Automation in Restaurants: How to Streamline Ordering, Marketing, and More

Automation in restaurants is becoming more and more common. Here’s how even small restaurants can embrace automation within their budgets and skills.

Front of the House Resource

Texting your Diners 101

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When people think of automation in restaurants, they often imagine lines of robot cooks in a kitchen that looks more like a futuristic assembly line. But today, automation is becoming more common in restaurants—and it doesn’t look quite like that.

Companies are currently developing, improving, and perfecting technology that can automate repetitive or labor-intensive daily tasks in restaurants. These startups are imagining a future in which automation lowers operational costs, boosts productivity, and creates a better standard for customer service in the restaurant industry. In fact, automation in the food service industry is expected to generate $14 billion annually by 2025.

Still, automation in restaurants is a new concept. Many restaurateurs are hesitant to start automating, even though there are some simple ways to do so. Read on to learn about the state of automation in restaurants, as well as some easy ways for restaurants to start automating their own processes.

How Automation in Restaurants is Impacting the Industry

The reason automation in restaurants is rising in popularity is because it’s meant to increase restaurants’ efficiency—often while lowering their costs or boosting their profits at the same time.

Automation is still new in the restaurant industry, which is historically low-tech and resistant to this kind of innovation. But the automation revolution is here—advances in automation technology are making it more common, affordable, and accessible for restaurants of all sizes.

Will Automation in Restaurants Ever Replace Human Workers?

With that said, does automation mean the human workforce in the restaurant industry is going away? Probably not. Or, at least, not anytime soon. The proof is in the ongoing labor shortage in the industry—as they reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are struggling to hire employees, and automation technology isn’t quite ready to solve that problem just yet.

For now, technology has only advanced to the point where robots can help out their human counterparts, performing simple and often repetitive tasks (like making espresso shots, for example). But in the long-term, even as technology continues to improve, there’s one big reason it’s not likely that robots will completely take over restaurant kitchens: They just can’t match the personal touch, service, and skill that humans bring to the dining experience.

Will robots become that advanced in the future? That’s anyone’s guess, but even if it’s possible, it’s a long way away from becoming reality.

Pros and Cons of Automation in Restaurants

The companies that provide automated tools for restaurants say their products come with a lot of benefits. For example, Ziosk, a company that makes tablets for restaurant guests to order from their tables, claims it can reduce average table turnover time by six to nine minutes. Faster service means restaurants can serve more customers throughout the day, which can boost their revenue.

Buzztime, another company that produces a self-service POS system, claims its products lead to check sizes that are an average of 21 percent higher.

Automation in restaurants can have measurable upsides. But there are downsides, as well. Let’s look at both.

Pros of Automation in Restaurants

  • Better customer experiences. Automation can make the entire guest experience faster and smoother. Automated systems can often execute tasks more quickly than people can, and without any mistakes. This translates to accurate orders, reduced wait times, and other positives for guests.
  • High employee morale. Nobody likes performing labor-intensive, repetitive tasks—and these are the types of tasks automated systems excel at. By removing boring, repetitive work from their staff’s plates, restaurants can free up more time for employees to do the work they love: focusing on guests.
  • Better accuracy and compliance. Automated systems can link together your POS, inventory management, accounting, and video footage. This can cut down on mistakes, theft, and other problems affecting your restaurant’s reporting accuracy.
  • Higher profits. As automation makes your restaurant more efficient and improves your guests’ experiences, you can expect higher check sizes, more tables, and a boost to your bottom line.

Cons of Automation in Restaurants

  • High costs. Since automation technology is still pretty new, much of it is expensive—and this is the main barrier to entry to most restaurants. While the idea is that automation will help cut costs and increase profits, paying for itself over time, most restaurants (especially small and independent ones) don’t have the budget to cover the upfront costs of implementing this kind of technology.
  • Technological advancement. Automation technology is becoming smarter and more advanced all the time. But as of now, robots can’t make the same kinds of complex judgment calls that humans can. For the most part, they’re only capable of performing simple, rote tasks.
  • Lack of human connection. Everyone in the restaurant industry knows that dining out is an experience—and one that’s better shared with others. From being greeted by a host to asking for recommendations from a server, human connections are central to the experience of eating in a restaurant. Automation can make the process faster and more streamlined, but it simply cannot replace the human connections that happen because of food.

8 Ways Automation in Restaurants Can Boost Efficiency and Profitability

A common misconception about automation in restaurants is that it requires an entire robotic kitchen. That’s just not the case. There are plenty of ways even small restaurants can automate individual tasks or processes.

Looking for ways to start implementing automation in your restaurant? These starting points are simple and have low barriers to entry, meaning they’re feasible for restaurants of any size.

