Digitization of workplaces may be the future of foodservice, and the benefits are manifold
By Tom Nightingale
One thing that 2020 seems to be proving is that digitization is the future.
The raft of closures and slimmer margins seen by businesses that have survived the annus horribilis of 2020 have had dire consequences for many. None are immune to the effects, from the mom-and-pop café on the corner to the huge multinational chains.
In reality, shifting from traditional methods to a digital workplace hub is a trend that pre-dated the onset of COVID-19 back in spring. But the pandemic shrunk the margin of error. A variety of digitization solutions and apps pre-dated the pandemic but the need for instant centralized communication has become more vital. Shifts have become more erratic and unpredictable, health and safety measures are transmogrifying consistently, and the goalposts are moving at a rate with which it’s hard to keep up.
Creating a digital hive
One of those apps is Beekeeper, rated by Microsoft’s AppSource as the No. 1 employee app for workplace collaboration between dispersed teams. The company operates in several industries including manufacturing, construction, and retail. It also has a significant presence in hospitality and foodservice, working throughout North America and Europe. On this side of the Atlantic, it works with hotels like Fairmont and large foodservice chains including Tim Hortons.
Andrada Paraschiv, Beekeeper’s Head of Hospitality, explains to RestoBiz that the company is primarily a communication tool. But it is set up to offer a “one-stop-shop” for businesses in terms of employee management. “You could call it a marketplace,” she says.
Ultimately, the aim is to ensure workers are empowered to excel in their jobs while also kept in the loop and engaged with everything happening at their company. Paraschiv compares it to a combination of Facebook and WhatsApp, albeit aimed at the digitization of professional solutions rather than general social networking. “It’s really two-way communication, you can chat one-on-one or in groups, you could have the whole restaurant on a chat,” she explains.
A core principle of Beekeeper and other similar solutions is optimizing workflow. “We also have a bunch of other features that are needed for an enterprise,” Paraschiv adds. “It could be documents, protocols, store menus, cleaning procedures, checklists, anything like that.” She cites the example of a restaurant being closed down for the night by the late-shift team. With hives like Beekeeper, a digital checklist can be created and accessed by anyone who needs it at any time.
It also facilitates more immediate management of shift schedules, surveys, and training, among many facets. With COVID-19, the already fluid restaurant industry is seeing regulations change even more quickly. These also vary from region to region and city to city. Sometimes, those changes happen almost overnight. Being able to train employees efficiently in a variety of ways – documents, videos, campaigns – in one central hub is a huge benefit.
“For restaurants, with information changing so quickly, in many places it’s changed from one meeting per week to update calls two times per day,” Paraschiv adds. “That’s just not workable in some cases and can end up making things worse on the communication side.” With these solutions, information is sent to every relevant employee The administrator can then track virtually who hasn’t seen it and follow up with them directly. “It enables you to report issues on the spot and solve them faster. It’s a simple method.” While Beekeeper’s focus is employee-only, it can also integrate with other applications – for example, to include shortcuts to an operation’s CRM within their app-hosted hub.
Another key to Beekeeper’s system is that it is set up to facilitate two-way communication. Turnover is typically large in the foodservice and hospitality industry. So, too, can be mental health struggles. Though it’s an issue not traditionally discussed on a wide level, the spotlight is burning more brightly during the pandemic. Closures, layoffs, and shift reductions are all taking their toll on workers. A Toronto non-profit has recently launched a mental health support system for foodservice and hospitality workers after their research highlighted the silent battle.
Solutions like these can help, if operated in the right manner. Paraschiv notes that some of Beekeeper’s customers have great working cultures and use the app to reinforce that. However, others may have outdated policies or approaches, either at an operational level or on the HR and support systems side.
“A key is that it’s two-way,” she says. “Everyone can feel they have a voice. These days, a lot of people working in restaurants are pretty young, millennials or even Gen Z, almost born with a phone in their hand. They’re used to being able to express themselves immediately and publicly, sharing their goals and their challenges. So this is something that can resonate really well in this industry.”
Naturally, part of the idea is opening up a better line of communication, making tough conversations easier and more accessible for both employees and employers. The process can be formal or informal, but these kinds of solutions allow grassroots messaging to come through and reach corporate offices.
Digitization has a safety role in the COVID-19 climate, too. Many restaurants are keeping a virtual rather than physical logbook of patrons for contract tracing purposes. Keeping track on the employee side is also vital. Paraschiv notes that some Beekeeper customers have been utilizing a digital form that workers can fill out to report illness more accurately and appropriately.
For Beekeeper, whose hospitality focus has largely centred around hotels, the focus is shifting to foodservice. Paraschiv, who previously worked for Fairmont, now a client of Beekeeper, says the company has seen a marked spike in demand within food and beverage with the increased need for quick communication and digital operations. Spurred on by COVID-19, she notes those discussions with restaurants are already going on all across North America.
Paraschiv notes some customers who began using the app because they were doing their annual employee survey and saw room for improvement in communication or training. After one year, she says, they saw an increase of about 20 to 25 per cent on that side of their operations.
“We have general managers who say they’re being saved several hours a week just due to the automation side of things, too. That adds up to a huge amount of time over the course of a year,” she adds. Another customer who has several brands also indicated that each of those brands learned from the others’ best practices thanks to Beekeeper because of the centralization offered within.
The benefits of increased digitization are wide-ranging and COVID-19 has been the accelerant for the trend. Beekeeper is just one solution available, and uptake is increasing. 2020 has likely changed things, at least to some degree, on a permanent level. It’s time to get with the program.