The next frontier of workforce tech

Do innovations like biometrics have the potential to lessen labor pains?
Illustration by Harry Campbell

In today’s market, a nearly overwhelming amount of foodservice technology exists. FSDs could feasibly add technology to almost any area of their business, from ordering innovations to robotics. Whether they’re looking to tech to better manage workers or are considering “smart” back-of-house tools, operators are seeking fresh ways to lessen their labor challenges.

There’s been innovation in schedule-management software and training options that eliminate paper binders, but a lot of technology affecting the workforce is still in its earlier stages. Here, we explore three functional areas with the potential to impact how operators interact with the workforce.

On-demand support

When it comes to labor-management technology, successful solutions provide a tangible answer to recurring, headache-inducing issues. People management, in particular, can be difficult  to optimize and is often the first area in which dining operators are asking for help. 

Co-founders Will Pacio and Dave Lu launched Pared, an app that helps connect foodservice spots with workers, in San Francisco in 2016. Their initial goal was to solve for immediate, unexpected staff no-shows, but they found that operators were most often interested in the more regular staffing solution that Pared’s business model provided. 


Illustration by Harry Campbell

Sunil Chacko, assistant director of commodity and purchasing for the dining program at University of California, Berkeley, started using Pared in August 2018 primarily to help with staffing needs related to seasonal and event-based catering and concessions—shifts that the university’s permanent dining staff wasn’t available to cover. The university has contract agreements with several temporary staffing agencies, but Chacko notes that the ease of booking staff on Pared and the high rate of open shift fulfillment left him particularly impressed with the technology.

“Pared is more streamlined,” Chacko says. “Nobody else in our market that we knew of had that kind of a booking platform when we started working with them.”

Hospitality workers using the app to find gigs are categorized as independent contractors and are responsible for paying their own insurance fees. For noncommercial operators, the app’s fees start at $21.95 an hour per worker, which varies based on the type of business and geographic location.

On-demand staffing app Jitjatjo hires all of its own hospitality workers and runs on a slightly different pricing model for clients, starting at $21.50 per hour and charging more based on a shift worker’s experience level. It also incentivizes workers to arrive for assigned shifts on time and follow prescribed dress codes by offering an instant payment option after the gig is completed successfully.

“Staffing in its entirety is a challenge,” Jitjatjo co-founder Ron McCulloch says. “Introducing flexible staffing is one side of the coin, but also using technology to assist staff to sustain interest and incentive to do well is an extension too, for sure.”

For both services, there are separate business-facing and employee-facing apps, and both versions are free to download. Pared is currently up and running in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., with plans to expand to Boston and Philadelphia by the end of the year. Jitjatjo is available in New York City, New Jersey, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Instant payments

Equipping restaurant operators with the ability to pay employees between paychecks has become an increasingly popular answer for employers looking to boost worker satisfaction and retention.

One of the companies operating in this space, DailyPay, integrates with popular U.S. payroll providers to essentially function as a handheld ATM for foodservice employees. Staff members can download the DailyPay app free of charge and use it to monitor how much money they’ve earned as each shift is completed—and access any portion of that money at any time.

“Two years ago, this was cutting edge,” DailyPay CMO Jeanniey Mullen says. “Last year, it was hot. This year, the growth in our business has been incredible.” DailyPay has about 500,000 active users.

The revenue model hinges on the usage fees that DailyPay charges to either the employer or the employee, depending on how the operator prefers to set up the system. The company charges a $2.99 fee for instantly transferring funds to a bank account, and a $1.99 fee for next-day transfer. Those fees are either paid directly by the employee or covered by the employer.

Staffing in its entirety is a challenge. Introducing flexible staffing is one side of the coin, but also using technology to assist staff to sustain interest and incentive to do well is an extension too for sure —Ron McCulloch

DailyPay assumes the upfront payment risk in this system, Mullen says, so operators don’t have to worry about not being able to cover payroll if employees are cashing in their checks at any time.

Dining management company Metz Culinary Management spoke with multiple instant-payment companies before deciding to partner with DailyPay earlier this year. DailyPay’s vetted partnership with Metz’s payroll provider, ADP, and the team’s willingness to produce webinars, videos and printed materials to help explain the technology to Metz’s 5,500-person workforce played a large role in the company’s decision to work with DailyPay.

“We didn’t want to move forward with something that our employees didn’t feel comfortable with,” says Cheryl McCann, Metz’s vice president of human resources. Metz rolled out DailyPay systemwide in August 2019, and within one month, 18% of the company’s workforce, including salaried and hourly employees, have started to engage with the technology.

McCann would like to see Metz’s staff turnover rates decrease between 10% to 20% with DailyPay and is also hoping the tech will help with recruiting new employees. The instant-payment integration could make Metz more attractive to prospective hires who are looking to leverage technology in the workplace and want to get paid more frequently, similar to gig employment, McCann notes.

Broaching biometrics

Body measurement technology is still a highly experimental field in restaurant operations, but several companies are pushing for it to become a more regular part of the hospitality experience. Restaurant point-of-sale systems including Restaurant Manager and Aloha/NCR have offered biometric solutions in recent years to replace the current system of clocking in and out via an employee PIN or magnetic stripe card. 

Oracle-owned Micros released an updated fingerprint-scanning add-on to a new version of Micros’ POS hardware last year, promising quicker, more accurate fingerprint scans in an effort to increase user adoption. Implementing the fingerprint scanner costs about $200 for one unit, according to pricing information on Oracle’s website.

The future gets especially interesting around the potential for adjacent food-safety implementations. On that front, co-founders Christine Schindler and Dutch Waanders invented a wall-mounted hand scanner called PathSpot that uses light as a detection tool to identify the lingering presence of any potential foodborne illness-causing contamination after employees have washed their hands and are returning to work. 

Each employee has to complete a 30-second training on the scanner and is then required to regularly use the device as the last step in their hand-washing routine. If they fail the scan, they have two minutes to go back, rewash their hands and repeat the scanning process. 

If the employee leaves the hand-washing area without successfully passing the scan, or forgoes the scanner altogether, restaurant management is notified of the breach. Conversely, employees are rewarded for consistently passing the scan with small perks such as entries into raffles or shoutouts from managers.

The company is targeting limited-service restaurant chains as its core customer base and  worked with salad chain Chopt as one of its first test partners in May 2018. The chain is now rolling out the hand scanners to its new locations.

“It’s essentially a plug-and-play,” Chopt co-founder Colin McCabe says. “And surprisingly, our employees actually enjoy using it as part of their hand-washing protocol, which I think goes back to the ability to reward the improved behavior.” Chopt regularly sees 100% staff participation in the restaurants where PathSpot is installed.

PathSpot’s devices cost $100 per scanner to start, although price varies based on the specifics of each operator’s needs. There are typically three to four hand scanners installed in each restaurant, next to each back-of-house handwashing station.

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