Shift Happens: 3 Ways Tech is Revolutionizing the Restaurant Workforce

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How digital solutions yield greater staff retention and engagement

Shift Happens: 3 Ways Tech is Revolutionizing the Restaurant Workforce

By Anna Wolfe, Senior Editor - Restaurants - 08/16/2019

“Good help is hard to find,” as the saying goes, but today’s labor market requires the addition of “and retain.” According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the restaurant employee turnover rate exceeds 70%. Unemployment is stagnating at record lows and minimum wage is on the rise, landing a one-two punch on restaurants.

In today’s uber competitive restaurant market, hiring, training and retaining staff is paramount to delivering customer service and executing on brand promise.

To that end, many restaurants are turning to technology to help with workforce issues. According to Hospitality Technology’s 2019 Restaurant Technology Study, 29% of restaurants said increasing employee efficiency/productivity was a top strategic objective for tech investments in 2019, and 47% identified staffing and labor management as the top target for more data insights.

Consulting group World Wide Technology (WWT), has witnessed a shift in restaurant focus from implementing technology that improves the customer experience, such as mobile apps, online ordering and loyalty programs, to solutions that improve employee efficiency and boost the bottom line.

“Three years ago every restaurant needed a mobile app so they deployed online ordering then loyalty. But now they’re on the reactionary side; we see a lot of employee tools and interest to support demand,” says WWT.

Staff Recruitment: Wooing Workers with Texts & Daily Pay Days

Today, restaurants are using marketing tactics to attract not just diners but also job seekers. Checkers & Rally’s Restaurants Inc. recently used an SMS campaign to attract applicants. Peel-off promotional stickers on the cashiers’ windows, in-store signage, bag stuffers and reader boards were all used to promote a texting campaign that linked to open jobs at the Tampa-based company. “It was very helpful for us. It is definitely working, and we are getting hits on it,” says SVP People, Marna Killian.

When advertising its open positions, Sprinkles is touting one of its newer benefits — same-day payment. “Ads saying ‘We pay daily’ and ‘Get paid today’ increase the rate of new applicants,” says Marisa Eddy, VP of HR.

About a year ago, the bakery began using DailyPay. “We were looking for ways to differentiate ourselves in the current economy, especially considering how competitive it is for talent,” says Eddy.

“We didn’t have the funding to do much in the way of increasing pay rates. But people want to get paid better. If we could not do something in regards to pay rates, we could let them access their funds quicker,” she explains.  More than 30% of employees are using the daily pay feature.

Employees download the app on their phone, and as soon as their shift is complete, they can see the amount they’ve earned. Employees can choose to receive their earnings on a consistent pay schedule or they can opt-in and get it ad hoc. The funds are transferred directly to the employee’s pay account.

Checkers & Rally’s offers next day payment as an added benefit to workers. The drive-thru chain added InstantPay’s app and pay card that enables staff to get up to half of their earned wages the next morning if they desire. And unlike its previous paycard, there are no fees.

“What we’re finding is about 50% of the team members take us up on getting money every once in a while,” Killian says. Staff appears to be using the payout feature for necessities, and the average amount is about $26, Killian adds. 

Employee feedback has been very positive, says both Sprinkles and Checkers & Rally’s. “This definitely has impacted the retention of our part-time population,” Eddy adds.

Connecting with the Modern Worker: Make Training Fun & Mobile

By 2020, 50% of the workforce will be comprised of tech-savvy millennials, and brands need to embrace technology to engage and upskill their workforce.

Andre Natera, the executive chef at the Fairmont Hotel Austin, says finding staff is hard, and finding qualified staff is even harder.

“The question is how do I train a better cook?” Natera asks. “Now that we’re in the digital age, we have technology.”  The Fairmont Hotel Austin uses Rouxbe digital training that’s focused on teaching classic cooking techniques and fundamentals. Natera uses it to develop skills of new hires and to help existing team members with continuing culinary education. It’s required learning for sous chefs and up. And Fairmont offers training and testing for free to the 100-person culinary team. 

“What makes it great,” Natera explains, is that team members can access the training 24/7 via a mobile app.  “If you take the bus, you can take Rouxbe.”

More than 97% of millennials and 96% of Gen Xers own smartphones, according to Nielsen. Also, video games are very important. Two in three millennials in the U.S. play video games every month, according to Nielsen’s recent Millennials on Millennials report. (71% of gamers surveyed report watching others play video games as a form of entertainment.)

Gamification makes training more fun and more memorable for employees. Creating a fun and enjoyable workplace can energize employees, reduce turnover, strengthen relationships and lead to increased productivity and improved customer experiences.

Last fall, Dog Haus’ 30+ locations began using 1Huddle and quickly started creating games that reinforce its brand, company culture and product knowledge, says Hagop Giragossian, partner and co-founder of Dog Haus.

Employees play once a day for seven days, and at the end of the week, the employee with the most points receives a $1,000 cash prize. To date, employees have played more than 13,000 games. 

The feedback has “been amazing,” Giragossian says. “We were teaching stuff in an archaic way. It’s much easier to get staff to read on their phones than getting them to read a 20-page manual.”  

Giragossian says a competitive spirit drives many employees. “At the end of the day, our employees are learning to do their jobs better, resulting in a more satisfied customer and in turn creating a successful business for our franchisees.”

Through its use of ShiftOne, RBM Restaurants in New York has tapped into staff competitiveness. ShiftOne processes data from the POS, KDS and online guest reviews and then “gamifies” that data into easy to understand daily tasks, achievements and leaderboards.

Communication & Motivation

Allowing staff to have “easy access” to insights such as how they are performing — as a team and individually vs. other locations and coworkers — was a game changer, says Stephen Van Note, COO, RBM Restaurants in New York. Previously, obtaining these insights required a “manual, deep dive into the POS to pull things out,” Van Note says.  “We went from doing a lot of spreadsheets to looking for a tool that would be more efficient and more engaging.”

When it comes to finding workforce solutions, Van Note advises restaurants to first identify their needs. “Many of these technologies operate as if they’re in a vacuum,” he says. “They need to be used in conjunction with other restaurant systems and support what you’re doing in your restaurants.” 

About the Author

Anna Wolfe

Anna Wolfe

Anna Wolfe is Hospitality Technology’s senior editor.  She has more than 15 years of experience as a B2B journalist writing about restaurants, retail and specialty food. Read More