Lately, it seems like artificial intelligence (AI) is the biggest technology trend out there. While there are ways to potentially use AI for your restaurant, you can also use tech in a number of other ways to make your restaurant run more smoothly. In particular, automation technology can be incredibly useful – and save your business a lot of money over time.
Automation is a way to reduce workload while increasing productivity. Tools like self-service customer kiosks and robots in the kitchen can also improve accuracy and the customer experience. We have rounded up some of the top restaurant automation tools to help you run a more profitable business.
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What Is Restaurant Automation – and Why Should I Use it?
Automation is the use of technology to perform a task with minimal human involvement or input. This type of technology is broadly used, including in ways that we take for granted – such as an automatic transmission in your vehicle, which eliminates the need for a human to shift gears. Automation is also heavily used in the medical field, such as ventilators that can automatically turn on an artificial oxygen supply when it detects low levels of oxygen in a person’s body.
Automation is also commonly used in the kitchen. While you might not think of something like a blender or a mixer being high-tech, these appliances use automation technology to perform a task (chopping or blending up food) without minimal work from the human operating it. In the same way, automation can be used in restaurants to reduce the amount of labor necessary to perform a task.
Many restaurants already use automation technology – such as dishwashers. In 2023, there are even more advanced options for restaurants. This can include everything from robotics to software that automates certain processes.
Restaurant automation is more important than ever in an era where the industry is facing challenges related to labor shortages, rising costs, and supply chain disruptions. Using technology may not be able to completely solve the issue of simply not being able to hire enough workers – but it can cut down on the number of employees that you need. While these tools require an initial investment, they can save restaurants a significant amount of money over time.
These tools have other benefits beyond reducing operational costs. Automation can reduce or even eliminate user error while simplifying and optimizing operations. It can also help to cut back on waste and create greater efficiencies. Customers often have a better experience as a result of automation, which can lead to higher profits.
17 Restaurant Automation Tools to Consider
If you have decided to give automation a try, the next question you might have is what technology is worth it. While each restaurant is different, there are some tools that can be used across a wide range of businesses. Below are our top 17 options if you’d like to give restaurant automation a try.
Front of House Automation
Technology for your customer-facing operations can be used to give patrons more control over their dining experience. It may also help to alleviate staffing shortages that can cause slow-downs – and more unhappy visitors.
Digital Menu Boards
If your restaurant has a menu display, then a digital menu board might be the most cost-effective way to ensure that it is up-to-date. While a hand-letter chalk menu board may be more charming, making these menus takes time and artistic skill. A digital menu board can be changed quickly to reflect specials, celebrate holidays, or even eliminate options that aren’t in stock. Digital menu boards can also be displayed via tablets, social media, on your website, or through an app.
If you have ever stopped at a drive-thru to get food, you are probably familiar with customer-facing displays. Most often used in quick-service restaurants, these screens provide more visibility and transparency during the ordering process. Essentially, these displays give customers a visual breakdown of their order, which helps to provide a better experience and reduces errors in the purchase process.
A self-ordering kiosk is a great option for fast food and fast-casual restaurants. While some people may lament having to put in their own order, other customers will be thrilled to avoid having to wait in line or to interact with a clerk. These kiosks can also help you save labor costs and reduce errors with ordering. They may even lead to increased sales, as the kiosks can be programmed to automatically upsell patrons based on their orders.
Automated Table Reservations
Handling reservations can be a labor-intensive job, requiring a staff member to take calls and maintain a reservation book. You can automate the process by using software so that customers can make their own reservations. This software typically offers a range of features, including a digital floor plan and options to maximize table covers and management.
At some point, we have probably all been in a situation where we needed help with something at a restaurant – but couldn’t seem to flag down a server. A call button removes the need for customers to track down a server – much like a call button on an airplane. This option can also make your team more efficient, as they won’t constantly have to circulate through the floor to check on patrons – since they will know that their tables have an easy way to let them know if they have an issue.
Digital Menus and QR Codes
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurant patrons have become accustomed to scanning a QR code to bring up a digital menu on their phones. In this way, restaurants don’t have to print menus, distribute them to customers, and clean them between patrons. Some digital menus even allow customers to place an order directly from their phones.
Of course, while digital menus and QR codes are convenient and cost-effective for restaurants, many customers dislike them. If you decide to automate your menu in this way, be sure to have up-to-date physical menus that can be handed out to anyone who would prefer to view their options on a traditional menu.
