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It’s no surprise that the restaurant industry is one of the UK’s most significant employers, with around 988,000 people working in the area.
But staff turnover is high. According to the YouGov report, Retaining Britain’s Hospitality Workers, the sector has a retention rate of just 70%. For every 100 people hired, 70 will have quit within a year.
The top three reasons stated in the YouGov report for leaving the sector were: unsociable working hours (69%), low pay and benefits (63%) and a lack of career prospects (35%).
It would be frivolous to suggest that conversational AI will entirely remove these issues from the industry, but when we focus in on reservations or bookings, AI may well be the answer.
One large UK restaurant chain has confided in PolyAI that they are missing 30% of customer reservation calls due to growing demand and customers calling up after opening hours.
This particular chain is already paying an external contact centre to handle bookings. Those handling reservation queries within individual sites will be hit harder, with front-of-house staff unable to keep up with call volume during peak times.
Virtual agents are able to handle innumerable calls simultaneously, which will allow restaurants to handle large volumes of calls, freeing up staff to focus on front-of-house.
This also means that virtual agents can handle demand at unsociable hours, when human agents are less likely to want to work.
Humans will still be an important part of the conversation, dealing with more complex and empathy-requiring queries.
Questions that require site-specific answers may be best handled by staff within the restaurant itself. In this case, AI agents can be programmed to route calls in which a customer asks a specific question directly to the specific restaurant.
This is especially useful in cases where customers need to have confidence that certain requirements – dietary or accessibility for example – will be met, or where different sites offer different menus or terms.
In a competitive landscape, missing 30% of calls means losing a huge proportion of potential bookings. Happier employees with more freedom to perform their roles to the best of their abilities will be more easily retained, saving on hiring and training costs.
As the AI will handle dull, monotonous tasks, front-of-house staff will be able to focus on taking care of the customers who are presently in the restaurant.
This will take pressure off front-of-house staff, giving them the space and focus to build relationships with customers in person.
This is also true of those restaurant chains using external contact centers to handle bookings and queries.
According to the ContactBabel 2017 report, US contact centers typically pay out anywhere between $750 and $3,500 to hire a new agent. Freeing up contact center agents to focus on more rewarding conversations, and training them to work with AI technology will enrich their work and provide opportunities to progress within a rapidly changing market.
If you’re considering using conversational AI to handle bookings and reservations, you can download our free ebook here.