A QSR worker assists a customer at the buffet
By Kurt Bischof, Director, Marketing, UCODE, NXP Semiconductors, a Zebra Supplier | March 26, 2024

Quick Service, Smart Solutions: How You Can Use RAIN RFID to Optimize Your QSR Operations

The faster your store teams can process inbound goods and get ingredients, supplies, and other items put away, the faster they can turn their attention back to revenue-generating activities, like serving guests. 

As the pandemic continues to recede from the rear-view mirror and people return to their busy day-to-day routines, you’ve probably spent a large chunk of time considering what changes you need to make in your quick-service restaurants (QSRs) to meet customers’ expectations. I would imagine you’re looking every day at how you can use new technologies and improve operational processes to help your team work more effectively, deliver better customer experiences, and strengthen brand loyalty despite the ongoing supply chain issues and continued labor shortages. 

And I imagine you’ve placed a renewed focus on backend operations, as many other QSR owners and managers have. By making employees more effective, reducing waste, and saving time behind the scenes, you can increase overall efficiency and, in turn, free up resources that help make the customer-facing part of your business run better. But one thing I’m noticing in speaking with many QSR leaders is that RAIN RFID technology isn’t being fully leveraged quite yet. There are so many ways it can be used to facilitate process improvements and support your objectives beyond how you may be using it today.

RFID technology has been helping several QSRs reach their goals of speed and accuracy in backend processes, and the wave of RFID rollouts and success stories is building up as we speak. However, there are so many more potential applications that could have a significant impact on backend operations, especially the goods-receiving process.

How RFID Can Bring Speed and Accuracy to Goods Receiving

When QSR leaders are looking for backend operations that might benefit from extra attention and investment, I find the goods-receiving station is often at the top of the list. However, I am aware it’s not always feasible to hire a dedicated receiving team. So, your managers and front-of-store team members are most likely the ones who must shift to inspect, inventory, and shelve inbound orders, and that can create friction in the customer experience. 

As a result, you’re probably dealing with a lot of complaints from store teams about how long receiving is taking and inaccurate inventory records – and how they’re impacting both the customer experience and the bottom line.

RFID technology offers a fast, efficient way to accurately process incoming deliveries so that your team can focus on what matters, which is fast, accurate order fulfillment and customer service. 

RFID tags give each item a unique identity, so items can be tracked and traced at the case level as part of a real-time, serialized inventory system, including buns, napkins, bags, and cold-chain items like cases of meat, cheese, eggs, and produce. These tags – which often look like the barcode labels placed on items today – provide access to data attributes about each item, such as identifying information, origin, harvest or production dates, and expiration dates. In situations where these data attributes are stored directly on the RFID tag, a single “read” of the tag can tell your team everything they need to know to process the order. Better yet, that tag read can automatically input all this data into your inventory system so that your people don’t have to waste time manually extracting (i.e., reading) these details from the cases or shipping labels and manually inputting them into the system. The RFID reader will grab all the data from the RFID tag (i.e., label) and feed it into the system’s fields. All your receiving team will need to do is review and verify the information before proceeding to goods sorting and put away.

“Can’t I just use a barcode scanner to do the same thing?”

This question comes up quite often.

Technically you could. However, each label would have to be located and individually scanned, most likely by a person with a handheld barcode scanner. Though faster than having them manually type in all the item information, it’s still much slower than using RFID for receiving. That’s because the RFID reader doesn’t need a line of sight to the tag to communicate with it and extract data. A single RFID reader can communicate with a large number of tags at the same time and extract data at an extremely high speed. The average read rate for both fixed and handheld readers is now 1300+ tags per second, assuming you’re using a newer model. 

Since the RFID readers are connected to enterprise software that provides a dashboard for viewing data and managing reader operation, you can make real-time data available to your entire team, including store managers and those working in the back-office or throughout the supply chain. Inventories remain accurate up to the minute, which helps the reorder process run more smoothly. The automated data capture also reduces your store team’s backend workload, giving team members more time with customers in the front of the house.

What Type of Reader is Best for QSR Receiving?

