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Restaurant Automation: How To Succeed With It In Your Business

By Sebastien Sepierre|Nov 8, 2023|3:37 pm GMT

Automating a business – any business – is all about removing humans from a process. In the context of a restaurant, that means employing software to streamline lots of the mundane, everyday tasks that take up an inordinate amount of employees’ time.

As such, restaurant automation has the potential to enhance the average team member’s day, removing time intensive or boring activities and increasing engagement and productivity in the process.

What is restaurant automation?

Restaurant automation takes many forms. It could be as simple as allowing customers to reserve a table online without calling the restaurant, or as futuristic as a robotic server. Although the latter – still being something of a novelty – falls outside of the scope of this article.

Restaurant owners are most likely to be familiar with applications of restaurant automation like online ordering, self-ordering kiosks, digital menus, scheduling, or mobile point of sale (POS) software. These innovations are already being leveraged by restaurants across the industry to reduce the pressure caused by labour shortages in the food industry, help boost productivity, and reduce labour costs.

For example, if restaurants can automatically forecast demand then they can reduce inventory waste and ensure staffing levels are high enough to deliver an exceptional service without having too many staff scheduled; a common cause of unnecessarily high operational costs.

Similarly, automating common restaurant operations – such as providing digital tools that allow customers to self-serve – can reduce the number of front-of-house staff needed to cover shifts.

What are the benefits of restaurant automation?

Automation more generally has achieved something of a mixed reputation over the last few years, not helped by the suspicion that it’ll eventually lead to a loss of jobs. Restaurant automation is no different, and it’s important to bear this in mind when embarking on any type of automation journey, project, or new technology.

Digital transformation requires staff at every level of the business to commit to it to be a success, which means everyone needs to understand the benefits and be excited about the potential impact on their daily work.

Restaurant automation provides an opportunity to both increase customer satisfaction and improve the employee experience. And the benefits are far reaching, particularly for a workforce that feels overworked.

Automating tasks like the ordering process, for example, reduces customer wait times and increases accuracy. This efficiency is particularly helpful during peak times, since it minimises customer frustration and ensures a smooth dining experience.

It also gives serving staff more time for high-value, rewarding tasks like attending to guests, upselling, and training team members – while limiting negative interactions caused by mistakes like inaccurate orders.

Improved efficiency and accuracy might be two big ticks for front-of-house staff and customers, but the benefits of restaurant automation aren’t limited to these interactions. Back-of-house teams stand to benefit just as much from automating daily activities, whether that’s automating kitchen cleaning jobs or inventory management.

Better customer service

The improved efficiency and accuracy provided by restaurant automation has obvious benefits for front-of-house staff and customers. Not only can it reduce waiting times and frustration, it also enables restaurant providers and operators to personalise the customer experience.

For example, automating ordering enables customers to select dietary preferences, view allergy information, stipulate portion sizes or add and remove ingredients quickly and easily.

Self service ordering systems and mobile apps that include secure payment options are another way to increase convenience for customers with automation technology and means they don’t need to go to a specific payment point or wait for a server to become available.

Connecting point of sale (POS) data to loyalty programs and reward programs give operators an additional opportunity to collect information on each customer that can be utilised to offer personalised deals and encourage loyalty.

For staff, efficiency is the core benefit of restaurant automation when it comes to improving customer service. Automating table management allows for smart reservations and table-tracking, which can reduce waiting times and make it easier for staff to seat customers quickly.

Digitising a lot of the processes around ordering also makes it easy for customers to keep track of the status of their order with mobile apps and automated messages, reducing frustration during periods when the kitchen staff is busy and negating the need for waiting staff to manage expectations and manually check order statuses.

Reduced costs

Reducing costs is a common goal for restaurant automation projects and the potential to optimise resources, preserve margins and enhance efficiency is a key driver for many restaurant owners.

The elimination of manual, repetitive tasks is one of the most common applications for restaurant technology. These systems can handle routine activities like order taking, payment processing and data entry, freeing up staff to focus on more important tasks.

For back-of-house teams, restaurant automation can help control food costs by minimising wastage. Inventory management systems automate the ordering and purchasing process, integrating with forecasting software to moderate orders based on likely demand, reducing waste while ensuring the availability of menu items.

Automate Your Ordering and Purchasing Processes

Save time, control costs, and ensure quality by automating your ordering and purchasing processes within an app.

Production and prep tools can also track ingredient usage and alert to low stock levels and expiration dates, reducing over-purchasing and food waste as well as automating cooking processes to optimise food prep, ensuring consistent quality and reducing labour costs.

Staff scheduling represents a huge administrative burden for restaurant managers and is a major opportunity for labour saving. Automation enables the production of complicated schedules that account for hours worked and staff availability, as well as likely demand. This promotes work-life balance for staff and optimises labour costs by aligning staffing levels with peak hours.

Increased flexibility

Opportunities for customisation and enhanced flexibility are two of the most notable benefits of restaurant automation for customers, staff and managers.

