Quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains are struggling to keep up. Labor costs are rising, and it’s hard to find enough people to fill the shifts. At the same time, food costs are increasing, and owners fear raising their restaurant’s prices too much and driving customers elsewhere.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course: some experts predict electricity and gas rates to decline over the next decade, but the cost currently remains higher than in years past. As for the equipment, who has the money to proactively maintain it — ensuring that the freezers, cooktops, HVAC, and Point of Sale (POS) machines are serviced regularly — when those costs can be deferred?
It is understandable to look for the low-hanging fruit in cost cutting. With tight budgets, something has to give. But forgoing maintenance over the short term will actually cost more over the long term. In the case of POS systems, when payments can’t be made, customers leave. Sometimes they leave temporarily; sometimes for good. The full customer experience matters, which is a good reason to ensure the payment process is smooth and uninterrupted.
There are three kinds of maintenance that management should think about: preventive, reactive, and predictive. The kind your company chooses can have a significant impact on your operations and costs.
What is reactive maintenance?
Reactive maintenance is the most typical model for most retailers and QSR operators. It relies on service failure before taking action. Service failure can involve one unit or the entire system. If a POS unit goes down in a store or QSR, the customers shift to another line, which then grows longer. Some customers are willing to wait, but they may not be happy about it and their time in line grows longer. Others will get annoyed and leave. Management, meanwhile, is busy trying to locate another working unit or is frantically calling around for service. This takes the manager out of commission for helping the staff or resolving other issues.
If service fails for the entire system, whether in person or online, potential sales are wiped out for as long as the system is down. And even longer, because customers may not know when the system is back online or they may have completely moved on to other merchants. Complete POS equipment failure should be avoided at all costs, but relying on reactive maintenance guarantees that total failure is a potential outcome — and the downtime experienced will be unexpected and unplanned.
That said, a reactive maintenance strategy has its benefits. If the equipment functions as it should, business continues as usual. While the equipment is operational — even if the company ignores minor problems hinting at what’s to come — the company saves short-term on deferred repair expenses and seemingly unneeded maintenance. This is the roulette wheel strategy.
What’s at stake is a big loss. The restaurant industry loses $46 billion in revenue on average each year due to downtime, according to 86 Repairs’ 2022 State of Repairs report. Minor problems become major problems. Regular maintenance has its costs, but unscheduled downtime costs are estimated to be upwards of 15 times what would normally be spent on regular maintenance.
Many companies run more than one QSR or retail store. Since facilities management in these cases is often decentralized, local management does not have the benefit of a unified maintenance strategy. Local managers are left hanging, reacting to the POS issues and other equipment failures by themselves, putting the whole store and staff in a bind. Trying to resolve the issue quickly drives up costs, whether expediting customer support, buying new equipment, or repairing broken equipment without the luxury of planning and time.
So, yes, reactive maintenance is a strategy. Is it viable? That is highly debatable.
A Brief Interlude: Preventative Maintenance
While we’ll jump into predictive maintenance in a minute. But first, let’s touch on preventive maintenance, the middle ground between reactive and predictive maintenance. The preventive approach is definitely better than relying on equipment failure before acting. With the prevention strategy, a store or QSR can plan for the downtime needed to replace and service equipment based on standardized timing. There is a method to the madness, which might be calendar- or usage-based. It relies on an informed awareness of how long the equipment should last before needing a tweak or getting swapped out. In the short run, this is more costly than reactive maintenance because you’re spending money with no visible problem.
The upside to preventive maintenance is a greater assurance that the equipment is running well and technicians are keeping it in the best possible shape. Yes, there are costs, but the downtime is mostly planned. Certainly, something can fail unexpectedly. After all, you can’t plan everything, but unexpected downtime should be less frequent than with the reactive model.
What is predictive maintenance?
What we want to focus on, though, are the higher operations that can leverage each location’s operating environment to fine-tune the maintenance needs. Edge and cloud-based computing advances now offer this value-added option. Take the best parts of preventive maintenance and mix them with artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced computing. That results in predictive maintenance, which has the goal of minimizing downtime, and, ideally, driving it down to zero.
This approach simply wasn’t feasible in the past. The analytics and incorporation of real-time data didn’t exist — but that’s all changed. We are fortunate to have access to high-speed connectivity from the 5G service rollout, and we can — and should — be using that as a strategy to lower costs and improve operations. QSRs and retailers can adopt this strategy and focus on the issues that affect their day-to-day (e.g., offering quality products, maintaining consistency, labor, marketing, customer service, etc.). And yes, part of this daily oversight includes facilities and equipment management.
Instead of putting out the fires of broken POS systems, that daily or monthly operations work means paying attention to recommendations from the predictive maintenance model. This will minimize or even eliminate the downtime of POS equipment. That’s because maintenance can happen during nonoperational hours. Or, if a system is running 24/7, the retailer or food service company can plan for backup during the scheduled maintenance, giving the company a wider berth for planning.
The zero-downtime model uses predictive maintenance analytics along with on-premises data and cloud computing to include the local operating environment in the calculations. It leverages enterprise-wide data to manage this maintenance, with intelligent forecasts incorporating asset lifetime information. The variables also adjust based on numerous factors, including actual real-time usage data. After all, the maintenance needs will not be the same for a less-visited store with older equipment compared to a high-trafficked store with new equipment.
The result? You don’t need to react to catastrophic equipment failure. You can plan out the service to meet your availability so it doesn’t hamper operations. It will keep the revenue flowing, and customers won’t be frustrated by the downtime and disruptions.
Maven Wave and Atos can help.
Finding a predictive maintenance system that gives you zero downtime isn’t just a nice goal — it’s an actionable one. Maven Wave / Atos wants to make the process simple for QSRs and retailers, which is why their cloud-based data, management, and analytic tools allow end users to leverage that real-time information, streaming billions of data points at a time. The data comes from QSR and retailers’ connected devices and IoT sensors. They come together to allow the solution to predict when assets need servicing to avoid failure.
The amount of stress and the lower overall costs of only servicing POS machines and systems when needed makes operations flow more smoothly. Zero-downtime isn’t a pipe dream. It’s accessible. Download our latest ebook, “Transitioning to ‘Zero Downtime’: Edge Computing in Retail & Food Service Environments” or contact one of our specialists and let us show you how.
Get the latest industry news and insights delivered straight to your inbox.