How AI is Changing How Understaffed Restaurants Bounce Back from the Pandemic 

implementing conversational AI is a solution every restaurant can benefit from.

Amid the Great Resignation, small businesses across the U.S. are struggling to maintain operations with fewer employees and shrinking budgets. Many owners and managers are forced to prioritize essential services, letting less urgent tasks like answering the phone go ignored. Over 30 million small businesses in the U.S. mishandle hundreds of millions of phone calls every year. In doing so, these businesses are upsetting their current customers and missing out on prospective ones: a recipe for failure, particularly for restaurants where customer service is paramount. 

In the first six months of the pandemic, one in six restaurants was forced to shutter their doors. As we saw a degree of normalcy return in the last year, nearly 70,000 new restaurants opened up, only to get hit head-on with massive labor shortages. 

[New Study Asks Retail, Hotel and F&B Employees Why They Aren’t Returning to Work]

Desperately seeking a solution, restaurant owners are turning to conversational AI not only to stay afloat but to propel themselves forward. 

Evaluating and adopting digital transformation with AI is a proven solution that can alleviate pain points and challenges the restaurant sector is currently experiencing. And what was once out of reach for many small restaurant owners with limited budgets, is now easily accessible and affordable. 

Augmented Staffing in a Post-COVID-19 World

The emergence of conversational AI technology solves one of the most prominent challenges restaurants are facing now: maintaining operations even when understaffed. 

[Three-fourths of restaurants (74%) say their top challenge is recruiting employees, according to the  National Restaurant Association's mid-year supplement to the 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry Report.]

Conversational AI works by handling the vast majority of incoming calls and routine inquiries throughout the day. As customers call with questions, the technology can be used to keep them informed without burdening employees. Adopting conversational AI equips restaurant owners to operate more efficiently by creating additional touchpoints with customers while overcoming the difficulties of managing a high call volume.

Restaurant employees are busy, especially now. Thanks to continued innovation in the space, conversational AI set up is super easy and provides a reliable, cost-effective, and constantly improving phone call management solution. This enables them to capture new customers and combat lost revenue associated with mismanaged calls. 

Moreover, conversational AI helps restaurants focus on their products and services (engaging more with customers, turning tables efficiently, cooking quality cuisines, etc.) instead of having top-performing employees hovering over a phone. 

Supercharging our Nation’s Restaurants

In addition to handling calls, AI bots can answer common questions such as: “What hours are you open?” “Can I place a to-go order?” and “What's your vaccine policy?” 

Best of all, new solutions offer customizable configurations from the business owner or manager, meaning the complexity of questions it can answer is programmable and can grow over time. 

Here are a few ways the technology can quickly supercharge a restaurant’s business:

  • Unprecedented Business Management: Operate as an answering service outside of business hours, collecting essential info (name, contact method, call details) customized by the restaurant.
  • Rapidly Deployable With No Coding Required: Innovative platforms offer no code design that can take under one minute to deploy and seamlessly integrates with Yelp, Facebook, Google, and more to help any business with a phone number. 
  • Augment Labor & Increase Revenue: Manage product orders, table reservations, and appointment scheduling – all with no help from staff or waiting time for customers.
  • Spam & Scam Discouragement: Eliminate one of the most common sources of restaurant owner frustration. Smart, conversational AI discourages spam and telemarketer calls, which in turn reduces wasted labor hours and fraud potential.
  • Call Recording & Playback: Callers can ask to leave a message, which can be sent to owners via text, and businesses have easy access to the full recording and transcripts. 

The Human Element of Conversational AI

The benefits of having an AI-driven call assistant are clear, but skeptics of the technology have always leaned on the argument that restaurants are a hospitality business and need a human touch. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.

By narrowing staff’s duties, they can instead focus on creating memorable experiences for their patrons. In a world where first impressions are everything, conversational AI helps attract new customers and maintain loyalty with existing ones, ensuring that a customer’s first touchpoint is efficient and informative, and every phone call leads to an opportunity to build stronger relationships and boost sales.

The rebound of the restaurant industry isn’t going away anytime soon, and rising wages are likely to continue. This puts many owners in a race against time, and in the not-so-distant future, bots will transform the entire experience, from drive-thru ordering to seamless delivery. 

In a world of such uncertainty, implementing conversational AI is a solution every restaurant can benefit from. The best part is that it’s incredibly accessible, with solutions available in nearly every language and in every part of the world. 

By eliminating tedious tasks like answering the phone and dealing with spam, the promise of this new technology will finally allow restaurants to focus on what’s most important: serving happy customers. 

About the Author

Bob Summers is founder & CEO, Goodcall, an Intelligent Phone Assistant for local shops and services. He was formerly a senior product leader for Google Assistant and the co-founder and CEO of CallJoy, an incubated product in Google’s Area120.