By Brittain Brown, President, Givex
Unemployment rates in Canada are at an all-time low, meaning that talent pools are ever-dwindling. While this benefits the employee who is now in high demand, employers have been struggling to find the right talent to fill roles, and have had to fight harder to keep that talent. For Canada’s restaurant industry, employing over 1.2 million Canadians, the record-low unemployment rate has been crippling.
Additionally, the threat of Canada’s rising housing costs is eroding the talent pool in urban centres, with young people leaving Canada’s major cities in search of more affordable housing. For an industry that employs a young, largely inexperienced workforce, with 42 per cent under the age of 24, lack of housing affordability is felt acutely.
As we enter the peak tourist season through summer months, restaurants across the country are bracing themselves for an influx of customers amidst a decreased workforce. While nearlythree quarters of tourism foot traffic heads to Canada’s major markets, including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, restaurants across the country are seeing food and beverage spending increase while employment rates decrease.
It’s this unique combination of challenges in our current market that has many restaurants turning to creative solutions tostay afloat amidst a growing threat of closure.
But the exciting part? These challenges have created a need for the restaurant industry to innovate with technology. Those who are thriving have done so by turning to innovative and creative solutions that are allowing them to not only keep their doors open, but improve customer experience and profit margins along the way.
Most interestingly, despite recent backlash around automation in a retail environment, restaurants are successfully leveraging automation to enhance, rather than replace, the human interactions that drive great customer service.
For example, Ontario restaurants Lonestar and Sansotei Ramen pair Givex kitchen display and point of sale (POS) technology to automate the ordering process and intelligently queue up orders with cooking instructions so that the kitchen can produce everyone’s order at the right time and at the right temperature. This lets restaurant staff save time and reduce margin of error. The simplified process also critically allows restaurants to fill gaps with junior staff when more senior employees leave. Supplemented with tech, they can operate at the level of a more senior employee.
Restaurants like Crabby Joes have implemented tableside ordering technology that puts the power in the customer’s hands, allowing them to review the menu, order, and customize meals all through a tabletop tablet. Crabby Joes has attributed extra time won through automation to a 53 per cent jump on revenue, table turnover times that are 30 minutes faster, and a 50 per cent reduction in food waste.
The rise of delivery platforms like Uber Eats and DoorDash are also enabling restaurants to do more, and sell more, with fewer staff. While these technologies take a percentage of sales, they market a restaurant to their database and allow it to scale. Importantly, restaurants can sell more product without having to hire more difficult-to-find front of house staff.
Across Canada, we’ve seen restaurants having to close all or parts of their patios in the summer, unable to staff the extended table space due to hiring shortages. At restaurants that don’t close sections, labour shortages are felt acutely when first drink orders take 20 minutes instead of two.
Restaurants in B.C. are tackling this issue with technology that leverages the patron’s own devices. Ready, for example, is ordering and payment technology that lets restaurant goers order through their phones, without an app download, giving stretched servers more time to focus on customer experience. Some restaurants are also equipping servers with handheld POS tablets so they can key in orders right from the patio table, avoiding long trips back to workstations and minimizing errors.
Considering that last year, for the first time, labour challenges ranked among the top two concerns facing Canadian restaurants, it’s promising to see restaurants adopting innovative measures to enhance the customer experience while growing profit margins.