I’ve spent the majority of my career in the restaurant industry from cook to server to supervisor and this experience has been invaluable. I’m now in a leadership position at a company focused on harnessing technology to support restaurant and hospitality teams all over the world. My real-life experience has taught me that most people within a restaurant actually seek the same goal, though we may describe it in different ways – we all want to use our time efficiently to gain the most benefit. Labor optimization is critical at all times but paramount during this historic pandemic, especially for restaurant leaders who, unfortunately, have felt the effects of constant policy changes - arguably more than any other industry. Luckily, we now have something that can help. And it it’s something that simply did not exist when the pandemic began: data.
Think about it – a few months ago, as fear paralyzed the public and the government ordered businesses to shut down, the restaurant industry changed in an instant. No one knew what the future held. We still don’t. And in reality, we never do. But we have emerged from the last several months with some unforeseen benefits - lessons learned and a lot more information having weathered such an immense amount of change in such an incredibly short period of time. Now, we’ve arrived at a pivotal intersection where we can utilize this new information to drive smart decisions from the front of the house to the back and beyond.
Piecing Together a New Reality
The old formulas we relied on to predict how to order supplies or staff simply don’t work. As we look towards the next horizon, we can’t anticipate customer traffic in the same way as we once did, and certainly not with the chaos of ever-changing information on COVID-19 infection rates, or public policy -- rolling government orders that allow us to open one week, only to cut our capacity to 50% the next. Most of us have never experienced disruption like this before -- I wish we didn’t have to. But the change has forced daily and weekly decisions as restaurant leaders piece together a new reality. Those choices have left a trail. Restaurants now have internal records of what worked and what didn’t, under vastly different scenarios. This now becomes a critical piece of the mission for succeeding for the rest of the year.
In other words, real-life data can now inform real-life decisions.
Some leaders have developed creative anecdotal solutions, such as full-service restaurants that have turned their primary business to drive-thrus, online ordering, delivery and pickup that will forever change the way they provide service. Nothing replaces this type of creativity. But now managers can use predictive engines to isolate their business channels and certain time frames, to look at the numbers along with performance, to help confirm or complement the next choices they have to make.
That data works for all critical team members who, like their managers, want to make the best choices both at work and at home. During this unprecedented moment, many decisions have to be made in real time as new information suddenly becomes available – whether it’s a new work schedule, school closure or medical discovery that shifts the public policy in one direction or the other. That’s one of the reasons we empower all team members to immediately connect with each other and with their supervisors, so they can quickly communicate when they learn of alterations to their schedule, professionally or personally.
Making Informed Decisions
Having access to the data, in clear compelling ways, allows us to tell a more complete story for a better grasp on reality. We now have confronted a plot twist that none of us expected, but having navigated through the last few months, we emerge knowing our experience will help us perform better in any future crisis, whether it’s a global pandemic, to an unexpected food borne illness, or any other unforeseen circumstances we may confront.
While the work isn’t easy, the lessons-learned and data collected will help us more easily manage the next chapter.
After all, solid, reliable data is only as good as the people using it to make the next best decision, and this provides another opportunity for optimism.
While I remain passionate about the power of technology, I’m constantly reminded that personal connections remain paramount in the restaurant industry. The pandemic has forced a change in the way I too interact with our customers, ironically providing more opportunity to connect online than before - an unexpected benefit.
This has reminded me about the inspiration that first sparked my love for this industry - the ability to serve people, to make their lives easier and better, in a work atmosphere really unlike any other. I am proud we have a role in aggregating data to help support better decisions for teams as we move into the uncertain months ahead. However, I am even more impressed with the leaders who continue to grow and evolve in this crisis. The combination of better data, and even better leadership, will continue to inform the industry’s best practices for years to come.
About the Author
Mary Hamill is VP of Sales Solutions, HotSchedules, and a recipient of HT's Top Women in Restaurant Technology award.