Table-service or tablets; what is the future role of staff in hospitality?


July 7, 2017

As household budgets get squeezed, customers are choosing to spend more on restaurants and hotels. Historically, staff have an essential role in the experience but a demand for speed and value is creating opportunities for automation in the delivery of food and drink. Anna Ritchie takes a look at what this means for the hospitality sector.

Earlier this year, the ONS published its review of family spending in the UK. Surprisingly, whilst average weekly household spending remained unchanged, UK households spent more than £45 a week on restaurants and hotels for the first time in 5 years. Despite lower consumer confidence and pressure on household budgets, eating out is becoming a way of life in the UK, which is great news for the sector.

Restaurants are rapidly adopting automation

Sushi restaurants have long been semi-automated with the rotating conveyer belt of choices but this was the only example. The trend towards restaurant automation is growing. At a recent client dinner, a client shared her story of a recent visit to the US where she noticed a restaurant with an iPad on every table at the airport. The idea was that you chose and ordered your meal without the need for any interaction with waiting staff. It was only when your meal arrived that you had a chance to engage with a staff member. In Eatsa, a San Francisco-based restaurant, diners now build their meals on touch screens and pick them up from windows. Automation is also increasing in the UK, earlier this year Weatherspoon’s rolled out its app across 900 outlets in the UK and Ireland after proving a hit with customers. Customers no longer need to queue at the bar but can order on the app to have drinks delivered directly to their table.  This is one way of dealing with rising costs, a consumer demand for speed and difficulty in retaining staff; but what impact does it have on the customer experience?

Staff are a fundamental part of the hospitality experience

We know from our Voice of the Customer programmes that staff form an integral part of the end-to-end casual dining experience. From arriving at a restaurant to paying the bill, on-site staff are involved in almost every part of the eating-out journey.

Alongside the food itself, we know that staff are a key driver of positive experiences, with 86% agreeing that good service is very or extremely important when they eat out. Our own research often reveals that people rate good service higher than great food. In keeping with what we know from other sectors, customers are willing to forgive an average food experience if the service they receive is great.

Great service is most commonly about being friendly and welcoming. However, it is also about being attentive and sensitive to the needs of the diner – not every person wants their wineglass regularly refilled or asked more than once if they are happy with their meal. Cultural norms play a role here, for example in the USA diners expect to be asked by staff if they are satisfied with their meal with a frequency which Europeans would find intrusive.  In a world where consumer expectations are constantly changing and demands are getting greater all the time, great service is no longer just about delivering with a smile. Our work in the industry has revealed that customers increasingly want staff to be knowledgeable about the food and drink on offer. 92.8% of UK diners agree that it is important that staff are knowledgeable and 58% always want to know where their food is from and what it contains. Staff in restaurants are increasingly becoming ‘food sommeliers’.

Happy staff make happy customers

The challenge for restaurateurs is how do you ensure each and every one of your staff members delivers a fantastic service to all your customers?

Our work in the industry has shown that happy staff provide better service to customers. In fact, 94.8% agree that happy staff provide better service to customers. It’s therefore key for the industry that customers perceive that staff enjoy their jobs. A continuous churn of staff means a continuous stream of training and mentoring and a continuously added cost to your business. Instead, it’s key to invest in training and to keep staff happy.

Great service isn’t just a smile. Staff need to be knowledgeable and experts in your business which mean that experienced staff are a real asset.

Creating a happy workforce

It’s why it’s especially important in hospitality that we consider the staff experience alongside the customer experience. The sum of both parts is greater and more valuable to the business than the whole. Measuring staff feedback is quick, simple and cost-effective – and can come in many shapes and sizes depending on business scales and need.

Take a look at our Voice of the Employee Solutions for more details or schedule a demo with one of our experts.