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Quick-Service Restaurants Can Step Up Their Game With Automation

This article is part of a series in partnership with ISG, a leading global technology research and IT advisory firm. 

As the technology landscape continues to evolve, new developments can fundamentally change how restaurants operate and how employees serve their patrons. These growth areas primarily take the form of automation, robotics, and data analytics advancements.

These technologies don’t just make it easier, faster, and more efficient to run a business. They allow a quick-service restaurant (QSR) to meet its customers' evolving expectations. Automation technologies also allow a restaurant to improve its employee experience by eliminating many pain points impacting an employee’s productivity and morale.

Improving workflow

Even a small inefficiency within a workflow can impact productivity as redundant or inefficient processes compact over the hundreds upon thousands of times those processes are repeated in a year. New data tools allow restaurants to build insights into their operations, identify redundancies and inefficiencies, and eliminate them. This is primarily done through data collection methods that leverage IoT sensors to study how, for example, food moves through service.

After building a model of that operation, data analytics tools—leveraging advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques—generate insights to make the business more efficient. For instance, new workflows or layouts that result in saved time or labor.

Such efficiencies also make implementing entirely new processes into their operations easier. This is useful for QSRs looking to accommodate the evolving tastes and demands of the market.

For example, Gen Z has demonstrated a great preference for contactless ordering, varied food routines, and delivery. Companies looking to add or bolster their order and delivery services can use analytics tools to find the most efficient means to implement improvements and relevant technological solutions to ensure customer satisfaction.

Improving the employee experience

The loudest complaint you hear from employees may be about the predictability of a repetitive task. The more crucial issue with such tasks is that they are the most prone to error in a workflow. New technologies can streamline these processes, improving accuracy, morale, and overall productivity:

  • The most recent, prominent example may be the self-service ordering kiosk, which allows patrons to place their orders directly. This saves employees time and eliminates the chance of misheard orders.
  • Automation technology can automatically track and order items, ensuring timely restocking and preventing under or over-ordering. Automated inventory management systems can help monitor stock levels, track expiration dates, and generate alerts.
  • Robotics can aid in food preparation, help to cook and assemble foods, ensure consistency in food quality, and reduce human error. It can also help with ingredient sorting, storage, and retrieval.
  • Chatbots or virtual assistants can help handle customer queries, provide information, and even handle routine customer service tasks.
  • Automated dishwashing systems and robotic cleaning services can help employees to focus on customer service and food preparation.

As a bonus, automation can have a knock-on effect of improving customer engagement. By enhancing the employee experience, a worker is more motivated to interact with customers positively and can have more time to do so.

Staying competitive

Taking an interest in automation technologies may prove key to staying competitive. The market shows many retail companies are taking a large interest in leveraging these developments to improve their operations. In an ISG consumer industries survey from 2022, respondents said that automating business processes was the most valuable way to apply AI or automation technology to their business.

Beyond automation, companies registered a large interest in improving their operations. In the ISG survey, when asked what their top investment priorities were for 2023, companies most cited “employee experience and productivity programs.” 20% listed it as their number one investment priority, and 54% listed it among their top three priorities.

An optimized workplace is more productive, but much of that comes from reducing the workload on employees. That is a tribute to the knock-on benefits of optimization; introducing new efficiencies will lead to happier employees, who will do a better job, interact better with customers, and contribute to an overall more positive restaurant experience.

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