Talk to any restaurant operator and it’s likely to be the top challenge at work: labor and the difficulty of delivering great service in an environment of near-constant turnover. Joni Thomas Doolin, founder and chair of restaurant consultancy TDn2K, thinks a lot about this. Her firm publishes a quarterly workforce index, the latest of which indicated that at fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, vacancies at the back of house were near 80 percent. In that scenario, it’s difficult for a restaurant to do anything beyond keeping the doors open. So how can restaurants operate to change that? Thomas Doolin shared several strategies on a recent Restaurant Business podcast with Jonathan Maze. First, she advised, focus on creating an environment in which you can engage, retain and offer stability to your general managers. She said that across the industry, many brands have focused resources at the employee level while general-manager-level compensation and benefits have remained flat or even declined in the past decade. She cited research that found that in the restaurant industry in the U.S., 35 percent of general managers were engaged in their work, as compared to 61 percent of general managers across industries. Keep them interested by offering development – not training – that will help them handle more complex tasks and manage employees from multiple generations. You can also offer some flexibility – and that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours but it might mean allowing a person a couple of hours to catch his child’s baseball games each week. Brands are succeeding with other retention strategies too: Chick-fil-a employee retention remains high due, in part, to its policy that keeps stores closed on Sundays, giving employees a built-in day off. Others have shown they’re invested in the community. MOD Pizza, for example, has a history of hiring people with backgrounds of incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and mental disability, then paying a higher wage and offering benefits such as a 401(k) – a stance that has kept employees engaged and turnover low while appealing to guests too.
Self-service kiosks remain an important vehicle for reaching and understanding consumers. Research from Tillster found that more than 65 percent of customers said they would visit a restaurant more often if it used self-service kiosks and 30 percent said they prefer to order via a kiosk instead of a cashier if the lines were of equal length. While kiosks have helped restaurant operators save on labor costs, watch for much more to come from them. As the CEO of the kiosk company TRAY told AgFunder, the value of kiosks in the years ahead will be more about taking customer personalization (and therefore service) to the next level. With a swipe of a credit card, a consumer will be able to pull up a personalized menu based on what is popular at the restaurant and what meals he has ordered at other restaurants.
Does your restaurant have creative ways of sharing what you do best — whether it be inventing new dishes or surprising guests with unexpected pairings or presentations? For years, operators have used Restaurant Week offers to bring guests in during slow periods, attract people who wouldn’t normally visit and test new menu ideas — but the event needs some reinvention. While it can be profitable for operators, many say that Restaurant Week turns off regular clientele, can be costly to manage and has grown to include so many restaurants that it is difficult to stand out in the crowd. In place of Restaurant Week, operators are coming up with more experimental concepts. Upserve reports that “Off Menu Week,” a joint effort between Resy and Capital One, is taking off in six food-focused cities ranging from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. Participating restaurants will serve dishes that may appear on a future restaurant menu, off-menu items, or one-hit wonders that didn’t make it to the menu. Bloomberg reports that participating restaurants could offer such experiences as having guests try a dish with a selection of wines designed to draw out different flavors, or demonstrating different approaches to making sushi. The goal isn’t about showcasing signature dishes or trying to attract guests looking for a good deal — it’s about providing a behind-the-scenes experience visitors will remember.
Operators typically consider restaurant technology options with an eye toward improving the guest experience or boosting the efficiency of front- and back-of house teams. But it just might help you attract and retain employees too. A recent Deloitte study found that 74 percent of millennials indicated they want technology to be part of their workplace. It doesn’t have to cost operators a lot either. The Rail reports that even free tools like What’s App and Google Groups can help, as can more-targeted paid apps like HotSchedules and RedEApp. Streamlining communication, assigning tasks, shift scheduling and switching, and managing employee payment via tech are all important, though even the quality of your wifi can make a difference to employees looking to log on during breaks. Before a new employee even joins you, tech can help you manage the talent pool more effectively. Tools like RoboRecruiter, for one, which has a multilingual platform, use an online chatbox to automate messaging and help you sort and engage your candidate pool.
