There are signs that technology is starting to become mainstream in restaurants chains across the country. The introduction of automation has made the experience for guests more pleasurable while more streamlined for employees.
WSJ reports casual-dining chains, such as Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., Applebee's International, Inc., among others, are quickly adopting technology for payments that allow contactless ordering and paying.
Cracker Barrel's patrons can order their meals through an app on their smartphone and even pay for the entire meal. As explained by the president of Cracker Barrel, the good news is that amid labor shortages, automation allows understaffed wait staff to handle volumes adequately.
"The more we can move volume to things like that, it takes the pressure off the labor in the stores," said Sandra B. Cochran, Cracker Barrel's president and chief executive. "Staffing has become challenging at Cracker Barrel, which has classified the personnel situation at 10% of its restaurants as "critical," she said.
The automated ordering system frees up the server who once had to write the order on a pad then transfer it to a self-serve kiosk machine. Ordering and paying through an app allows the company to increase profit and margins and speeds up the ordering process. Servers can focus on other tasks while the app handles ordering and payment.
There has been some discussion about using tabletop technology versus traditional ordering through a server, said John Glass, a managing director and equity analyst covering restaurants at Morgan Stanley. "If face-to-face interaction is important to your brand, and you suddenly took it away, you've removed a layer of the brand differentiation," he said.
But in a new world where technology is pouring into restaurants amid aims for a contactless environment, the move could also prove beneficial for the customer. Ordering from their phones means that a server won't screw up dishes, substitutions, and the amount of food that someone wants.
Deepthi Prakash, global director of product and marketing TBWA\Worldwide, an Omnicom Group Inc. advertising agency, said the casual-dining app means "more and the tables turn over faster, because they can get their orders and they can get their bills sooner." This is also a big plus for restaurants that face labor shortages.
Technology is creeping into every corner of the restaurant industry. Back-end systems are also being overhauled to make managers lives less chaotic.
Applebee's is another restaurant that has invested in front-end technology at its eateries. It has given servers in around 500 of its 1,705 restaurants hand-held tablets for processing orders instead of entering them into a central computer system.
"Bottom line—the servers love these tablets because it makes their job easier and allows them to make more money," John Cywinski, president of the grill and bar chain, said.
There's no turning back as automation technology investments will only increase in a contactless world as the evolution here will be the introduction of robotics that will replace human wait staff.
For those unfamiliar with why restaurant operators are turning to automation - it has to due with soaring labor and food costs, the need for better efficiency, and the standardization of operations to reduce errors.