How restaurant technology is forever changing customer service

As restaurant ‘request for help’ announcements peak during the industry’s current labor crisis, an early draft of the 2022 restaurant model could look like an oversized vending machine with robots in the back and front food scoop slots. But even though automation technology is on the rise alongside industry turnover rates, restaurants aren’t giving up on customer service—they’re just changing the job description.

A BurgerFi site in Jupiter, Florida, for example, has introduced a robot server named Patty who can deliver food, allowing human servers to combine some of their tasks and even follow the robot to ensure it does its job properly. Patty uses camera technology to move around a restaurant and avoid obstacles like chairs or young children.

“When we introduce technology, it’s not just for the fun of it,” said BurgerFi CTO Karl Goodhew. “We want to think about it, make sure it does what it’s supposed to do and that employees and customers are happy, rather than just rolling out the robot to all of our stores without testing.”

Photo: BurgerFi has introduced a robot server named Patty who can deliver food.

Patty may only be on one BurgerFi site at the moment, but there are plenty of other customer service-related technologies the burger chain has introduced to its more than 100 units over the past year to move employee responsibilities and create a more convenient experience.

The company has also introduced kiosks which, while not new to the industry, have changed the way BurgerFi employees operate. With a 75-80% customer adoption rate, employees are now more likely to spend time answering questions and helping customers navigate in-store technology than taking orders manually. BurgerFi’s new tabletop QR codes with embedded NFC chips had the same effect on client-server interactions.

This summer, BurgerFi will roll out drive-through to customers’ vehicles with 5G technology, a crucial piece of off-site technology that will make it even easier for employees, as employees will be able to know when customers are arriving and tell them when their food is coming. to arrive at. be prepared, eliminating several steps from the service process.

But despite these new technologies, Goodhew said there has been no reduction in working hours or reduction in the number of employees at a store. New technologies rather allow a redeployment of tasks.

“You can now divert those hours of work from taking orders to higher value activities such as serving customers who need special attention, upselling, walking around the restaurant, ensuring customers are satisfied,” he said.

Goodhew emphasized the importance of the human element in customer service interactions, even as specific tasks evolve. However, he acknowledged that in fast-casual commerce, there are always customers who want to limit human interaction as much as possible.

“If a customer wants hands-off interactions, we allow it; ordering their food will be quick and efficient,” he said. “But if a customer wants to speak to someone and ask what the staff recommends etc., we can do that as well.”

Tom Ferguson, CEO of Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken, based in Durham, North Carolina, found that the old type of customer was becoming more common in the age of digital convenience technology. Over the past year, the biggest technology change introduced by the emerging breakfast chain has been heated food lockers to meet growing off-site customer demand.

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Emerging breakfast chain Rise Southern Biscuits and Righteous Chicken is rolling out heated food lockers.

Although food lockers are not yet available in all stores, technology is already making life easier for employees. Now, when a delivery driver shows up, an employee types their name into the food locker so they can identify where their food is (or if it’s already ready) without any extra steps or interaction with employees. The company also recently added kiosks, which removed another level of interaction between employee and customer.

Ferguson believes that no level of customer service quality has been lost as a result of these changes.

“From a kitchen perspective, it has allowed everyone to work more closely as a team; there is no traditional battle between front and back of the house because everyone is at the back of the house,” he said. “The food that goes into the lockers forces the customer to take care of themselves. We’ve removed the steps for employees, and every piece of technology we’ve added is designed to make their lives easier.

For every new technology Rise adds, he said, the company has committed to removing two service elements so that its employees’ jobs don’t get more complicated.

The changes have improved workplace dynamics, but Ferguson also feels that customers no longer need the same level of traditional hospitality as in the past. For example, when Rise added food lockers, the company also phased out curbside pickup and went cashless.

“As long as the food is there, hot and precise, the customer is happy,” he said. “I didn’t really realize how many people really didn’t want to talk to anyone in the store anyway.”

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For every new technology Rise adds, the company is removing two service items.

In the past year, since the introduction of kiosks and food lockers, corporate store sales have increased 30%, while profits have doubled. Additionally, customer complaints have dropped dramatically.

“Instead of the cashier messing up an order or being sarcastic that day, [the kiosks] changed the whole dynamic,” Ferguson said.

Scott Lawton, CEO and co-founder of up-and-coming taco chain Bartaco, has completely changed the operational dynamics of restaurants during the pandemic. As restaurants began to reopen last year, Bartaco added digital table ordering and completely replaced the hourly waiter job with a salaried service chef position.

Previously, the 22-unit California taco chain employed 10 to 15 servers per location who collected paper order slips from customers and typed them into the computer. Now, each restaurant has about four to six service managers who act as technology guides for customers with questions about QR code ordering.

“They’re a cross between a waiter and an Apple Store employee,” Lawton said. “They’re also there to do all the other welcoming things a server might do, like check in with you and make sure you’re happy.”

Bartaco did not lay off any employees to implement this new dynamic; the company rehired workers who returned after pandemic-related shutdowns and simply didn’t have to recruit employees anymore like many other restaurants struggled to do.

“I would say it was probably the top third of our servers, the people who were doing this for a living and really cared, were the ones who went into salaried positions,” Lawton said. “We’ve spent a ton of time focusing on these department heads, and…I think they’re the ones that create the momentum. [at Bartaco]. We didn’t try to replace humans with technology, we just repurposed humans so they could really focus on the customer experience.

Lawton recalls that a tech-savvy Boston customer was recently convinced by a department manager to try QR code ordering after some major hesitation.

“I wanted to hate it,” Lawton recalled, telling the client. “But I press my phone and my margaritas and guacamole appear.”

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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