Employee morale need a boost? The New Year is a good time to retool your management approach and set a motivating tone for the months ahead. The one-on-one meeting is an ideal place to have a back-and-forth about challenges, opportunities for the employee and the learning behind the feedback they’ve (hopefully) been receiving. Feedback about behavior that needs to be changed is better delivered on the spot, soon after it happens, while status updates are best shared in daily team huddles and scorecards posted in the restaurant. The restaurant consultant Mike Ganino shared this 25-minute framework with QSR for more effective one-on-ones: First, review action items from the previous week and catch up on personal life (7 minutes), then have employee set the agenda and share items to review and problem-solve together (15 minutes). Next, recognize good work/share important company news (3 minutes), and wrap up by reviewing commitments (yours and theirs), accountabilities and action items (5 minutes). You or the employee should post notes on those items in your digital meeting invitation or in another shared document you both use to track progress. If you find that the content of your meeting could have been delivered via email, it’s likely that your one-on-one needs some adjustment. Amid busy schedules, these meetings can be easy to overlook but, done well, they go far in helping you impart values, identify what drives an employee, and build engagement and trust.
Is your POS up to the challenge?
If you’re fine-tuning your technology in 2019, your point-of-sale-system — the nerve center of your business — is a natural place to start. Here are five areas you want to make sure it can manage, according to The Restaurant Technology Guys: It needs a customer relationship management and loyalty program so you can manage email campaigns, personalize offers and promotions, (which all have the potential to increase customer spending by up to 41 percent). Next, it needs to help you manage your staff rotations so you can track attendance and productivity, as well as keep staff informed. Third, your system should help you manage your inventory so you are alerted when you need to reorder an item. Finally, you need a system with reporting options that allow for customization and file exporting so you can monitor trends in relation to your goals — having the option for remote access can help you make business decisions more quickly too.
Second only to the retail industry, the restaurant industry is a top employer of Generation Z, the demographic defined as those aged 21 and younger. In 2018, 19 percent of Gen Z worked in restaurants, up from 15 percent in 2017, according to data shared at the recent Foodservice Technology Conference (FSTEC) in Orlando. If you are looking to hire a lot of staff in this demographic, are you doing what it takes to attract and retain them? First, just like your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices, your job postings should be too. Gen Z scours job boards, restaurant websites and social media for job leads, and most of that searching is done on their phones. They prefer to be able to apply for jobs that way too, so don’t insist on a written application. Once hired, your Gen Z staff are more likely to stay if you offer them opportunities for training, development and mentorship. According to the research, 60 percent of Gen Z say that the coaching and education they received on the job made them want to stay on and pursue longer-term opportunities there. When it comes to receiving workplace training, Gen Z has clear preferences too: The vast majority (88 percent) like one-on-one and on-the-job training, with online or mobile training modules or videos not far behind. When it doubt, swap out classroom-based or paper-based learning with highly visual platforms that deliver quick, easily digestible lessons.
Safeguard your mobile strategy
Your mobile presence has power: Mobile search behavior by people who search for food using their phones or tablets has a nearly 90 percent conversion rate, according to the study “Mobile Path-to-Purchase” by xAd and Telmetrics. You may be pouring a large portion of your ad spending on mobile as a result, but proceed with caution. Research from the online advertising firm WordStream found that unless a business has a thoughtful mobile strategy, it’s too easy to miss out on business opportunities. Since so many businesses want a piece of the mobile market, the mobile click-through rate decreases 45 percent faster in lower search positions than it does on desktop or tablet computers. The share of impressions on mobile is low as well, with mobile ads less likely to be shown (even in top positions) than they are on desktops. Search costs per click for mobile have also been increasing dramatically in the past year.
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