Digital menus connected to QR codes are a simple automation that have a huge impact, since they can be adjusted to account for seasonal or daily changes. This is particularly powerful when coupled with real-time inventory management, which provides up-to-date visibility on inventory levels and means restaurant managers can add pictures or offers to menus to promote items that aren’t selling quickly, or remove items that are unavailable without disappointing customers.

Pricing is another area where restaurant automation facilitates flexibility, supporting dynamic pricing strategies and targeted promotions. These allow operators to adjust prices based on factors such as demand, competitor benchmarking, time-of-day or customer feedback to maximise revenue.

Flexible scheduling is of increasing importance to restaurant owners given the current labour shortage. It has a profound impact on retention and staff satisfaction since a lack of flexibility is correlated with staff burnout. In a recent study of non-office workers, 53% of those who didn’t have sufficient flexibility said they were burned out, compared to 37% for workers that felt they had enough flexibility.

Restaurant automation also allows for improved customer engagement and marketing. Automating promotions, email and social media campaigns, for example, can help to keep customers engaged, cultivate loyalty and drive repeat business.

More employee engagement

Combining restaurant automation with a thoughtful employee engagement strategy creates a more fulfilling and motivating workplace for staff. This gives employees the opportunity to focus on meaningful tasks, learn new skills, and contribute to a restaurant’s success, maximising engagement and job satisfaction in the process.

Reducing the number of manual, repetitive tasks teams have to perform is the obvious employee benefit of automation. It frees staff up to concentrate on more creative or valuable tasks and enhances their enjoyment of their roles.

Similarly, the chance to learn the new skills associated with automated restaurant technology trends can keep employees engaged, enhancing their job security and career prospects within the restaurant business.

Improved work-life balance is another key benefit of restaurant automation for staff. Automated scheduling tools that include demand forecasts reduce incidences of understaffing, ensure individuals have enough down time between shifts and that scheduling can accommodate everyone’s time off requests.

Automation can also improve internal communications within the business between management and staff. Feedback channels give employees the opportunity to voice concerns and suggest improvements, helping them to feel valued and appreciated, while workforce management systems provide access to key information, such as policies and training materials.

Restaurant automation for improved efficiency – where to start?

The aim of a restaurant automation system is to improve efficiency, and automation technologies can deliver this at every stage of operations. This makes identifying where to start with an automation project problematic, particularly for those with little experience of restaurant automation.

Restaurant owners should take the time to consider:

  1. Pain points and objectives: Identifying areas where there are currently inefficiencies, such as excessive wastage or long customer wait times, highlights the priorities for automation. If operators understand the objectives, they can ensure that projects remain on track and deliver meaningful efficiencies and quantifiable results.
  2. Budgeting: Budgets for automation should account for initial setup costs, staff training, and maintenance expenses.
  3. Priorisation: This is where a thorough understanding of pain points comes into play. By mapping out the areas of the business that are currently running inefficiently, restaurant owners can establish their priorities for optimisation and which solutions to implement first.
    Limiting initial projects to areas that will provide the quickest and most significant result decreases the time to recover costs and increases staff positivity towards automation projects.
  4. Staff buy-in: Automation tools only work if employees are willing to embrace them. Operators need to provide staff with training and clearly communicate the benefits of new tools in terms of reduced workload and improved job satisfaction. Feedback mechanisms that encourage staff to share their thoughts on tools can also help to foster positivity and provide useful insight for refining automations.
  5. Testing and quality assurance: Limiting automation projects initially to a few areas of the business reduces risk and provides opportunities to test and refine issues before rolling them out more widely.
  6. Scalability: Any automation plan should have contingencies that enable it to scale as the business grows, restaurant owners should be prepared to adapt and upgrade automation systems to remain competitive and efficient.
  7. User experience: Innovating with the customer in mind maximises the utility and benefits of any restaurant automation project. Automation should enhance the dining experience, whether that’s the result of quicker service, improved menu availability or happier staff.

​​Restaurant automation tools to help your restaurant

Technology plays an increasingly pivotal role in enhancing operational efficiency, elevating customer experiences and driving profitability. From streamlining kitchen operations to harnessing the power of data analytics, restaurant automation tools can simplify daily tasks, improve customer experience and give restaurants a competitive advantage.

Employee scheduling

Automating employee scheduling offers many benefits, improving both operational efficiency and employee satisfaction.

Juggling a large workforce with varied availability and competing preferences is the most tricky aspect of employee scheduling. Automating scheduling tools include rules and guardrails around who can be scheduled where, these systems can find a solution that meets everyone’s needs far quicker and more easily than a manager scheduling manually would be able to.

Automating scheduling also reduces the risk of errors, such as double-booked or understaffed shifts, helping to create a fair and balanced allocation of shifts in the process.

Introducing Intelligent Scheduling from Fourth. Intelligent Scheduling is your new superpower. Coming soon.

Restaurant automation around shift scheduling is particularly helpful for meeting legal requirements and regulations. Factors such as overtime, breaks and rest periods can be automatically incorporated into every schedule to ensure compliance, and the automation system can be easily updated if regulations change.

Task management

Automating tasks provides restaurant owners with an opportunity to optimise almost every aspect of their business, driving efficiencies and delivering significant advantages.

