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As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, it has become clear that its aftereffects will be felt in the business world for years to come. Many businesses permanently closed their doors due to COVID-related shutdowns, and many others were forced to dramatically realign their operations.
For professionals in the restaurant, hospitality, and foodservice sectors, these trends have had particularly far-reaching consequences. It may even be fairly said that this industry has been hit harder by COVID than any other. Nationwide, the foodservice industry lost two million workers between February 2020 and May 2021.
The problem cannot be entirely explained by widespread restaurant closures. There are numerous opportunities out there for skilled foodservice workers. “Help Wanted” signs can be found in a wide range of restaurants, grocery stores, and foodservice businesses across the land. It’s just that these open positions are attracting few applicants.
This labor shortage can be traced back to multiple causes.
- Many experienced restaurant and foodservice workers are reluctant to resume employment in crowded facilities where the risk of COVID infection is high.
- Workers in some areas have found that they can collect more in unemployment compensation than they could expect to earn on the job.
- It has also been speculated that a significant proportion of foodservice employees have been inspired to seek opportunities in other industries, as part of a broader social phenomenon termed “The Great Resignation.”
How can businesses cope with this lingering labor shortage? Automation technology is the key.
When we refer to automation technology, we’re talking about a variety of devices, software, and systems that can control one or more food-management processes with little or no human intervention. This type of technology tends to be associated with the widely proposed implementation of automated kiosks at fast-food restaurants, but it is really much more diverse than that.
Automation technology currently available to foodservice businesses includes the following:
- Digital checklists – Traditional paper-based checklists are time-consuming, prone to error and falsification, and bothersome to keep properly filed. Using digital devices to manage these tasks speeds up the process and ensures it is performed properly.
- Remote temperature sensors – These can continuously track the temperature of food storage units, so businesses aren’t dependent on manual checks from employees. Automating the process ensures that even a brief temperature fluctuation won’t go unnoticed. These sensors can be configured to transmit an alert to a manager or other personnel, prompting them to take immediate corrective action.
- Food ordering devices – Aside from the aforementioned automated kiosks, restaurants can use handheld devices to aid the routine of placing customer orders. Easily carried to and from the dining room, these devices can reduce the likelihood of error and miscommunication during the ordering process. They can also be used to process payment cards, allowing customers to avoid long waits in the cashier line.
As automation technology continues to advance, the foodservice sector will be able to utilize increasingly sophisticated tools that will enhance workflows and reduce waste.
The Benefits of Automation
Technology of this nature provides several advantages to businesses in a tough job market:
- Fewer errors – Automating certain routine processes eliminates mistakes caused by employee carelessness.
- Less employee stress – Labor shortages mean that existing employees often have to wear many hats. Automating certain processes can reduce their burdens and their stress levels, which can reduce turnover.
- Enhanced efficiency – Automation supports multiple food-handling procedures, from performing inventory to processing payments. This leads to a more efficient workforce even with fewer team members.
- Consistent brand standards – This specific technology enables all locations to operate in accordance with corporate guidelines.
- Improved customer service – The benefits of automation can also bolster the customer-facing side of your business by speeding up orders, payments, and related tasks. Self-service kiosks are helpful for COVID-conscious patrons who prefer to avoid person-to-person contact.
- Better audits – Automated tools can also be configured to save the data it generates. As a result, you have easy access to information that can prove compliance with safety regulations and pinpoint operational shortcomings.
We’re a long way from full automation in the foodservice industry—but businesses already have access to a number of useful tools that can relieve ongoing labor shortages by allowing establishments to do more with fewer employees.
About ComplianceMate: According to its website, the company offers a variety of wireless temperature sensors and related workflow tools especially designed for the needs of modern foodservice establishments of all kinds. With ComplianceMate technology, managers can make informed evidence-based decisions relating to staff training, workflows, and food safety. As a result, businesses save money by reducing food waste and optimizing employee efficiency, in addition to improving auditing and regulatory compliance.