Coming out of the COVID pandemic, Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs) have faced an Everest-sized mountain of challenges. First and foremost is the need to win back customers whose shopping and dining habits have been reshaped by two years of closures, restrictions and ongoing safety concerns. Close behind is an ongoing labor shortage that has short-staffed restaurant operators struggling to fill positions in an industry that, according to the National Restaurant Association, is still down 750,000 jobs. Now, unprecedented levels of inflation can be added to the list of challenges.
The impacts are showing up in key metrics: costs continue to rise in virtually every area of operations, customers are becoming more price sensitive as they feel the pinch of inflation and Yelp reviewers are three times more likely to complain about short staffing than they were a year ago.
These ongoing challenges have forced a lot of QSRs to take a hard look at their operations to identify where they can become more efficient and resilient. One of the key areas that many are looking at is inventory visibility, specifically using digital IDs and RFID technology to improve operational efficiencies, expiry management, traceability and other areas.
Industry leader Chipotle Mexican Grill recently announced a test of RFID technology at a Chicago distribution center and approximately 200 Chicago-area restaurants. This makes Chipotle one of the first major QSRs to leverage RFID to track ingredients from suppliers to restaurants. Participating restaurants are expected to save time on inventory management and stock rotation, reduce human errors and increase expiration date visibility while reducing food waste.
How big an impact can QSRs expect from RFID? The five benefits listed below illustrate how RFID investments can boost a QSR’s operational efficiency and improve bottom line results.
#1. Accelerate receiving.
Even under the best of conditions, labor-intensive receiving processes are a major drag on operations. And when those processes rely on manual workflows, the inevitable errors compound the problems: You spend a lot of time and effort getting supplies off the delivery truck, but you don’t necessarily have accurate inventory information that allows you to plan effectively.
RFID sensors automate much of the receiving process. Instead of manually scanning every case or item as it comes off the delivery truck, an RFID system can capture a complete batch of data at the pallet, case, or item level with a single hands-free scan. This is possible because RFID does not need line of sight to the individual tags or labels. Instead, radio signals transmit and capture detailed information from hundreds of tags in just seconds. The net result is faster receiving and accuracy levels on the order of 99%.
#2. Improve inventory management.
Manual processes also impact inventory management, consuming an outsized portion of workers’ time while often failing to deliver the accurate, detailed information that managers need to optimize operations.
By automating data capture, RFID technology has the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of time your staff spends on inventory. You’ll be able to replace tedious inventory management tasks with automated workflows that can even be gamified to deliver better employee experiences and potentially even impact retention.
RFID solutions can also provide the highly accurate and granular data that managers need to improve inventory decision-making. The improved data quality will show up in everything from more efficient product replenishment, better inventory rotation and improved expiry management to increased freshness and reduced food waste.
#3. Make daily operations more efficient.
It has always been critically important for QSRs to focus on the efficiency of operations, but this has become even more important amidst pandemic-era disruptions that have created the tightest labor market most managers have ever seen. In many cases, stores are operating with bare-minimum staffing. More than a few have had to cut operating hours simply because they don’t have the staff needed to open.
As noted above, RFID solutions have a direct impact on the labor associated with receiving and inventory, allowing QSRs to streamline those operations and focus more of their workers time on core operations. Additionally, RFID tools drive performance improvements in other areas of the business, too. For example, when RFID helps streamline inventory processes, it can free up associate time to perform other value-added tasks such as increased cleaning, ensuring HACCP compliance and creating time to focus on the customer experience.
#4. Reduce food waste.
By most estimates, restaurants see about 4-10% food waste in normal operations. This is significant because every bit of waste that can be eliminated has a positive impact on the bottom line. But it’s also important to customers who care about sustainability and food insecurity that plagues a significant segment of many communities. Many customers view this as a social responsibility issue and they’re more likely to make a connection with businesses that demonstrate a shared concern.
To tackle the food waste problem head-on, QSRs need easy visibility into detailed inventory data. RFID solutions powered by atma.io connected product cloud can help reduce food waste by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze inventory, identify anomalies and alert managers to inefficiencies. This includes alerts about the overdue movement of products at a pallet level or even individual items within a warehouse or storage shelves, enabling managers to improve handling of inventory that is close to perishing or nearing expiry.
#5. Improve food tracing and compliance.
Product recalls and food safety issues represent a major business risk to a company’s reputation and bottom line. A study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that a single foodborne illness outbreak at a fast food or fast-casual restaurant could cost as much as $2.1 million. Large-scale outbreaks have the potential to be far more damaging: recent cases have led to fines as high as $25 million and caused billion-dollar declines in stock valuations. So, it’s easy to understand why having a system that allows a business to address food safety and quality concerns quickly and efficiently is incredibly important.
One of the biggest benefits of RFID solutions is the ability to track products in detail through the entire supply chain. Leveraging RFID solutions powered by atma.io connected product cloud, you can assign unique/serialized IDs to track, store and manage the end-to-end journey of ingredients and supplies at the item-level. That way, if a product is recalled, you’ll have the detailed inventory data needed to remove it from stores quickly and accurately—often reducing recall response times from days or hours to only minutes.
The detailed tracking that can be achieved with RFID will become even more significant as FSMA Rule 204 goes into effect in January 2023, with full compliance required by 2025. Under Rule 204, the FDA has designated a list of foods that require additional record keeping and established requirements for tracking and storing key data elements. Businesses that are using RFID systems will find it easier to meet the track-and-trace objectives of Rule 204, since they’ll be using automated inventory processes rather than manual workflows.
Ready to learn more about RFID solutions for QSRs?
Avery Dennison offers a comprehensive suite of RFID solutions for QSRs, including Zebra printers and readers, to help you boost efficiency, lower costs and improve customer satisfaction. Contact Avery Dennison today to learn more.