How to Reduce Restaurant Labor Costs With Automation

The cost of hiring and retaining valuable employees is going up. According to TouchBistro, restaurant labor costs account for around 30 percent of all annual expenses, and this puts restaurants in a bind. On the one hand, paying employees more is a great way to take care of and retain staff. It also makes hiring new workers in a labor-challenged market attractive. On the other hand, restaurant profit margins are some of the lowest in any industry. So increasing the annual revenue share dedicated to wages means cutting spending somewhere else.

There are many reasons for the increase in wages. As mentioned, increasing the investment in the staff makes it easier to hire and retain them. This is important, especially during economic periods of inflation. Wages are also going up due to wage increases. In the last five years, around half of the states increased the hourly minimum wage, with many more considering it. There are ways to combat rising labor costs, and it starts with knowing how much you already spend.

Know Your Labor Cost Percentage

All of this is a detailed way of saying that restaurant operators should know their cost of labor. It’s the only way to get an estimate of annual profits and determine how an operation will invest in growth. Generally speaking, estimates show that fast casual and QSRs spend approximately 25 percent on labor, with full service between 30 and 40 percent and fine dining at 40 percent and above.

Invest in Automation to Reduce Labor Costs

Once restaurant labor costs are determined, the next step is to consider how to lower them. Put a system in place that provides for easy analysis of employee hours. Also, consider limiting employee shifts to better match hourly sales forecasts. Another great way to reduce restaurant labor costs is to consider foodservice equipment automation and other innovative technologies to facilitate the ordering, processing, energy monitoring, repetitive kitchen tasks, and much more.

Pickup and Delivery Automation

Pickup and delivery automation begins with the ordering process. Today’s consumer relies on mobile apps and website ordering for easy accessibility. Onsite, self-ordering kiosks can make things easier for customers while also minimizing the stress on staff. Reducing the friction and the barriers to ordering will ultimately lead to increased tickets if the process is smart and seamless.

The next step is to get orders in the hands of customers. And as we’ve seen over the last few years, pickup and delivery are critical components of success for many restaurants. With pick-up, creating fast, efficient, and safe methods for customers to enter a storefront and receive their orders is important for cultivating repeat business. Convenience is key. That’s why so many operators have turned to innovative pick-up cabinets (PUC). They not only make takeout safe and easy, but also eliminate the need for an additional staff member to facilitate pickup orders.

Restaurant Energy Monitoring

Smart kitchens are no longer a thing of the future. They’re here now. Today’s tech-savvy restaurant operators can implement connected kitchen technologies to monitor, track, and control just about any foodservice equipment unit in the back of the house. Save on staff time by automating equipment start-up in the mornings and shut-off at night. The same goes for lights and HVAC, freeing up a few more precious minutes to complete other tasks.

Internet of Things (IoT) software is also used to accumulate and report data that shows a facility’s performance related to energy consumption. This data is used to make operational decisions impacting how and when certain units will run. For example, if a restaurant has lull times on weekdays between the hours of two and four, the system will recognize that and report it back to the operator. This allows for adjustments, powering down certain pieces of equipment that aren’t used during these times. And since the data is automated, it doesn’t require staff to take time to gather it.

Back-of-the-House Automation

Just a few years ago, automation seemed like a distant future. Robots in the kitchen? While people may differ on what they consider a robot, the reality is that more and more cooking processes can be automated. This saves operators a lot of time and money by eliminating some of the challenges created by labor, or lack thereof. By increasing throughput, foodservice workers can concentrate on customer service and other tasks like upselling that can increase profits. Here’s a few examples:

    • Using automation to help with heavy tasks not only frees up labor but also helps eliminate accidents. Varimixer Bowl Lifts allow the tilting, lifting, and replacing of bowls ranging from 30 to 150 quarts without any human involvement. Without the need for heavy lifting, employees avoid back strain and injuries, which often lead to worker’s compensation claims and lost labor.
    • With a Middleby Marshal CTX Impingement Oven, it’s possible to cook, bake, broil, steam, and sous vide, all within the same, automated oven. Great for high-volume kitchens, the CTX can deliver a variety of menu options with the push of a button, in less time, with lower energy use, and without additional labor.
    • It’s also possible to apply automation to fryers, making them more efficient and safer to operate. The RAM Frozen Food Dispenser places frozen food into the fryer at preset portion sizes. This leads to better quality while also helping prevent splashing. Speaking of fryers, there’s nothing more daunting than oil filtration in a commercial fryer. Not only is it messy and labor intensive, but it can also be dangerous if not performed correctly. An automated oil filtration system can take this task out of the hands of staff, quite literally.

One real-life scenario is Sweetgreen restaurants, which plan on opening two fully automated restaurants. Calling it “transformative for business,” the Sweetgreen CEO said the automation will make up the entire production line. By controlling portions, keeping consistent quality, and improving production speed, automation can help the chain provide an experience that is the same across their restaurants. All while allowing staff to focus on hospitality and make the dining experience more special.

Robotics and Beverage Automation

Using robotics to assist with tasks not only helps with safety measures but also keeps applications consistent. Putting too much product into a fryer can cause food to not cook completely and potentially an overflow of oil. By using robotics to place food directly into the frying basin, these issues are eliminated.

With the L2F PizzaBot and the Wunder-Bar Autosaucer, the labor-intensive process of adding toppings to pizza is completely automated. Keeping the sauce distribution the same, saving on inventory, and without the need for additional labor.

Even that morning or afternoon cup of coffee can be automated and consistently made. With Concordia’s Super Automated Coffee Machines, operators can go from the bean to the cup with the touch of a button, eliminating the need for a barista in certain operations.

Manage restaurant labor costs with Middleby automation solutions.

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Darpo Solutions


Restaurant Business

Topics: Automation, Restaurants