Change is constant, that we know. Nothing has proven that quite like the Covid-19 pandemic. As time has gone on, we have all had to adjust our daily lives accordingly – and the restaurant industry has had to remain nimble and ever-vigilant in the face of such change.
Restaurant operators have tackled what seemed like insurmountable change with vigor and an unmatched entrepreneurial spirit. From mask mandates to bolstered employee safety training, they have done everything within their power to keep business running all while keeping their people and their guests safe.
With so much change over the past year, what have we learned? What has ultimately benefitted and positioned this industry for success in a completely new world?
What have we learned
We already knew there was a need and growing movement to digitize everything in and around the restaurant well before March 2020. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant can tell you that pen and paper has been the go-to for task management, instructions, training and record keeping forever. Time has only showed this to be unreliable, prone to human error, and even dangerous in some instances. Consider task management. With a digital, mobile-first app to drive task completion, staff can easily identify open tasks and be reminded, as an example, when it’s time to clean surfaces around the restaurant such as door handles, the front counter and tables. Starbucks, for example, made a promise to customers that oft-touched surfaces would be cleaned every twenty minutes. We all know the restaurant environment is busy, and it’s easy to forget to tackle a task when the time comes. Being able to rely on technology to support such tasks helps improve employee satisfaction and retention, lessens the need for extensive training, and helps brands follow through on their promise to customers about bolstered safety precautions.
While the industry has been gravitating to digital, the pandemic only accelerated adoption out of necessity. Now restaurants can deploy IoT solutions that automatically monitor and record the temperature of the cooler, and directly alert managers and head office as soon as the equipment is out of range. Most importantly, this is more than just the act of recording something that then gets input into a spreadsheet for someone to digest. Technology allows staff to easily and quickly record information digitally that is then put to work by operations.
This type of tech and digitization applies elsewhere throughout the restaurant. Consider daily employee health checks. These have been implemented industry-wide as a way to protect team members and customers alike. At the start of the pandemic, managers would often take an employee’s temperature at the start of the shift and ask them a few questions about their health, and if they were experiencing any symptoms that may indicate Covid-19 exposure. For larger chains, this daily task could add up to dozens of individual pieces of paper every day, and many hundreds over an entire week. Sure, a manager could safely dismiss the employee who may have had a temperature from their shift for the day, but what happened, if anything, following? Was this reported to the head office so that a labor shortage could be recorded? How would management know that maybe this employee would be out for a week or more, and that staffing adjustments needed to be made swiftly? It’s unlikely they would.
Another element of restaurant operations that has been increasingly digitized is the monitoring of the walk-in cooler and freezer temperature. An employee manually checks the cooler thermometer, innocently doesn’t register that it’s a few degrees warmer than is safe, and moves on with their busy shift. The food in that cooler is now unsafe for consumption and can cause serious issues for that restaurant’s customers and its brand value.
What will remain?
Before we get to that, what will we abandon? It’s simple to me: paper and pen record keeping, antiquated modes of relaying key business performance data and information – and most importantly – anything that does not help restaurant employees, managers and head offices run a better, more profitable business. Mobile-first solutions will become the norm, giving managers and staff the tools needed to help store operations run smoothly.
This time in our history has been a challenge unlike anything we’ve ever seen. However, it allowed us to take a step back and bolster what we offer. Danny Meyer said it best recently: that we finally had the time to take the boats out of the water to clean and repair them. Now we can put them back in the water for smooth sailing. The team here at BOHA! took the time we had while the industry shuttered to better understand the changing needs of our customers and apply what we learned. We, along with so many of our peers, reemerged with improved technology to best support restaurant operators as they worked tirelessly to reopen and keep going.
Without a doubt, restaurants will continue to practice elevated safety protocol, and perhaps even continue daily staff health checks for peace of mind – and all of this will be supported by digital solutions so that the paperwork doesn’t continue to pile up to no end. The lessons we have learned and opportunities uncovered over the last year have made a deep impression, and are applicable across many factors within the restaurant’s four walls. Technology and the digitization of tasks and record keeping improves operations infinitely. We knew that well before this pandemic – it simply served as an eye-opening experience that validated the direction we were already headed.
About the Author
Miguel Ortiz is Vice President, Marketing, BOHA!