Restaurants across America have cut hours and minimized operations due to shortages in staff, according to Reuters – and only innovation can save their bottom lines.
Many chains are facing a "new normal" as they operate at 90% staff capacity, says Dine Brands Global Chief Executive Officer John Peyton. Dine Brands Global owns IHOP, which is reducing its hours of service at more than 400 locations due to a lack of overnight workers. And they're not alone – a National Restaurant Association survey found that 65% of retailers did not have enough employees to meet demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Marco's Pizza, Burger King, and Popeyes are also operating with 11-12% fewer employees than pre-pandemic levels. Chili's Grill & Bar is looking for ways to streamline its prep work to eliminate the need for additional employees. The owner of Chili’s, Brinker International, said that it’s also looking to focus its menu more, meaning that some items could potentially be cut.
To make up for the loss of workers, some restaurant chains are attempting to leverage technology. By focusing on mobile orders and kiosk service, Restaurant Brands International's CEO José Cil says that employees can focus on the customer's experience. A number of Marco's Pizza locations have implemented machines that cut and roll dough in order to save time. Additionally, fast food chains like White Castle have implemented a burger-flipping robot, affectionately deemed "Flippy 2," which identifies types of foods and cooks each according to programmed specifications. McDonald's is also testing out drive-thru voice ordering in more than 20 Illinois-based restaurants, but the accuracy of these artificial intelligence systems is still too low to implement nationally.
"We are going to try to accelerate what we call Kitchen of The Future 3, which is equipment that will dramatically reduce cook times on the majority of the items on our menu," said Brinker International CEO Kevin Hochman in a quarterly earnings call. "We are aggressively looking at technology as a way to improve restaurant margins and productivity."