As the Labor Shortage Continues, Businesses Look to Automation

The pandemic has been an inflection point for businesses across industries for many reasons. This includes the current labor shortage — which is proving to be an ongoing reality that business owners need to face head on, with a plan.

According to the Square Future of Commerce report, nearly one-third of restaurants have been understaffed for the last two years. To meet hiring challenges and rising customer expectations with fewer staff members, 38% of restaurateurs plan to automate operations to maximize staff efficiencies. Consumers are on board, with 66% saying they prefer automation over live staff in at least one aspect of their experience at their favorite restaurants.

As employees reassess opportunities and benefits, businesses may have to shift how they operate. Key strategies to address this challenge include making strategic use of current staff and assessing the work environment with an eye toward attracting and retaining employees.

Square Shifts

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One solution many businesses are turning to is automation for everyday tasks, which can allow existing employees to take on more impactful work for the business and for their own career development. Automating tasks like payroll, inventory, and customer loyalty programs can help free up staff to take on work like in-store customer engagement and launching new sales channels.

A full majority of restauranteurs (95%) note that increased automation for back-of-house operations would free up time to focus on more important tasks for the business. Specifically, 49% noted it would help with managing online orders and communicating with customers, 48% said it would help with accepting payments, 45% reported it would be helpful for managing real-time restaurant capacity, and 42% said it’d be helpful for tracking item availability in real-time.

As for the consumers who said they prefer automation over live staff in at least one aspect of their experience at their favorite restaurant, where they want to see that automation is mixed: 36% said accepting reservations online or through an app, 31% said accepting orders online or through an app, 22% said taking orders through an in-restaurant kiosk, and 19% said placing orders and taking payments through QR codes.

Liz Fielder, co-owner of The Junction in Mill Valley, California, says that incorporating automation for ordering and paying through QR codes dramatically reduced her need for staffing for those tasks.

“Our labor cost percentage for an entire beer garden is 150% less than it was when I owned a 300-square-foot [frozen yogurt] shop, and that’s entirely because of QR code ordering,” she explains.

While automation may have seemed like a bad word in the past, now it’s proving to be critical for many businesses. If you’re thinking about automation or dealing with being understaffed, consider the following tips:

  • Scheduling software, like Square Shifts, can empower your team to make the schedule work for them and the rest of the staff by allowing for shift trading and picking up open shifts.
  • Scheduling software can help you analyze statistics to keep track of how efficiently you and your staff are using your hours, making better staffing decisions based on demand and business needs.
  • Using technology can speed up tedious, time-consuming tasks, like inventory counting, which can be done on the go with your iPhone or iPad.
  • Consider ways to help staff be more efficient with their time. For example, incorporating QR code ordering, tableside ordering, and tableside payments can cut down on time servers spend going back and forth from the customer to the POS. An integrated kitchen display system can also help with back-of-house efficiency, making the kitchen staff feel less overwhelmed with incoming tickets.

Learn more about how different industries are using automation and more by downloading the Square Future of Retail and Future of Restaurants reports.