A smiling chef in the kitchen

How many people does it take to run a restaurant?

Thursday, August 03, 2023

There’s a great debate in the modern restaurant industry — how many people does it really take to run a restaurant? Do you need an army of staff? A lean team with plenty of automation? Or a combination of both?

Like most things, the answer depends on your individual business’ needs. But regardless of your restaurant's service model, there's an opportunity to level up with the right technology. Whether you need to optimize the required labor hours of your high-touch model, or soften your current automation so you have more face time with customers, we have tips to help you.

In this blog, we’ll explore high-touch, human-free and hybrid approaches to service. We’ll also share how a hybrid of service and automation could help you create the ultimate customer experience, reduce food and labor costs and increase revenue — all while running on a leaner staff.

Read on to learn:

Types of restaurant service models

Your restaurant’s service model determines how many staff you’ll need to hire and for which roles, your technology, processes, marketing and more. Here’s how we define high-touch versus human-free and how we’re using the terms as they relate to the level of technology vs human interaction required. 

A woman paying for coffee at a coffee shop

What does a high-touch service model look like?

In many cases, high-touch hospitality means you have plenty of staff to support dine-in operations (maybe takeout too). It's a people-oriented service model, likely supported by the capabilities of a full restaurant POS system. You rely on employees to take reservations, seat guests, take orders, deliver food, present the check, process the payment and so on.

While it can be ideal for certain establishments, it does come with a significant challenge — finding and retaining the best employees. Even a single understaffed shift can have a negative impact on your revenue and lead to disappointed customers.

A woman ordering food from a kiosk

What does a human-free service model look like?

With human-free service, guests have a lot less, well, human interaction. They likely rely on a skeleton staff coupled with automation and other restaurant tech. Think of eateries where you order through a kiosk or a mobile app before you arrive. Maybe there isn’t even a place to sit down and eat — it’s pre-order then pick up only.

While this might be an excellent option for very specific, niche restaurants (cupcake bakeries and drive-through coffee shops come to mind), the minimal human element has its limitations for other restaurant types.

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of each, you probably know what we’re going to say next: A hybrid model is the goal. Let’s dive deeper into the benefits and look at how to incorporate a hybrid solution for a variety of service models. 

Benefits of a hybrid service model 

Maximize your resources 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurateur who claims they’re never strapped for resources. So, maximize what you’ve got! A hybrid service model supported by data can assist by helping you understand how to serve your customers best. You can make strategic, operational changes that cut down your reliance on labor, reduce food waste and spoilage and minimize last-minute scheduling changes that can leave employees feeling whiplash (last-minute call-outs, cutting shifts, etc.).

Expand your customer base

Use hybrid service to capture customers you may not have otherwise been able to reach with your existing model. Let’s say, for example, you want to increase sales but don't want to increase your labor hours. One solution is to stop your dine-in service at 9 p.m. but keep your kitchen staff on and let your online ordering system accept takeout orders until midnight. Now, you can start capturing late-night customers searching for quick and easy meals to curb their cravings — and you don’t even have to pay more staff to do so. 

How to go hybrid 

Ready to go hybrid and get the best of both worlds? Great! Here’s some of what it takes to make a hybrid service model successful.

1. Use data to make smart labor decisions

In an industry that’s all about serving customers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “the more staff, the better.” But that’s not necessarily the case (or a smart financial decision). You can still use a high-touch approach but not waste money on unnecessary labor by knowing exactly when to staff for peak and pit times. Use your point of sale system to collect data like your highest performing servers, busiest and slowest hours of the day and days of the week. This insight will help you decide who to staff at your peak times (servers who have the highest average check, the highest items per transaction) and who to cut first during lulls (your lowest producers and anyone approaching overtime). 

2. Choose user-friendly tech that empowers your staff

It makes sense that incorporating more automation into your restaurant requires powerful technology, right? But you also need to invest in the right restaurant tech for the high-touch part of your hybrid model. Sounds a little backward, but hear us out: Your customers will have a better experience when your staff is happy. And one way to make your staff’s lives easier is with restaurant POS systems that are easy to learn and use, prevent order errors and speed up the ordering process (though not at the expense of rushing through a guest’s meal).

Smart POS systems can also speed up seating and simplify table management by giving front-of-house staff a view of all tables and their statuses. Say that table 4 has been seated but not yet placed an order. Or, table 6 ordered meals 30 minutes ago and is still waiting on them. This visibility helps ensure that customers are not accidentally left unattended, preventing uncomfortable interactions between guests and staff, and even lost tips.

A woman working on a laptop

3. Keep kitchens efficient and orders balanced

Now let’s talk back-of-house: A kitchen display system (KDS) can enhance kitchen efficiency — keeping guests happy, staff from getting burnt out and things running smoothly back there, even if you’re relying on a lean team. A POS with a KDS helps automate the timing of orders going into the kitchen and optimize the sequence of prep work, cooking and plating. These efficiencies are key to doing more with less. 

4. Go for the right payment systems

With various ways to order and dine, you’ll also need to offer customers various ways to pay, so look for a payments provider that offers both in-person and online payments.

Kisok icon

Pay attention to the hardware, too. Post-pandemic, many diners are interested in contactless payments, whether ordering through a kiosk or with a human.

A great example of a payment option in a hybrid model is scan-to-pay. Some table service restaurants still use a waitstaff to greet guests, take orders and deliver them, but at the end of the meal, guests can simply scan a QR code to pay their bill, cutting off that final back-and-forth with a server.

And if you still want that face time at the end of the meal, but don’t want to drag it out? A mobile payment terminal lets guests pay and tip as soon as they’re ready: Your servers don’t have to walk to print a check, drop it off, pick it up, run the card, walk it back…you get the [exhausting] picture.

5. Offer online ordering

Inviting guests to place orders through your website or app — or even a third-party delivery service like DoorDash or Uber Eats — can help boost your reach and sales without having to increase your restaurant’s footprint or add additional employees. Your kitchen staff is already on, but there’s no need for a hostess to seat those takeout/delivery guests or servers to serve them. Online ordering is all but human-free and a valuable new revenue center that can be added to a high-touch restaurant easily. 

Close up of a table with multiple happy people at a restaurant table

How Heartland can help 

The food industry’s new technology advancements offer greater ease, speed and insights than ever before. Heartland can help with flexible technology solutions built with restaurant owners, managers and staff in mind every step of the way.

In addition to restaurant payment processing, our modern POS systems with mix-and-match hardware, software and integrations help you supercharge restaurant operations with:

  • In-depth data and custom reporting to help improve your menu, promotions and staffing

  • Convenient mobile ordering so you can meet guests where and how they want to order and dine

  • Customer loyalty and intelligence features to improve service and encourage repeat visits

Interested in hearing more about how Heartland can help your restaurant business thrive? Tell us a bit about it and we’ll provide personalized software and hardware recommendations to best fit your business. And for tips and tricks from hospitality industry experts and restaurateurs like you who have mastered the trade, visit The Entrepreneur’s Studio.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this document does not, and is not intended to constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available are for general informational purposes only. Information provided may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information, and readers of this information should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter, in the relevant jurisdiction. All liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the contents here are hereby expressly disclaimed.


Heartland is the point of sale, payments and payroll solution of choice for entrepreneurs that need human-centered technology to sell more, keep customers coming back and spend less time in the back office. Nearly 1,000,000 businesses trust us to guide them through market changes and technology challenges, so they can stay competitive and focus on building remarkable businesses instead of managing the daily grind. Learn more at heartland.us