Responding To The New Era of Restaurant Labor Shortages

Operators grappling with a shortage of applicants are taking a variety of approaches to keep restaurants staffed and guests fed.

This is part two of a two-part series covering the latest staffing shortages. In part 1, we talked about the current post-pandemic labor shortage, its impacts, and possible causes. 

We covered some options for tackling labor costs and shortages in a past article.

In this article, we’ll cover how operators are managing in this new era of staffing challenges.

Offer Retention Incentives

Brands like Whataburger are increasing wages. Others are adding or expanding perks such as employee meals and education reimbursements. Better retention incentives look appealing to interviewees, and in a tight market, they can be great recruitment tools. 

With staff obviously the critical component to delivering the experience that guests expect, it’s really no wonder that operators are treating and incentivizing staff more like the partners they are. 

Push More Transactions Through Direct Digital Ordering and Payment Channels

The pandemic drove a lot of traffic and sales through the drive-thru, which created challenges of its own including long lines, drive-offs, frustrated guests, and frazzled employees.

Today, offering guests the option to order, pay, and recall past orders via a Mobile app is essential. And it’s what guests expect. According to a Datassential report, 71% of consumers who ordered restaurant food for delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic will likely continue to do so after restrictions are lifted. A July 2019 QSRweb poll found that roughly half of restaurant leaders replied that their own brand’s website offers a way for guests to directly place orders for delivery. Datassential reported in late March 2020 that 20% of restaurants had added new online ordering or prepay options they did not previously offer. While delivery continues to increase in popularity and adoption, other ways to fulfill guest orders include pick-up (in-store, in the drive-thru, or curbside). 

Restaurants that drive guests to order through their direct channel for pickup are better off because they keep more of the revenue (a third party doesn’t take a cut). Lucky for restaurants, 70% of diners would prefer to order from a restaurant directly instead of through a third party.

Encourage Self-Service

While digital ordering is one form of self-service, many restaurants today are reducing staffing levels and costs by putting guests in control of their ordering experience with self-order kiosks.

One nationwide sandwich chain found that it was possible to reduce peak period staffing requirements by one person when they piloted indoor self-order kiosks. Outdoor kiosks in the drive-thru offer the same labor-saving advantages. By putting guests in control of the ordering experience, kiosks have been shown to increase average check by 15-20% or more in a couple ways:

  • Kiosks can be programmed to automatically offer upsells: offer a combo when just a sandwich is ordered, for example, and/or offer dessert to accompany the meal.
  • Guests using kiosks take time to browse the menu and are more prone to upsize their order when ordering with a kiosk than they are when they place their order with a human order taker.

A QSRweb poll from June 2020 revealed that more than 32% of restaurant leaders surveyed are considering adding self-order kiosks. Another 32% of respondents already have them.

Studies reveal wide adoption of kiosks among restaurant guests

Adopt Technology

While technology can never replace the human touch, it can fill a gap and help handle some of the more transactional aspects of the guest experience, so humans can be assigned to more critical customer service roles. 

Self-order kiosks are one example of technology that can help with today’s labor challenges. Restaurants today are also increasing the use of self-service payments and other labor-saving tech. Xenial has developed a ‘next-gen’ drive-thru solution that makes ‘the drive-thru of the future’ a reality, today. The key labor-saving component is the voice assistant (‘bot’).

The Xenial Voice Bot can take a customer’s order in the drive-thru as smoothly and easily as a human can. And in the unlikely event there are difficulties, a human drive-thru crew member already working in the restaurant can take over and complete the order using a traditional headset.

Increasingly, brands are operating or considering restaurant designs with multiple drive-thru lanes or points of service. Xenial Voice Bot takes this in stride, as it can handle several points of service simultaneously and can route any bot conversation to a human crew member seamlessly.

Hopefully we’ll soon see some relief as more workers return to the job market. In the meantime, staffing challenges can best be overcome with a multi-pronged approach.

Xenial can be a resource for restaurants facing these challenges. Our front-to-back technology solutions were developed with efficiency in mind.

Feel free to contact us with any questions.


1 Forbes: Kiosks Are Finally Having A Moment In the Fast Food Space