Retaining Restaurant Talent with Tech

3 months ago   •   8 min read

By Hillary Holmes
Don't miss Hillary Holmes on Season 16, Episode 13 of Food Paradise, airing Wednesday, March 30 at 10pm/9c on The Cooking Channel.

Ask any restaurant owner and they’ll tell you the number one thing you need to make your concept work is people. People to enjoy your hospitality. And people to provide the hospitable experience.

The labor struggle is real. The hospitality industry is missing so many people, and there’s a real possibility many of them aren’t coming back. A labor shortage that might have seemed inconceivable in recent years is a harsh new reality.

And yet, we are making the magical experience of dining out workable even as we do more with less. How? By pairing smart hospitality with smart technology to streamline efficiencies, automate the tasks that take away from the human experience, and reduce friction points for staff and guests alike. Because we need our people to come...and to stay.

When I came to VonElrod’s as a manager three years ago, I brought my 17 years’ hospitality experience with me to input systems, lead large teams, and make the business more successful overall. And I’ve done just that. More than revamping our kitchen to be 99.99% scratch and curating an amazing beer offering, the most transformational decision I made that had a direct impact on VonElrod’s bottom line was choosing the right technology. Reduce costs and increase revenue—it’s a solid model for increasing profit margins. But that’s not all.

What is fascinating to me is that most people look at technology as taking away from human connections. Honestly, I’ve seen the opposite. Numbers are at the core of my success and how I judge our progress. And the numbers tell a pretty amazing story about how the right technology is not only helping our revenue, but also helping us retain and attract talent during this labor crisis.

Handhelds increase tips.

When we equipped our servers with SpotOn Serve handhelds, our servers were skeptical. But immediately they saw that the typical 19 – 20% in tip on credit cards was increasing to 23 – 24%. We looked at the servers with the highest tip average and said, ok, what are they doing differently? What we discovered was they were spending more time engaging with their guests and less time running around like a crazy person. Because the servers were able to focus on cultivating a connection rather than completing a transaction, guests were happier (especially with the increased speed of order fulfillment and greater accuracy)!

...the typical 19 – 20% in tip on credit cards was increasing to 23 – 24%.

Multitask without moving an inch.

We see a lot of large tables at Von Elrod’s. We have found the handheld to improve guest order accuracy, as well as close-out efficiency. The amount of time it takes a server to close out a party of 20 is literally cut in half, if not more. With large parties, we are finding we utilize SpotOn Serve to boost that guest experience. The server can start with guest 1, hit send after taking guest 4’s order and their drinks are already being poured. By the time our server takes an order for guest 15, guest 1’s drink is already on the table.

The amount of time it takes a server to close out a party of 20 is literally cut in half, if not more.

Guests can pay their way.

The other advantage we see on the guest side with SpotOn Serve is we’ve eliminated the chaos that comes with splitting checks. Every guest has a number—when they’re ready to close out it’s just a tap on the handheld, insert the card, they sign and they’re done. Far more efficient. They close out faster, they don’t have to wait to pay their tab, and they’re happy when they leave. The servers are also a lot less stressed. They’re no longer juggling 20 checks, or worrying about dropping someone's credit card while they’re walking, and they’re not waiting for a computer.

Higher volume.

For their throughput, our servers using the SpotOn Serve handhelds are doing a higher volume in sales because they can cover a broader range without overextending themselves. It speeds their time, which means they can do more tables, more sales, plus a higher tip percentage—it’s really just money across the board.

Hardware savings.

In my restaurant, I have 22 handhelds and 6 POS stations, and the hardware is durable and affordable. I could get 4 SpotOn handhelds for the price of one handheld at another provider. And any time you have more money coming in and less money going out, well, that’s a good thing.

I could get 4 SpotOn handhelds for the price of one handheld at another provider.

Servers can earn more with less hassle.

When you consider the labor shortage, technology like SpotOn Serve handhelds is not only empowering our servers to cover more tables, but they’re earning so much with the tip percentage increases that they no longer need to work doubles. This is huge from a talent retention standpoint.

QR codes catapult sales.

Speaking of the labor shortage, implementing QR codes has been a life-saver, putting guests in control of their experience.

We’ve always been 60% food / 40% beverage split. With SpotOn, we’re seeing additional beverage sales and seeing that spike to a 70/30 split, especially on weekends. SpotOn’s QR Code technology allows guests to get a second or third beer without having a long wait time or going to the bar. Instead it just comes to them. They don’t have to break their conversation or walk away from their friends for 20 minutes, and it’s increasing our per-guest revenue a little more. Before implementing the QR codes, we were typically seeing anywhere between $30 – $32 per guest average, and now we’re seeing $40 – $50 per guest average and we owe that to those additional beverages hitting those guests checks.

...we’re seeing $40 – $50 per guest average and we owe that to those additional beverages hitting those guests checks
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Kitchen display screens keep it moving in the back-of-house.

I was very excited to implement Kitchen Display System (KDS) screens at Von Elrods. We no longer see chits being lost, line cooks don’t have to scan a ticket to find the items they’re responsible for, and there is no more of the verbal brigade style operation. With the KDS screens, order items pop up on individual screens for each station so cooks can look at the screen at any point and know where they are. The screen system works significantly faster and enables us to overcome some of the labor shortage challenges we’re facing. I can now run what used to be a 6 person line with 4 on a Saturday brunch, still executing a $16 – $17K brunch in 4 hours, without having my check time go above 8 – 9 minutes. They’re able to see what they need, work more efficiently, work together cohesively, and communicate better.

I can now run what used to be a 6 person line with 4 on a Saturday brunch.

Closing time takes minutes, not hours.

I find that my closing time is significantly faster with SpotOn’s Reporting. My entire staff is 80% paper-free, which means we don’t spend all that time putting tips in at the end of the night—it’s already done. Instead, they’re giving me their close-out report on one sheet of paper. The data is very clean, I know exactly what beer is selling the best, and I can even tailor it to a specific guest. I can know what guest is ordering the most of something special so the next time they come in, I can tell them about a new beer that might fit their profile better. I can also see my repeat guests to seat them faster. If I see Gary’s name on the waitlist and I know Gary comes in 3 times a week, I can say hey Gary’s next and make sure we’re taking care of the people who take care of us all the time. From balancing out the safe side, it’s very efficient because it’s all on one screen: server sales, bar sales, cash due, tip balancing. I’ve cut my close time down from 2 hours to 30 minutes. That’s been great for me, for my team, and our bottom line.

I’ve cut my close time down from 2 hours to 30 minutes.

Technology elevates everyone’s experience.

I absolutely love embracing technology in the hospitality industry. Using SpotOn restaurant technology to help facilitate the server’s job, the bartender's job, and the culinary team’s job creates a better employee experience and a better guest experience.

The guests love it because their time at the table is significantly decreased—they’re able to get their drinks immediately, their food immediately, and they’re able to pay immediately. They’re not having to wait around for their server to put an order in at the POS station. Meanwhile, our servers are seeing increased tips because of how much better the service is. Most importantly, they are happier, they’re not burning out, and they want to stick around.

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