Being short staffed could be a major opportunity for restaurant owners

Updated: Feb 3

Staffing shortages give owners an opportunity to re-think operations, implement new technology, and decrease labor costs permanently


The Issue

Nearly 80,000 restaurants/bars have gone out of business since the start of Covid-19 in early 2020. This equals 10% of all eating and drinking venues, and resulted in a 27% decrease in total industry revenue compared to the $899 billion that was projected for 2020. On top of this, a staffing shortage has affected more than half of all restaurants/bars, who are now operating significantly understaffed (20% understaffed or more). The reasons are up for debate, but one thing is clear, it doesn't look like traditional service is going "back to normal" in the service industry any time soon.


How is this affecting the customer?

The customer experience at eating and drinking establishments has changed. Customers have gotten used to scanning a QR code to view a digital menu, and having to ask for salt and pepper, hot sauce, or other things may have been table staples in a pre-Covid world. But staffing difficulties are something that most customers are probably unaware of. Slow service gets blamed on poor operations when in reality, most venues are working harder and more efficiently than ever to keep their doors open.


How is this affecting the owner?

It's obvious that a depleted staff can't offer the same level of service to guests. Less staff means less time spent per table, which can result in lost revenue for the venue. But less staff also means less labor cost. With labor costs traditionally being in the 30-40% of all operating expenses, a decrease in staff can also give the operator a way to increase their margins, if they can figure out a way to keep their sales volume the same. Where some owners may see being short staffed as a difficult problem, others are utilizing technology to turn this problem into a tremendous opportunity.


The Opportunity

When restaurants/bars were allowed to re-open after the Covid-19 mandatory shutdown, QR codes became a new standard as they provide a safe and contactless way for customers to view a venue's menu. Replacing physical menus with QR codes is one of the largest technological advances the service industry has ever seen, as QR code menus also limit the amount of interaction between the staff and customer. Considering the majority of owners believe that customer and staff interaction is what makes the service industry a better experience than dining at home, this is a major transformation. But a digital menu isn't the only thing QR codes are being used for when dining out. As a way to combat a lack of servers, QR codes can also be utilized to allow dining in guests to order and pay from their smartphone at their own convenience. Here's how it typically works:

  1. Customer is seated

  2. Customer scans a QR code at their table that is linked to the venue's menu

  3. Customer chooses what items they want to purchase and pays for the items

  4. The order is "fired" to the kitchen or bar

  5. Once the order is completed, it is delivered to the customer's table

With the customer being in complete control of when they want to order, at no point in the experience does the customer need help from a staff member. This means that restaurants can produce the same amount of sales volume, with significantly less servers on the floor (some examples of how to do this are given later in the article).


What will customers think?

The success of restaurant delivery apps such as GrubHub, UberEats, DoorDash, and PostMates has demonstrated that customers don't mind ordering and paying for food through their phone. While these apps don't have a specific focus on in-venue dining, it's obvious that mobile ordering technology is easy enough for customers to understand. Additionally, the digital payment industry is growing rapidly. Smartphones are making it easier than ever to purchase things online, and the $5 trillion industry is expected to more than double in less than 5 years.


What does this mean for venue owners? Guests are already used to purchasing things online, and in many cases, feel more comfortable paying online than handing over a physical credit card. So while many owners might be reluctant to try new technology for fear of what their guests might think, their guests are already open to both QR codes and digital payments. Giving customers the convenience to order and pay from a QR code while in-venue, is a logical next step.


Of course every venue is different, and there will always be outliers - operations for a premium steakhouse are different than a brewery - but there are key indicators on which types of venues are being affected the most by the staffing shortage, and which types of venues can benefit the most from a QR code order and pay platform. Here are 4 ways you can operate your restaurant/bar if you are short staffed:


1) Designate Sections

How it works:

  • QR codes go on select tables in a specific area

  • Guests are given the choice to sit in the "staffed" area, or the QR code area

Best venues for this option:

  • Large venues

  • Venues with outdoor area

  • Breweries

By designating sections, owners can manage customer expectations by stating that if the customer doesn't mind potentially waiting for service, they can sit in the staffed area, and that if the customer wants to be able to order and pay at their own convenience, they can choose to sit in the QR code area.


2) Table Service Only

How it works:

  • QR codes go on all tables

  • Guests are given the choice to order from the QR codes, or at the bar

Best venues for this option:

  • Small and medium sized restaurants/bars

  • Venues with outdoor area

When the guests are seated, they are told that the venue is short staffed and for their own convenience, they can either order directly from the QR codes, at which point their order will be delivered to their table, or they need to go and order at the bar. This gives the owner the opportunity to be honest with the guest while still managing customer expectations.


3) Food Service Only

How it works:

  • QR codes go on all tables, but only offer food options

  • Guests are told to order drinks at the bar, and food from the QR codes

Best venues for this option:

  • Small and medium sized restaurants/bars

  • Venues with outdoor area

  • Venues with a simple food menu

  • Venues that partner with a neighboring restaurant or food truck

  • Breweries

When the guests are seated, they are told that all food orders need to be placed directly from the QR codes (and that food will be delivered to their table) and all drinks need to be ordered at the bar. This approach maximizes customer convenience for ordering food, but also guarantees customer and staff interaction.


4) All Mobile Orders

How it works:

  • QR codes go on all tables and bar seats

  • Guests are told that all orders must be placed through the QR codes

Best venues for this option:

  • All fast casual (non-counter service) venues

  • High volume venues

  • Event venues

  • Breweries

When the guests are seated, they are told that the venue is short staffed, and that for the guests' convenience, all orders need to be placed directly from the QR codes. This manages the customer's expectations and allows the venue to capture every potential sale, regardless of staffing issues.


Some Things to Keep In Mind

Small details make a big difference. QR code ordering is a powerful solution, but in order to implement this technology with as little interruption to operations as possible, owners should think through several features that may affect their venue:


Menu Scheduling

If your venue has different menus throughout the day, or offers different pricing for things like Happy Hour specials, your QR code ordering system should automatically display these changes to the customer, while hiding items/prices that aren't available.


Embedded Table Numbers

Your QR code system should be able to take your existing floorplan, and create QR codes with the specific table numbers embedded into the QR codes. This prevents any potential user error, and makes it so that the customer does not need to know where they are sitting.


Order Volume Governor

When venues are busy, the staff will "fire" orders to the kitchen or bar in a way that doesn't back up either. With customers ordering on their own, the best QR code ordering systems have the ability to limit how many orders are delivered to the kitchen/bar within a certain amount of time, and keep additional orders in a queue, while notifying the customer how long they can expect to wait before their order is delivered to their table.


Assigned Printers

If your kitchen or bar has multiple prep stations (ie a hot food and cold food area), your QR code ordering system needs to get orders to the prep stations the same way that your current POS printer or Kitchen Display System (KDS) does.


Recommendation for Owners

Try Barpay. Chances are, you've heard of or seen a QR code ordering system. If you've been thinking about trying this type of technology, Barpay offers the most features (including menu scheduling, embedded table numbers, order volume governing, and assigned printers) with the best pricing and on-boarding structure of any mobile ordering company.


The digital payments company started in 2015 and has since worked with dozens of venue owners to improve the product, and grown services into more than 13,000 accounts nationwide. Owners can try the system for free for 60 days to see if QR code ordering works at their venue, after which, the only costs are a monthly subscription of $149 and a standard credit card processing rate. There are no hardware costs, no minimum contract lengths, and no cancellation fees. With customers already used to QR codes and digital payments, what do you have to lose?


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