Restaurant automation centred on task management ensures that activities are assigned, tracked and completed consistently and within a given time period. These activities can range from inventory checks and food preparation to cleaning and maintenance schedules.

By enforcing task management software, operators can reduce the risk that certain jobs will be overlooked. These systems encourage accountability, since assignments are transparent and managers can monitor performance, as well as promoting collaboration and communication among teams.

Employees can access task lists, share updates and report issues instantly. This creates a better environment for teamwork and ensures issues are identified and resolved quickly.

Inventory management

Restaurant automation around inventory management delivers both cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency, giving restaurant owners the insight and resources to manage even the most volatile supply chain.

Automation technology provides a real-time overview of inventory, enabling procurement teams to make informed decisions based on an accurate overview of ingredients, supplies and menu items, helping to prevent over-ordering and stockouts.

Similarly, automated reorder points and alerts can streamline the replenishment process, triggering automatic purchase orders when inventory levels reach a certain threshold. This reduces the burden of manual ordering and ensures essential items are always in stock.

Real-time data is increasingly important in managing the supplier relationship as well. A proactive approach to inventory management that includes accurate, reliable insight into stocking levels means restaurants are on the front foot in these relationships, enabling them to negotiate better terms, improve communication and cultivate long-term, valuable partnerships.

Restaurant Inventory Management

Drive profitability and optimise operations by streamlining your entire inventory lifecycle for seamless and efficient performance.

Point Of Sale (POS)

With restaurant automation at point of sale (POS), operators can streamline order processing, optimise sales tracking and gain valuable insights into operations across all aspects of their business.

POS automation technology increases speed and accuracy when taking orders and processing payments. Orders are entered quickly and accurately, minimising errors in both front-of-house and back-of-house operations. This enhances the guest experience by reducing waiting times, as well as providing more choice around payment methods and speeding up the checkout process.

But the main benefit of POS systems is the opportunity they afford for data collection. POS tools provide real-time data on sales, inventory levels, and customer preferences. These insights can then be leveraged throughout the business, optimising menus or influencing marketing campaigns. It also simplifies inventory management, allowing restaurants to track ingredient usage, monitor stock levels, and minimise waste in real-time.

Reservation software

The booking process is a relatively easy target for restaurant automation, it adds convenience for customers and gives staff support in optimising table management. This restaurant automation technology is also incredibly useful for collecting additional customer data that restaurants might otherwise not have access to, such as trends around no-shows or late cancellations.

Managing table bookings is the obvious advantage of reservation software. Customers can make, modify and cancel reservations around the clock, which reduces the workload on staff and helps to mitigate incidences of no-shows or overbooking. This process improves the customer experience and ensures that tables are always allocated efficiently, reducing wait times and maximising revenue.

The value of the data generated by these systems cannot be downplayed, they provide a wealth of information on reservation trends, customer behaviour and preferences. This in turn can be fed into other automation systems, such as forecasts and staff scheduling, to ensure sufficient inventory and staffing levels.

For restaurants that lack loyalty programmes or POS systems that can capture customer data, reservation software also provides a valuable breakdown of customer profiles that can help to inform marketing activities and promotional strategies.

Business intelligence

Restaurant automation is a digitalisation process that not only utilises but creates huge volumes of data. Business intelligence (BI) and data analytics present a means by which to capture, analyse and capitalise on this data, reducing the need for time-consuming, manual processes around data collection and analysis.

Fourth’s business intelligence solutions unite data from across an entire organisation, providing a full overview of every aspect of the business. This enables the identification of trends and patterns that might have previously gone unnoticed, giving restaurant owners and managers a wealth of insight on which to base strategic decisions. Visualisation tools make this data easily accessible, ensure insights aren’t missed, and that staff at all levels can confidently read outputs and spot trends.

AI forecasting

Artificial intelligence (AI) has huge utility for the restaurant sector. Demand over the last three years has been incredibly volatile, and many operators have struggled to understand it, leading to increased costs and inefficiencies as expected demand and actual demand drift further and further apart.

By leveraging AI forecasts, restaurants can predict customer demand, inventory needs, and staffing requirements with unprecedented accuracy. This automation technology takes into consideration historical data, such as sales and seasonal trends, and external factors like local events and weather conditions to provide precise predictions about customer traffic and preferences.

These insights are particularly valuable when it comes to inventory management and staff scheduling. By accurately predicting demand, restaurants can ensure that they have the right ingredients in stock without overstocking or running out of critical items. This reduces food waste, cuts costs, and improves overall operational efficiency.

AI Forecasting

Accurately predicting demand is critical to the success of any operation. AI Forecasting from Fourth means no more guesswork for hospitality – from scheduling to supply chain and procurement to prep and production.

AI forecasts for staff scheduling work in a similar way, helping restaurant managers to anticipate peak hours and ensure that shifts are adequately staffed, without overstaffing during slower periods.


Restaurant automation gives operators and management teams the tools they need to streamline processes, reduce errors, enhance communication and optimise the experience of both guests and staff. This creates a more enjoyable experience for customers, while ensuring operational efficiency and, ultimately, commercial success.

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