Restaurant Automation: What Would the Service of the Future Look Like?6 min read
Just a decade ago, automation through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) was considered science fiction. Today, robotized intelligent technologies are taking over numerous sectors and making task completion a lot easier.
The restaurant industry is far from being an exception. At end of 2018, a restaurant with a fully automated kitchen started welcoming visitors in Beijing. Not only that, the restaurant also offered robotized table service.
Self-pay tablets and other modes of self-service are also becoming common in eateries across the world. They give customers a bit of autonomy and speed up service provision.
The effects of these technologies are also shaping up the fast food industry. Back in 2017, McDonald’s introduced mobile ordering and payment in over 20,000 locations across the globe. By the end of 2020, McDonald’s plans to use this mode of operation in most of its U.S. restaurants.
According to researchers, 54 percent of the tasks performed by workers at restaurants and hotels can be automated. Such a transition is anticipated to result in quicker, more effective and reliable services.
So, is automation the right choice for your restaurant? What are the best practices in terms of adoption? Should you start slow or go for a tech revolution? The answers to these questions depend on the goals you want to accomplish.
The Pros and Cons of Restaurant Automation
Before examining the best ways in which you could make automation happen, let’s focus on some of the pros and cons of relying on AI and robotics.
A few of the biggest advantages include the following:
- Customers are more engaged because many aspects of receiving a quality service are in their hands
- Almost everyone has mobile phones that can be used in the automation process, restaurants can also purchase a few additional essentials like self-service kiosks
- Increased table turn
- Getting rid of receipts and paper-based menus could contribute to the restaurant’s greener image
- Accuracy is increased and the risk of human error goes down
- Automation can enable restaurant owners to reduce staffing costs
- Ultimately, the introduction of the right technology could contribute to a sustainable revenue increase
On the downside:
- There is no emotional connection with the client, especially if all of the front-of-house staff is eliminated
- Some customers could struggle with self-service technology
- Automation cannot resolve more complex issues that still occur as a part of service provision (there’s some risk of theft and customers attempting to order one thing while checking out another)
- Depending on the type of restaurant and the degree of automation you want to introduce, the cost may be higher
- Managers and executive staff will have to be trained how to work with the technology and access the vital data
Using automation to optimize work processes makes sense for all kinds of restaurant venues. As you can see, the pros outnumber the cons. Still, adopting the right technology in the right way is going to be important.
How to Make Automation a Part of Your Restaurant Operations
Making the switch to new technological solutions is all about having a strategic plan in advance and following through with it.
Where Is Automation Needed?
The first thing you have to do is answer one very important question – where is automation most needed at the restaurant? Where will such technology have the biggest impact?
Some of the most prominent restaurant automation possibilities include the following:
- Digital menus at each table
- Table reservations and online ordering (before guests arrive to the venue)
- The introduction and provision of loyalty programs
- Employee scheduling and staffing management
- Drink service automation
- Delivery automation
Which of these technologies will have the most profound positive impact? Which of these will be easiest and most seamless to introduce? These are the questions you’ll have to answer before you move forward with selecting a specific type of process automation and beginning to roll it out.
Set a Budget
While restaurant operation automation can save you a lot of money in the long run, you’ll have to be prepared to invest a certain amount before you start seeing returns.
Choosing a good restaurant POS system is typically one of the first steps to undertake in the direction of more thorough automation.
You will get extensive sales and inventory reports, a client database, labor scheduling and payroll options, credit card processing, as well as possibilities for integration with other automation technologies like tabletop digital menus.
Investing in a POS system first makes sense because it will give you more information about the way in which your restaurant operates. Based on this information, you can make better decisions about the need for additional automation.
Start with one system first and get several quotes before choosing your service provider. Multiple offers will give you a better idea about a sensible price range and the capabilities of such technologies.
Consider the Acquisition of the Required Hardware
Software is one part of restaurant automation but the solution you choose will have to be supported by the right kind of hardware, as well. This is another essential to factor into the equation when doing your budget calculation.
Will you need computers, servers or tablets that waiters will use to take orders, gather feedback and process payments? Just like in the case of software acquisition, examine the market to identify the solution that comes with the best price to quality ratio.
Track Results, Train Employees
While artificial intelligence and automation technology have the capability to fine-tune their performance on the basis of data being collected, it’s still essential to know what’s going on and to control processes.
Managers and staff members who will be using the respective technology should undergo proper training to make the most of it. If everybody is familiar with the features and how to track performance, finding out if the technology is delivering the best results will become a simple task.
Think of Additional Automation Possibilities
Kitchen, service and staffing automation are the obvious choices. These, however, aren’t the only possibilities.
Once you get comfortable with the technology, consider broadening the scope of automation even further.
A restaurant can easily introduce marketing automation, for example, and benefit from the simplicity such a solution brings to the table. You can automate email marketing campaigns, social media promotions, messaging and customer service, loyalty programs and rewards clients are getting.
Once again, the need for human involvement will be eliminated altogether. In addition, you’ll collect valuable information about the key parameters of the campaign to make your digital marketing even more effective in the future.
Final Verdict: The Future of Restaurant Automation
Restaurant automation is already becoming the next big thing in the industry. While technology has evolved massively over the past few years, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Drone deliveries, bionic bars at restaurants, robo chefs and smart sensor technologies (ensuring perfect cooking technologies and food preparation methods) are already nearing the point of mass adoption.
While robots and automation tools can never replace the human touch, they can definitely eliminate the need for staff members to perform tedious or repetitive tasks. Errors will also be reduced drastically to offer clients a better service and give restaurant owners the best tools required to grow their businesses.