.
Here are some tips for making sure your tools are easy:
- Make sure they're easy to access. For instance, instead of having individual reservation systems in every restaurant location, integrate a centralized reservations system into your central booking platform so employees can find the reservations effortlessly.
- Make sure they're easy to set up and manage after initial installation. Ensure you create a user manual for their products with step-by-step instructions. This is especially important if some team members aren't as tech-savvy yet will be using the products daily or during training!
- Offer training to existing employees. Don’t expect your staff to figure it out on their own. You want to keep your employees, so make sure that the things you do to help them succeed don’t backfire and create more work.
4. Support the Restaurant’s Non-technical Affairs
AI isn’t just for the technical side of your business. It can also help you deal with the non-technical side such as employee management.
For example, let’s assume you hired a new server, but he’s really struggling to keep up with his tables. You could let him go...or you can leverage your automated tools to dig deeper. Do you use a tabletop POS system that collects feedback? Take a look at the reports and see what’s going on.
When you’re ready to address the issue, you have impartial data and real customer feedback to show. That gives you a more constructive foundation on which to approach the situation.
Another powerful way to use AI technology is to use a forecasting tool to anticipate sales volumes. Accurate forecasting empowers you to order the right supplies and ingredients, make smart business decisions, and take the guesswork out of scheduling.
5. Give Your Customers a Voice
You need to be available to answer common questions about wait times, reservations, food preparation concerns, and the like. Plus, you definitely want to hear customer feedback and ideas so that you can better serve people in the near future and beyond.
However, your servers and hosts don’t want to sacrifice the customer experience for the people who are waiting to dine right now. It’s hard to manage a ringing phone, a waitlist, and a line of people at the cash register.
Lots of people turn to social media as a way to speak up, but if you don’t have an effective way to get back to them, your social media page makes the customer experience worse instead of better.
That’s why so many modern restaurants are turning to AI tools like chatbots and simple mobile apps. A simple chatbot can handle most customers’ questions, and they get the answer much faster than they would if they waited on hold for your host.
Use AI to change the way you do business with suppliers and partners.
A significant reason for high staff turnover is that businesses don't adequately pay their workers. Employees are forced to look elsewhere for better pay and benefits.
AI can help you find ways to cut costs to give your team more competitive salaries.
Imagine if you could negotiate better deals with suppliers and partners using AI? That would be a massive advantage over other restaurants. By negotiating smarter deals with suppliers, you'll reduce inventory costs and retain more cash you can direct to rewarding your employees.
AI Forecasting Software for Restaurants