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The Future of Front of House

By Elsa Klein

Front of House (FOH) staff include all the team members in a hospitality business that interact directly with your customers. These hosts/hostesses, servers, bartenders, managers, food runners, and bussers are the face of your brand and your service. And every good restaurant business knows it!

Their demeanor, their stress levels, and their overall sense of confidence and happiness all significantly affect the customer experience. If you have a well-functioning system, if your staff are supported and feeling calm, your customers are going to notice – and this is going to drive more positive reviews, strong brand perceptions, and more repeat visits.

Across the industry, there is mounting pressure to offer better, faster, more efficient service to your customers. However, it is important to realize that while your FOH staff are at the frontline of your service, the true pressure on customer experience shouldn’t sit on their shoulders, as this can lead to stressed-out staff, high turnover, and poorer customer experiences. To effectively improve your operations and your work environments, look instead at offering your FOH staff better systems and more comprehensive digital tools to help them perform at a higher standard with ease.

Today we’re digging into the ways that FOH operations are changing, why it’s important to find better solutions for your team, and what technology can do to help both staff and businesses.

What Challenges Do Restaurants Face with Their Front of House Operations?

In the wake of massive labor shortages, staff retention is essential to keeping your business operating at maximum capacity and delivering great service to your guests. At the same time, with the pressure on to increase wages, businesses must also be strategic about how staff time is being used and whether this is actively contributing to better customer experiences and sales.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common causes of stress, inefficiency, and poor service and determine what factors contribute to those challenges.

Problems with ordering

Inefficient or slow technology leads to confusion and wasted time for FOH staff. Orders can get piled up, forgotten, incorrectly organized, or recorded. Not only does this mean a frustrating experience for customers, but it also means relying on your managers to constantly fix mistakes and handle customer complaints.

Lack of training for staff

Pushing new staff into the deep end without proper support will only lead to worse customer service and higher employee turnover. To meet the quality demands of customers and retain happier staff, it’s important to leverage efficient strategies and technologies to help with training and operational support.

John Laporte, TASK’s US President, encourages businesses to make sure that staff also have the chance to offer feedback throughout your digital transformation process. “Don’t ever make huge changes for your staff and customers without considering the impact. You have to plug yourself into the people who are working day to day and hear the little pieces of customer feedback, who understand the flow of customer service. Listen to that feedback every step of the way.”

Communicating across multiple channels

The omnichannel guest experience means brands are constantly interacting with guests across several touchpoints – third-party apps, online ordering platforms, phone, text message, email, and drive-thru. Relying on managers to keep track of all of these simply isn’t a solution. Order pickup processes and customer communication channels need to be standardized with a digital solution.

Problems with POS integration

When you don’t have a single source of truth for your orders, payments, and interactions, your overall service will be riddled with inefficiencies and inaccurate information. Ultimately, this means slower service and lost opportunities to engage with and develop relationships with your guests.

No strategy to manage waiting customers

How does your operation currently manage waitlists and reservations? What about your pick-up orders and deliveries? Although most hospitality brands now cater to in-store, pick-up, and delivery customers all at once, very few have a strategic system for prioritizing and managing their multi-channel service. Without the guidance of a singular technology system to help systematize this, FOH staff are left chasing customer queries, locating lost orders, and making poor split-second decisions.

What is Technology Doing to Help Streamline Front of House?

The good news is that this myriad of challenges and inefficiencies for FOH staff all point to the same solution – an integrated technology stack.

Rather than approaching each individual challenge as an isolated problem, an end-to-end software solution takes on the entire FOH process as one cohesive, holistic concept. The idea is to facilitate a single source of truth that seamlessly connects every touchpoint, providing a unified way to manage operations, drive efficiency, and reduce errors.

Trevor Dee, TASK’s US Vice President of Business Development, explains, “The biggest thing that people are missing today is truly integrated systems or all-in-one systems. In the North American market, we often want to go out and find a lot of different solutions to meet each operational need. But the problem there is that it can be extremely expensive to support all of those tools at the same time and it can be very cumbersome to connect them all. Eventually, what happens is they have to go back and figure out how to simplify and consolidate their technology. And that’s where we see companies crying out for something that offers the best tools, but all in one place.”

