Restaurateurs Discuss Employee Tech Dos & Don’ts During NRA Show 2023
During the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show, HT had the chance to attend some very interesting educational sessions in the Tech Innovation Theater. One of these sessions was a panel titled Build Your Dream Team with the Right Tech Innovation, and its focus was on how hospitality businesses can keep employees happier, more engaged and more productive. In a fascinating discussion between Emma Blecker, Chief of Staff & Director of Business System, Boqueria Restaurants and Amy Zhou, Director of Operations and Partner, Gracious Hospitality Management, attendees heard first hand what these restauranteurs prioritize when it comes to implementing new technology, the challenges they face, the cost/benefit analysis they work through, and some concrete pieces of advice that they have for the industry at large.
What do you keep in mind before implementing new tech?
BLECKER: We have a pretty elaborate tech stack, and one of the rules that I have for bringing on a new platform is it should replace at least one platform, but preferably two or more. Because every new platform, although it might help, is also a new thing for managers to train on when they join and a new system to master. Additionally, I look at the ease of use for our teams on the floor and the output that the tech system produces. Sometimes tech is designed more for output and not usability and vice versa, so you need to find one that’s well balanced.
ZHOU: When I look at bringing on new technology at Gracious, it’s not enough to have something that fulfills a purpose. It has to also be intuitive enough for your team to learn and use it and then teach others how to use it. Remember, our team members come from different backgrounds, cultures, education levels and even generations. Their experience with technology is going to be very different and we need to account for that.
Also, as a group that’s looking to grow – scalability is an important subject. Now I have to look at things from an enterprise level. I want to be able to dig in on the information at a multi-unit level and I need the technology to integrate with our existing tech stack.
What are some of the challenges of rolling out new technology?
BLECKER: Onboarding and integrating and understanding a new technology is always complex. But the real challenge is with change management and making the teams feel like we’re doing something for them and getting their buy-in. I’ve found that the earlier you involve team members in the process, listen to their feedback and find tech to help them out, they feel like their owners in the process. Then you don’t have to sell them on using the tech by the time we’re ready to roll it out. Instead, they’re asking when their restaurant gets to be next.
ZHOU: In order to get the buy-in of your team, it's not enough to go into the what and the how. You also have to explain the why. I was taught a long time ago to always look at things from your team’s perspective. What’s in it for them? When you can identify the answer to that question, then you’ll have buy-in.
What’s included in the cost/benefit analysis of a new technology?
ZHOU: When technology works well, you’re saving money on errors. Think of when you catch a payroll error, if you did a look back: who knows how many times that mistake has been made. I don’t want to know, it’s scary to think about.
BLECKER: Cost of new technology is one of the biggest things that operators are worried about before bringing it on. But when I was looking at our tech stack and was trying to understand cost, there is so much more to think about. For example, what is the time value spent on doing a process inefficiently? What is the cost of security? What is the cost for having a system that doesn’t cover you from a compliance standpoint? What is the cost of having a process that drives your managers insane? We don’t necessarily line those up in our thinking as much as we should when we are looking at what technology can do for our business. Cost is not just about how much we’re spending to implement this technology.
How can technology help with compliance?
ZHOU: We all got into hospitality because we love to serve, be with people and spread happiness. But you realize that to stay in business, there’s much more to it. For instance, just one lawsuit could cause us to lose everything. So when we look for technology that’s going to help us remain compliant, we want it to be as automated as possible. The more automated it is for our managers, the more time they can spend on the guest experience and building our team.
BLECKER: When you’re an SMB operating in different markets, your HR team isn’t huge and managing compliance laws in different states turns into a full time job. Additionally, managers are being taxed with monitoring compliance when that’s an unrealistic ask. For example, in many states after a six hour shift employees are required to take a 30 minute break. If they clock back in at 29 minutes, is that the manager’s fault for not tracking their break time? No. Having a software that tells the employee, however, you’re not eligible to clock back in yet – wait one more minute – is a huge no-brainer to me! Hand that over to the robots!
How can technology track employee sentiment?
BLECKER: We all track guest sentiment, but knowing how our employees feel about our business is just as important if not more so, because employees create the guest experience. But creating an employe sentiment survey tends to fall flat. We though found a tech company that when employees clock in and out will ask a question – any question we want – and immediately we get that data. For example: How was your shift today? How do you feel about coming in to work today? Anytime we can embed behavior into what they’re already doing as opposed to trying to change behavior is a win from a tech standpoint.
How much technology do employees need?
BLECKER: The fewer platforms our hourly team members have to use, the better. I like to think of our tech stack as an inverted pyramid where corporate can absorb the most and hourly team members should have as few platforms as possible. I don’t want them to have 20 apps on their phone just to do their job. Plus, some of our workers have very little experience with tech. And while we can’t ignore the benefits technology provides to us, we also don’t want to overdo it for our employees.
ZHOU: Agreed. Technology is wonderful but you don’t want to make it a burden. You want it to be accessible.
What keeps you up at night?
ZHOU: As a company that’s expanding, we’re going to have to bring on 500-600 employees in the next year or so. That’s an enormous task. It’s one thing to find the talent, but to retain them – we really have to be giving them the best tools. So, assessing what kind of tools align with our culture and what we’re trying to achieve keeps me up at night.
BLECKER: I’m totally aligned with Amy on this. Training new employees and new leadership is a big deal. We’ve invested heavily in learning and development, because when a new employee walks through the restaurant doors – how overwhelmed they feel or conversely how set up for success they feel, is so incredibly important.
What’s one piece of advice you would give out?
BLECKER: Don’t look at your tech stack in isolation. Bring your tech owners – department heads – into one room and get them to talk to each other. Help them all to understand what the implications are for everyone when you’re about to make a change. Don’t be afraid to talk about the boring stuff!
ZHOU: Don’t bring in technology just for technology’s sake. And when you do implement technology, make sure you have a great partner that listens to you, is willing to take the time to have a conversation, that wants to make sure we’re staying current on our actual needs, and offers interesting ways to improve. You shouldn’t feel frustrated or limited by your tech partner. You should be growing together.