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Automation technology is drastically changing the restaurant industry, making businesses more efficient, productive, and cost-effective. While some solutions, such as robot-operated kitchens, are still in development, there are plenty of affordable restaurant automation tools you can implement today. The right programs can help you improve operations, maximize resources, and set your restaurant up for long-term success.

Key opportunities for automation in restaurants

Restaurant automation is the practice of using technology to complete jobs that would otherwise be done manually by a human employee. Some automations use software applications to streamline repetitive tasks that are common in the restaurant industry; often, these programs incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning. One example of AI in restaurants is AI-powered scheduling software that creates work schedules based on historical sales trends and employee availability.

You can also use software to automate aspects of restaurant operations, including:

  • Order management. Customer-facing self-service kiosks and online ordering technology send orders to the kitchen staff and process payments. They dramatically reduce the need for employee involvement until it’s time for the actual food service.
  • Food delivery. Services such as Grubhub automate the food-delivery process with an online ordering system that processes orders, schedules drivers, communicates with customers, and tracks progress.
  • Reservations. An automated reservation system allows customers to make reservations on their own. It can also place them on a waiting list and communicate with them about the booking.
  • Inventory management. This type of restaurant technology takes over the inventory management process; it monitors your food stock and predicts ordering needs based on sales data, which helps prevent spoilage and improve food safety.
  • Customer service. AI-powered chatbots can hold conversations with customers to answer questions about hours, discuss specific food items, and book reservations.
  • Accounting. Restaurant accounting can be complicated; automated programs integrate with your POS, inventory management, scheduling, and payroll systems to record incoming and outgoing payments. They can also automate financial reporting and reconciliation processes.
  • Loyalty programs. Digital loyalty programs track customer orders and offer rewards via a website or app without input from restaurant staff. They also encourage online ordering and usage of kiosks, which reduces your labor burden even further.

In some cases, automation involves robotic devices that eliminate physical labor in the food-preparation process. Robotics is an automation trend that’s slowly gaining traction in the restaurant industry; White Castle is using automated fry stations, and Sweetgreen is rolling out two robot-run locations in 2023. Starbucks is taking technology further — it already uses AI-powered coffee machines and an AI-driven platform called Deep Brew for personalization, scheduling, and inventory management.

High-end restaurant robotics are still quite expensive, keeping them out of reach for many independent restaurants. Fully automated restaurants have yet to be mainstream, even among larger brands. However, as a restaurant owner, you can use ordering kiosks and affordable software applications to streamline restaurant operations.

Choosing the right automation solutions

With so many restaurant automation tools on the market, it can be difficult to pinpoint the best solution for your business. Most restaurants won’t benefit from jumping on every technology trend; a measured, research-driven approach is more effective.

As you evaluate different restaurant automation partners in the food industry, consider these factors:

  • Compatibility. Is the new technology compatible with your existing systems? When your systems work well together, it reduces errors and maximizes data-driven insights. It also simplifies the installation process, so you can get the new application up and running with minimal downtime.
  • Ease of use. Take advantage of demos and free trials to see how easy the technology is to operate. This step helps you avoid systems that are confusing or time-consuming. You’ll also reduce the training burden and productivity losses during the transition period.
  • Industry experience. Make sure the automation partner has experience working with restaurant operations. These vendors are more likely to offer specialized solutions for a restaurant business, which improves the experience at all levels.

How do you know which areas of your restaurant can benefit from an automated solution? Use these steps to decide where and how to invest in restaurant automation technology:

  1. Identify pain points. Look for inefficiencies, problems, or bottlenecks in your business operations. Where do your employees struggle? Is one part of the business slower or more expensive than others? Many restaurants have room for improvement when it comes to labor scheduling, labor costs, food prep, order accuracy, customer experience, and inventory management.
  2. Evaluate your current processes. Before you change to an automated solution, assess the current situation. How long do daily tasks take? Is the process efficient? This step gives you a baseline so it’s easier to determine if a solution is making the desired changes. It can also uncover additional opportunities for automation that arise due to human error and repetition.
  3. Define your goals. With your pain points in mind, decide what you want to achieve. It can be helpful to prioritize weak areas based on the potential return on investment (ROI). For example, if inaccurate orders are affecting your brand’s reputation and customer satisfaction, you might see the biggest benefits from automated ordering systems. Once you have a clear goal in mind, it’s easier to find partners and solutions with the features you need.

After a careful assessment of current restaurant operations, you’ll likely come out with a clear idea of the biggest areas for improvement.

Step into the future with Grubhub

Restaurant automation has the potential to improve every aspect of your business, from expense management and operational efficiency to food quality and customer satisfaction. For many restaurant operators, automation is particularly effective when it comes to food delivery and marketing. Grubub can help you manage both areas — our industry-leading platform makes it easier to improve productivity, manage orders, and reach more customers.

Don’t have room for downtime? Grubhub technology is designed to integrate with popular POS systems, so you can install it quickly without disrupting operations. In fact, the majority of our partners agree that Grubhub is a turnkey technology package. If you’re ready to automate difficult tasks and increase your restaurant’s profitability, you don’t have to do it alone. Get Grubhub in your corner by signing up today.