Restaurant customer experience in the age of automation

The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University estimates that the cost to restaurants for employee turnover averages $5,864 per person. There is also an ongoing labor shortage brought on by a combination of low unemployment, a decaying transportation system, and a lack of suitable housing near the nation’s urban cores. With minimum wages rising around the country it’s easy to understand why restaurants want to automate as much of the guest experience as possible. This is why Taco Bell is now paying some managers six-figure salaries. 

Turnover in the restaurant industry reached nearly 75% in 2018, with quick-service restaurants registering higher numbers. Panera Bread reports a 130% turnover rate, while Chipotle says that turnover for its hourly employees is 145%.

It’s no wonder that more restaurants have turned to kiosks and mobile ordering with in-store pickup. In fact, many guests are happy to avoid human interactions and simply pick up their orders. Plus, people tend to buy more when they’re at a kiosk vs. when ordering from a human. McDonald’s, which is at the forefront of kiosk expansion, saw a 30% order increase, while Taco Bell saw a 20% order premium. 

Kiosk usage is up across all age segments, suggesting that the growth we’ve seen isn’t slowing down any time soon. In fact, most major brands either have launched kiosks or are planning to do so in the near future. 

As this change continues, the challenge for restaurants will be to normalize the customer experience across all platforms, both on-premise and off. For example, the continued rise of mobile ordering requires brands to reimagine the end-to-end customer experience because it may exist digitally and in the consumer’s home. Everything from the mobile experience to one-to-one communications through the delivery packaging will come into play.

As all these technologies take hold, brands will need to not only understand their identity but understand how that identity can have its unique attributes both when the customer touches a screen or when they speak to an employee. 

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