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Using Automation to Combat the Restaurant Labor Shortage

The Department of Labor recently released it's April 2021 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary. Based on these reports, the U.S. is facing a restaurant labor shortage like never before, fueled by restaurant closures, restrictions on dining capacity, and a record number of layoffs.


Keep reading if you’re a restaurateur or franchise operator feeling the pinch. We break down the details of the labor shortage and explore how front and back-of-house restaurant automation can enable you to do more with less.

How the pandemic changed the restaurant industry

Strict COVID-19 protocols came into place last year, forcing restaurants nationwide to close their doors to the public and drastically reduce staff. As the restaurant industry returns to normal, employers are now finding it considerably difficult to find or rehire staff members. 


There are numerous reasons why many restaurants, cafés, and fast-food chains are finding themselves in this predicament. For some, it’s the constant instability of workplace closures. For others, the long hours and low pay, coupled with the risk of exposure, aren’t worth it for potential employees. 


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has stated that the labor shortage is “getting worse by the day.” As a result, some operators are offering new incentives to find, hire, and keep workers. Many McDonald’s restaurants are raising employee wages. One location is handing out iPhones to employees who stay for at least six months.


Other prominent chains are also participating in the trend. Chipotle has decided to expand debt-free educational degree options for employees. Whataburger now promotes all managers to “operating partners” and raised their salaries to at least $100,000. In the FSR market, Applebee’s offers complimentary appetizers to everyone who attends a job interview.


Restauranteurs can’t solve the staffing challenges brought on by the pandemic by hiring incentives alone: they simply aren’t viable for all hospitality businesses. However, one solution that applies to the hospitality industry is delegating tasks to automated processes, cutting required labor hours and expenses in the long run. 

How automation can be the solution to the labor shortage

Automation has already impacted many industries, including the restaurant industry. In fact, according to a recent study, “45% of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated.” Automation technology provides a method for businesses to be innovative, remain competitive, and rise above many challenges the pandemic has created. 


Automating restaurant operations allows a food service facility to function with a smaller staff. Automation helps mitigate labor costs by decreasing the need to hire as many employees and freeing up resources to pay the remaining employees competitive wages. New technologies for the restaurant business allow restaurant owners to reevaluate their entire business model.


Spyce, a restaurant designed by MIT students, is an extreme example where all operations, from ordering to food preparation, are fully automated, turning it into a made-to-order food vending machine! The entire restaurant can run with just two staff members on duty to provide customer service and put the final touches on the dishes prepared by robotic woks. This level of automation may be unreachable for most restaurants but demonstrates the automation possibilities of today’s technology.


Streamlining processes benefits not only a restaurant’s owner but also the customer. An automated point of service (POS) at a drive-thru or dining area can speed up fast food production. The POS system can handle the contactless ordering, display real-time menus, and generate scannable QR codes for specials or coupons.


Limiting human error in the ordering process allows a reduced staff to focus their attention on more consistent food preparation. Conversely, a robotic kitchen can give the remaining team more time to service customers in sit-in restaurants, enhancing the customer experience.

What type of automation is right for your restaurant?

Whether you’re running a quick-service restaurant or cafe, a dine-in restaurant where the personal service and ambiance are part of the dining experience, or even a startup ghost kitchen making food exclusively for delivery, automation can help.

Front-of-house automation 

Start by thinking about what activities or procedures you can automate, thereby partially alleviating staff demand. For example, just some of these processes could include:


  • Self-service ordering kiosks where diners can immediately place their order via a screen, rather than relying on waitstaff to take their order in person. You can also expand this to online ordering or a mobile app.
  • Automated checkout systems, so staff members no longer need to organize the check at the end of every diner’s stay.
  • Soft drink stations in dining areas allow diners to select and receive beverages and refills immediately. Arguably, at the beginning of the automation revolution, this recommendation still holds a valuable place in promoting a better customer experience and saving employee time.
  • Reservation automation systems automate the process through online booking systems, saving employees hours per day accepting bookings over the phone. The table availability can also refresh online in real time, allowing for a smoother guest experience.

Back-of-house restaurant automation

Innovative back-of-house automation technologies are being used nationwide, like Flippy, a burger-flipping robot currently used by several fast-food chains, including California’s Caliburger. But while Flippy may not be practical for restaurants whose menu requires a more human touch, there are plenty of other ways to streamline your back-of-house.


After examining front-of-house processes, identify operations in the back-of-house that require repetitive tasks, such as burger-flipping, inventory management, or temperature checks.

Constantly monitoring equipment for the optimal temperature is an essential daily task.


Frequent equipment temperature checks take valuable time out of an employee’s busy day. With fewer restaurant workers than ever before, every minute counts. Intelligent temperature sensors automatically monitor the temperature of your equipment, allowing management to relocate time to serving customers, preparing meals, or keeping your establishment clean.


For restaurants operating with skeleton crews, temperature sensors also unlock the ability to monitor equipment during after-hours or with limited staff. In addition, temperature monitors alert operators to potential equipment breakdowns, allowing teams to take quick action to prevent food waste.

GlacierGrid as part of your back-of-house automation

GlacierGrid wireless sensors can be your first step towards automation, helping you protect your inventory 24/7 from equipment failures, power outages, and human error. Receive alerts via email, SMS, or phone call when an issue arises, and unlock predictive equipment maintenance to eliminate costly last-minute repairs.


To experience how GlacierGrid can help your restaurant automate back-of-house processes, click here to try GlacierGrid today