A Cloud-Based Point of Sale System
Point of Sale (PoS) systems are one of the best examples of restaurant automation technology available. With a PoS system, you can improve order accuracy and get the orders transmitted to the kitchen quickly. A cloud-based PoS software system can also be used to generate reports and help you run your restaurant more efficiently, such as by flagging times when sales are particularly high or low so that you can adjust staffing accordingly.
Delivery and Take-Out Integration
Between third-party delivery providers and the pandemic, it is more common than ever for restaurants to offer delivery and take-out options. While this can provide an additional revenue stream for restaurants, it can be difficult to manage while still running a full-service restaurant. A PoS system that integrates delivery and take-out orders can reduce both errors and wait times, plus make it as easy as possible for your staff to handle these orders.
Mobile Point of Sale Systems and Self-Service Ordering
If you have concerns about having adequate staff or simply want to make your restaurant as efficient as possible, you may consider putting a tablet-like device on tables so that customers can order and/or check out on their own. These systems are more commonly seen in chain restaurants like Applebee’s – but can be used by independently-owned establishments as well. Customers can still have the option of ordering and paying through a server to ensure that you don’t alienate anyone who may not be comfortable with the technology.
When we think about artificial intelligence (AI), we typically think of things like software that can write something for you. But AI isn’t just about text – it can also be used to complete tasks. In particular, voice AI (like asking Siri or Alexa to do something) can be used to take orders over the phone or in a drive-thru lane. With this technology, customers can simply tell the restaurant what they want to order, and the software will take the order and transmit it to your staff.
Back of House Automation
Technology isn’t just useful for front-of-house operations – it can also be really helpful when it comes to the kitchen and overall management of your restaurant. Below are some great examples of how automation can be used to make the back-of-house more efficient.
If you watched The Jetsons as a kid, the idea of a robot to do tasks like cooking and cleaning may still seem like something that is far off in the future. Yet there are a number of robotic options for restaurant kitchens that are available today. Kitchen robots are particularly useful if you tend to sell a lot of a few types of dishes. For example, if you run a burger joint, a robotic burger flipper like Flippy can be a great way to streamline your operations and reduce staffing costs. You can also integrate robots into your front-of-house operations with robot waiters.
Digital Loyalty Programs
Most of us are used to loyalty cards for the grocery store, pharmacy, and even big box retailers. But digital loyalty programs can also be used by independently-owned restaurants – and automation technology makes it easy. This software can track what customers order, offer them rewards and discounts, and even personalize offers to target their preferences. Not only will you not have to worry about stamping or punching a hole in physical cards, but you will gain a wealth of information from these programs.
A kitchen display is typically part of a PoS system that allows the front-of-house to communicate with back-of-house staff. With a kitchen display, any incoming orders automatically go up on the screen so that the kitchen employees can see them and get to work filling the orders. Instead of having staff running back and forth with tickets, the kitchen staff will see exactly what is ordered (online or in the restaurant itself) and can start cooking. These displays also help to reduce mistakes and increase efficiency.
Automated Inventory Management
Inventory management is a crucial part of running a restaurant. You need to know exactly what you have on hand in terms of ingredients and other supplies so that you can keep fulfilling orders – and so you don’t waste money ordering things that you don’t need. Many PoS systems have inventory management built in so that you can keep track of your ingredients and know at a glance what you need to order. This type of system can also free up your time because you won’t have to do manual inventory counts and track inventory on spreadsheets.
Being successful as a restauranteur is not just about making great food or having a creative concept. You also have to carefully watch your profit margin, labor cost percentage, and other numbers. Accounting software is an easy way to automate these and other factors so that you can easily track expenditures, profits, and other numbers. Using this type of software may also minimize costs associated with hiring an accountant, as all of the necessary information can easily be emailed or printed as needed.
Labor is one of the biggest costs associated with running a restaurant. It can often be difficult to figure out scheduling, particularly when there isn’t an obvious pattern to when your establishment is slow or busy. Scheduling software – which is often integrated into PoS systems – can make this easier. These programs can track sales to find patterns, and then automate staffing to make management as simple as possible.
At this point, most restaurants have some type of security system, most likely with a video component. These systems are set up to detect both theft from outsiders as well as employees. The issue for many restaurant owners is that they simply don’t have the time to review the video. Auditing software can automate this process by monitoring inventory and flagging certain issues for your attention.
Expand Your Marketing Efforts with Budget Branders
Running a restaurant is a lot harder than it used to be. In addition to having to produce good food and provide great service, you also have to stay on top of technology and the latest trends – like automating processes for greater efficiency. Fortunately, some aspects of owning a restaurant remain pretty simple – like getting custom disposable products.
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