From integrating online and in-store operations to enabling comprehensive reporting and analytics, all-in-one technology solutions are designed to streamline every piece of your operation. The result is a system that helps reduce the pressure on your FOH staff, helping them by automatically making decisions about order priority, table seating, customer questions, and so much more.

This comprehensive solution would typically include:

  • An intuitive in-store POS system that works interactively with your in-store sales team and your guests and it should incorporate your brand’s guest journey. Available peripherals should include tablets, Kiosks, and mobility options for food trucks and other mobile operations. (BTW, these should all continue to function without internet or cloud databases)
  •  Equally powerful Kitchen Management System that communicates clearly and timely to your kitchen. It should also be intuitive with business rules that allow you to achieve company speed of service standards, protecting in-store service and still optimizing any delivery or off-prem production needs.
  • An e-commerce platform that can connect directly to DSPs (Door Dash, Uber Eats, etc). It should be a true extension of your in-store platform and be fully connected at all levels, including pricing, product availability, product delivery times, and even the guest journey itself.
  • An easy-to-use mobile app that is equally tied to the in-store, KMS, and Ecommerce systems. The mobile app is where you start your guest’s loyalty journey. It is where you connect to your guest so it will have all the key elements of your brand and culture. It is where to learn how far to push the brand with new products and services, getting direct feedback from your most loyal guests. It is also about convenience for your guest, making accessing your brand easy and very personalized. 
  • To tie all of this together, a single end-to-end enterprise transaction management platform not only captures all transactions regardless of their origin, but utilizes the same database and AI platform for all sales channels. This gives your guest a cohesive unified brand experience regardless of which channel they use.

“The last thing you want,” says Trevor, “is for the person at the front counter to have the entire weight of your operation sitting on their shoulders. The solution that we offer at TASK puts together every piece of your business into one usable platform. In practice, this means that your front counter staff can know with the touch of a button what ingredients or allergens are in each menu item. They can easily track orders or answer questions about the timing of a particular order. They can save time by using a table reservation system rather than accidentally overbooking. The benefits go on and on, for both your customers and your team members.”

On the backend, automation software is also helping assist with staff scheduling and labor tracking by combining historical ordering metrics and predictive sales data with current staff availability. Not only does this help managers ensure that they have the right number of staff working to suit the level of business, but it also means less management time and energy is spent on planning.

The Future of Front of House – Innovations to Increase the Chances of Success

More than just table-booking tools and order management technology, the future of FOH will bring advanced capabilities to help make every point of the customer experience even more flawless and easy to manage.

Some tools are already available – such as location technology to help streamline the pickup or reservation process or use real-time customer data to make strategic ordering suggestions. These will begin to play a bigger role in the customer experience, helping optimize every customer interaction and drive higher satisfaction rates.

Other capabilities on the horizon will take personalization and efficiency to the next level. John explains, “High-definition video, AI voice recognition, and NLP (Natural Language Processing) to assist in ordering will be part of the next generation of hospitality technology. Technology companies are already selling systems that can understand your voice order and translate that directly into the system (a-la-Alexa). Companies may want to mix this up by having the voice of or order taker be your favourite celebrity! (They would know this because you have shared this information with them). Or a self-order kiosk that could recognize you and greet you by name. The kiosk could also understand facial expressions and understand you don’t like something or are having issues figuring something out, and then dynamically adjust to something more suitable. These are just examples of areas that we could explore, that could offer guests a unique, fun experience and give businesses a point of difference.”

The key, as John says, is to ensure that any new technology you bring into your brand ultimately drives a better customer experience. “Efficiency for your staff almost always means efficiency for your customer. But as you develop and transform your digital system, you need to be in a position where you can quickly recuperate any missteps. If you are constantly getting samples, testing, making small changes, and really listening to your customers, you will know immediately when you’ve started going in the wrong direction.”

For FOH staff, an end-to-end integrated software solution means having full-operational support to perform their roles with less stress and more efficiency. From managing schedules to answering customer questions to prioritizing orders, an all-in-one solution offers easier answers and simpler processes. By offering your team these capabilities, not only will your business see better customer service and satisfaction, but it will also mean happier, better-supported staff.