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How to staff correctly for restaurant online order volume

Published May 14, 2021

Online orders have surged during the pandemic—as reported by QSR Magazine, some restaurants experienced a 200 percent daily increase. For many restaurants, that’s been a lifeline to stay in business—without having to limit the size of their staff. But, the pivot to relying on off-premise orders for much of their business now presents restaurant owners and operators with new staffing considerations. Here are some tips to help you plan and adjust. 

Profit margins: How changing operations affects your revenue and staff

Making such large changes to your operations might affect your profit margin but keeping track of it can help you figure out what you can and can’t do. Plus, now there’s a bit more complexity in keeping track of your profit margins, and determining if staffing changes need to be made may be part of it. But there are other considerations you can make before reducing your staff.

Take third-party delivery. On the one hand, third-party services help you fill more orders, but on the other they can take away profits you’d make if your website had the ability to process all of your orders—and your staff could make the deliveries, so you increase revenue. And while it’s true that third-party delivery companies, like Grubhub, have recently given restaurants the option to host a direct link on their own websites to avoid paying fees, your customers say they still prefer to order directly from you.

And the pandemic will continue to be another profit monitoring complication. After initially adjusting to COVID-19 by adopting more off-premise services and then reopening or partially reopening dine-in, many restaurants are once again adjusting during the second surge. That means deciding to cut back staff or retool staffing so that your employees are performing more off-premise tasks. For the many restaurant owners and operators who invested in expanding their outdoor dining and now (because of new state regulations) can only offer delivery and take-out, projecting and keeping track of profits gets even more complicated. But, making the right staffing adjustments can help.  

Start by thinking about how to increase your staff’s productivity. When they’re able to get more done in a shorter amount of time you can increase the orders you receive and turnaround. To help get your staff moving faster and more efficiently, create a training plan and implement it so that every staff member knows precisely what their readjusted roles are in your restaurant.

Related: Self-checkout can free up your staff to accomplish more in other areas of your store

How to manage your staff as they take on more responsibility

Your employees have likely been going above and beyond to help you keep your restaurant going, wearing many new hats to adjust to things like putting social distancing plans in place as you go as contactless as possible. And they’re placing their safety in your hands by coming to work every day. But there are steps you can take, measures you can put in place and tools you can use to make your restaurant operations as safe as possible for your staff (and your customers)—like using the CDC guidelines for restaurants and bar operators.

Beyond safety concerns, here are some additional staff management suggestions:

  • Have a clear policy for last minute sick calls and no shows. To make sure you’re staffed for peak hours, decide how you’re going to handle employees calling in sick at the last minute and for those who don’t show up at all.
  • Determine how to help your kitchen staff keep up with online orders. Training servers and cashiers to handle kitchen duties, like washing dishes, packaging food and drink can help you efficiently fill a surge of online orders.
  • Get them up to speed on all the ways orders are coming in. Make sure every member of your staff understands the ins and outs of each ordering method—curbside, take-out, delivery and changes to dine-in services.
  • Implement all the pandemic-related safety measures. Put a plan in place to stick to all the local, state and national guidelines to properly sanitize your facility. And make sure your staff  understands and are following the rules as well, including washing their hands, wearing gloves and masks and sanitizing. 

Give your restaurant the technology muscles to do some heavy lifting

Many restaurants have been adopting new technologies during the pandemic  to offer more off-premise services to their customers. And these innovations that accept mobile payments and give your customers ways to digitally view your menu and place orders also helps your staff handle surging online orders. And when it’s easier for your staff to fill orders, they can concentrate on performing other business tasks.

A point-of-sale (POS) system that delivers ease, efficiency and accuracy is no small thing as you and your staff work to meet demands for contactless ordering and paying—if your POS system couldn’t accept contactless payments before, it should now. Taking digital payments is also a built-in way to save on staffing while enabling your employees to do more to support your restaurant and provide an exceptional customer experience. 

About that “little thing” called customer service, restaurant owners and operators can also rely on technology to adopt a platform that delivers a seamless ordering process across every channel. And the reason why that’s important is quite simple: you need a unified customer service experience. Beyond fostering your loyalty program, it’s another way to increase devoted customers during a challenging time. See how NCR VOYIX’s POS platform can help you run everything in your restaurant.

And, to reduce the complexity on your operations and the burden on your staff, consider investing in technology that automatically staggers or throttles incoming online orders during peak times. That way you can automatically let customers know what time they can pick-up their orders. And this staggering of pick-up times helps avoid large groups of people gathering in your restaurant—in some states that can mean avoiding fines and other legal repercussions. Plus, it’s an easy way to prioritize the orders for dine-in guests and allows you to better manage staff levels as you’re limiting the number of online orders being received at any given time.

Happy employees lead to happy guests

It might sound simple, but it’s true: happy employees help create happy guests. With the increased volume of online ordering, there just aren’t as many face-to-face interactions anymore. In fact, there may only be a few seconds of staff and guest interactions which means that there’s only a small window to make in person great brand impressions. So, create a happy staff by implementing changes that makes their roles safer and less stressful now and into the future.

So, you branched out in ways you hadn’t imagined

Maybe you started 2020 with just enough online orders to compliment your dine-in service. But you likely didn’t expect the increased online volume the pandemic brought with it. Not that online orders are a bad thing, in many cases it’s just the opposite, but that doesn’t mean adjusting to the new volume hasn’t been challenging.

Hopefully, when you make changes to your staff, train and increase their efficiency while managing them in ways that support your efforts (and theirs) you can keep up with it all. And you can increase the ease of doing that with innovative technology that helps run your business end-to-end—even during a pandemic. No one knows exactly what the future will bring, but it’s clear that some of the recent changes in the restaurant industry are here to stay. And giving your staff the support they need to do their jobs safely and increase their satisfaction will always remain a top priority.

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