Small staff restaurants support table service with technology

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Casual dining chains are leveraging technology to make the sit-down experience more automated for customers and more streamlined for busy employees, and in some cases to make up for a shortage of waiters.

Cracker Barrel customers can pay for their meals via an app on their phones and tablets at all of the company’s 660 southern themed restaurants.

“The more volume we can move to things like this, it takes the work out of stores,” said Sandra B. Cochran, President and CEO of Cracker Barrel. Staffing has become a challenge at Cracker Barrel, which has rated the staffing situation in 10% of its restaurants as “critical,” Ms. Cochran said.

Investments in technology in casual dining chains are in part intended to ease pressure on waiters who returned to work after pandemic restrictions were lifted. While customers flocked to hotel companies in droves, many workers did not. The US Department of Labor counted 993,000 unfilled restaurant jobs at the end of March, and their owners are trying various tactics to encourage people to apply, including higher wages and bonuses.

Fast food restaurants have been supplementing waiters and cashiers with self-service kiosks for about a decade, with the goal of increasing profit margins and keeping the ordering process fast.

There has been debate about where these systems fit in full-service and casual restaurants, said John Glass, managing director and equity analyst covering Morgan Stanley restaurants..

“If face-to-face interaction is important to your brand and you’ve suddenly taken it out, you’ve removed a layer of brand differentiation,” he said.

But more and more full-service chains have started to incorporate so-called tabletop technology into the dining experience, as it has demonstrated its value, both to the customer experience and to the restaurant’s bottom line, Deepthi said. Prakash, Global Product & Marketing Director TBWA Worldwide, an Omnicom Group Inc.

advertising company.

Ordering from a screen, not a server means customers are more likely to choose the dishes, substitutions, and amount of food they really want, regardless of whether the server will judge them, a said Ms. Prakash, who previously worked with restaurants as an experience design. consultant.

“People order more and tables turn faster because they can receive their orders and invoices sooner,” she said.

More from the experience report

Dave & Buster’s, which offers customers arcade games as well as food and drink in 141 locations, has allocated around $ 5 million to hiring programs and retention initiatives. It is also extending its contactless service model, which is based on a mobile web platform running on tablets provided by the restaurant.

“Stores operating on this platform have been able to expand the size of server sections and downsize to be more efficient,” the company’s chief operating officer, Margo Manning, said on a call with investors in June. All of the chain’s restaurants will operate on the new model by July, she said.

The company is also testing a system in which customers use their own phones to order and pay at two locations, in Dallas and Times Square in New York City.

“If the guest is uncomfortable and craves the server experience, we can adapt, but what’s interesting is that in those two situations we had a strong guest adoption,” Ms Manning said.

Restaurants are also introducing more sophisticated back-of-house technology to make work easier for employees. Cracker Barrel said this summer it will test a new working system that it hopes will streamline and simplify the work of managers. And Darden Restaurants Inc.,

the owner of Olive Garden, said he plans to improve the user interface of the system used by his managers, as well as his central point of sale system.

Applebee’s, which is owned by Dine Brands Global Inc.,

introduced portable tablets for servers in about 500 of its 1,705 restaurants. Previously, waiters had to write down orders and then go to a dedicated point-of-sale computer to send them to the kitchen. Now they can send orders from the table, improving order accuracy and speeding up service, the company said.

“At the end of the day, waiters love these tablets because they make their jobs easier and save them more money,” said John Cywinski, president of the grill and bar chain, during a call for help. investors.

Write to Katie Deighton at [email protected]

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