Automated Marketing and Remarketing

For restaurant operators wanting to get their first experience with automation, it can be simpler to start with tasks that already involve a lot of technology, like marketing.

Marketing is one area where automation can help restaurateurs save time and effort. They can schedule social media posts to be automatically posted, use automation to target potential guests in their community with ads, or send automatic follow-up messages to guests, offering them a promotion to entice them to make a repeat visit.

These are just a few of the automated marketing and remarketing tools restaurants can use with Popmenu.

Popmenu is an all-in-one digital toolkit for modern restaurants, helping them own their digital presence and reach their guests wherever they are. Popmenu can do much more than just automate your restaurant’s marketing efforts, but more on that below.

Schedule a free Popmenu demo today.

Automated Reservations

Reservations are one of the simplest ways restaurants can improve their processes with automation. Think about it—the average host can spend hours per day taking phone calls, confirming reservations, and managing the reservation book

There are already many apps that automate the reservation process by moving it online. Guests can see table availability in real-time, input any special requests or important information about their party, and confirm their reservation via automated messaging.

Self-Service Ordering

Self-serve ordering kiosks are becoming more and more common, especially in the quick service industry (McDonald’s locations all over the world now allow guests to place their own orders on kiosks). 

But this type of automation is also showing up in new and more creative ways, especially as many restaurants work to make their dining experiences contactless in the wake of the pandemic. Restaurants are largely moving away from touchscreens, and instead finding ways for guests to use their own devices to order ahead or from their table. QR codes are now common in restaurants for viewing menus and specials.

Mobile app ordering is also on the rise. In fast food, it’s even becoming common for there to be a separate drive-thru for guests to pick up orders they placed ahead of time.

Self Checkout

In addition to self-service ordering, self-checkout is becoming more common in restaurants. New technology allows guests to make contactless payments right from the table. They’re also able to see itemized receipts, split the bill, and leave a tip, all automatically. This makes the checkout process faster and less complicated.

Capacity Management

Managing capacity is an important part of keeping your guests happy and your operations running smoothly. Overbook the restaurant, and wait times will increase, staff will become stressed, and guests will likely be less happy. But underbook the restaurant, and you miss out on potential revenue.

Automated software can now help restaurants manage their capacity in real-time, which creates a more seamless guest experience. Knowing your restaurant’s exact capacity for each service can also help with staffing, keeping labor costs down.

Prep and Cooking

There are a handful of restaurants where automation now handles all the cooking. Take Boston’s Spyce, for example. Co-founded by four graduates from MIT, Spyce uses robotic woks that tumble food with perfect temperature control for an even sear.

For the average restaurant, though, a fully robotic kitchen is out of reach—and impractical. Instead, some restaurants are turning to automation to help with simple prep work, like chopping vegetables before a dinner service. Automation can also be great to handle more dangerous kitchen tasks, like those involving extreme heat. Automatic pizza ovens, for example, can use conveyor belts to cook pizzas, keeping cooks separated from anything that could burn them. Automation can take over some of the more repetitive work in the back of the house, but also some tasks that can be dangerous for humans.

Inventory Management

Food waste is one of the costliest pain points in the restaurant industry—it’s estimated that restaurants lose around $25 billion per year because of industry waste.

But new technology aims to help restaurants better manage their inventories, including using automation that can predict future orders based on past orders. This helps restaurants cut down on waste—and boost their bottom line.

Automated Delivery

And finally, automation is making its way into food delivery services. More and more restaurants are turning to mobile apps and online ordering platforms to sync guests’ online orders with their POS systems—no more manually taking and managing online orders. Some restaurants are even experimenting with robots and drones that can make deliveries—but that’s a long way away from being standard in the industry.

Popmenu: The First Step Toward Restaurant Automation

Now, restaurant automation might feel a bit daunting, but Popmenu is a great way to take the first step toward using it in your restaurant marketing and contactless ordering operations. It offers modern restaurants so much more than that.

With Popmenu, you can:

  • Create and manage a mobile-responsive, search engine optimized website;
  • Build an interactive online menu that engages guests;
  • Take direct online orders;
  • Offer a contactless dining experience, including QR code generation, contactless ordering, and online payment;
  • Offer curbside pickup, delivery, and more off-premise solutions;
  • Automate remarketing efforts to bring guests back again and again. 

Popmenu is truly an all-in-one solution for restaurants. Where independent restaurants struggle to wade through a sea of point solutions, Popmenu brings all the modern technology they need in one platform, with one affordable monthly fee. 
Popmenu is how modern restaurants can control their entire online presence, from first impression to final transaction. Ready to see for yourself? Schedule your free demo today.


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