If you believe RFID could be beneficial to your QSR operation, one of the big questions you’ll need to answer is whether it’s better to go with:

- handheld RFID readers (so employees can carry them wherever they go to locate, process, and pull inventory or perform counts at various locations), or

- fixed reader infrastructure (which increases the scale of automation). 

Then again, you may want a combination of the two. So, let’s consider the impact of both:

Handheld Readers Offer the Highest Flexibility 

With a handheld reader, you carry the reader with you and wave it over cases on a pallet to capture data from the RFID tags attached to them. The reading distance can be up to six meters, but it’s usually better to start at a range of about 2-3 meters and then move in as needed.

The biggest advantage of handheld readers is flexibility. You can pack and stack goods in different ways and still get an accurate read, whether you’re dealing with products in dry storage or cold storage that are wrapped up on a pallet, stowed in a carton, or delivered as standalone items. Also, with a handheld reader, it’s easy to move around a stack of items and make sure you’ve captured everything, especially once you have the technique down for using a handheld reader.

You’ll just need to ensure you take steps to prevent false positive reads.

Because the reader has a relatively long operating distance, it’s possible to accidentally read RFID tags from boxes that aren’t part of the current shipment, but incidentally happen to be placed nearby. We often call that a “false positive read.”

To overcome this problem, well-designed software will need to be preloaded with the EPC codes of the delivery items that are meant for your restaurant location and belong to the shipment in progress using the electronic advanced shipment notice. This enables the intelligent RFID reader to search and register only the delivery items that belong to the shipment you’re trying to process. The right software will support your receiving process without making this too complex, guiding the receiver to achieve an accurate record of incoming goods. 
Ensure the software gives the person using the RFID reader during goods receiving a clear view of read status so they will know if further reads are needed to cover any remaining items. It should also make it easier to recognize when items are really missing as you’ll be able to verify that every item in your possession has been processed.   

Fixed-in-Place Readers Have the Highest Automation

With a fixed RFID reader, the mechanism for reading tags is mounted in a permanent location, convenient to the goods-receiving station, so items can be read as they’re being unloaded from the truck. There might, for example, be a reader with antennas placed in a doorway where the truck typically arrives. The read happens automatically when items (boxes, pallets, totes, etc.) pass through this doorway that has reader antennas mounted on the side, in the floor, or even overhead.

On the one hand, using fixed reader infrastructure means there’s significantly little need to train and remind employees to properly operate the RFID reader. There’s no human intervention needed (except for the occasional performance check and maintenance). On the other hand, there may be situations when a fixed reader may not be able to get a complete read on the first try, such as when a full pallet densely stacked with boxes passes by the reader. Those problems can be avoided by giving proper packing instructions and accurate instructions on where to position the RFID tags to your suppliers. You’ll also need to ensure proper reader antenna placement in your stores, which an RFID solution architect can help you with.

No Right or Wrong Answer

While handheld and fixed-in-place readers have their differences, the reality is that both approaches are compelling options for QSR operators. With a little advanced planning and proper hardware-software system design, all the items delivered to your stores can be swiftly and accurately processed using an RFID-facilitated receiving workflow. Your team doesn’t have to shoulder the burden anymore. They can still be involved, but in a more strategic way – and in a way that won’t create friction in the customer experience. 

It may seem like a lot to get an RFID system online in your restaurants. However, there are plenty of people who can work with you and your team to design, install, and integrate these systems. They’ll work with you to understand your processes, your operational challenges, and your objectives. The goal is to improve upon your current processes – not necessarily reengineer them. The follow-up effect of those improvements can be far-reaching, yielding greater operational efficiency overall and more time available for customer-facing activities that create value and foster loyalty. 

Finally, let me recommend you contact experienced companies in the RFID ecosystem that have helped QSRs improve goods receiving and other backend operations. Find out what they’re doing, what’s working well, and why it’s working well. 


Editor’s Note:

We recommend you visit nxp.com/UCODE to find out more about how NXP’s UCODE integrated chips (ICs) are helping QSRs like yours streamline operations as part of more comprehensive RFID-facilitated processes. 


Related Resource:

Blog, Article, Asset Tracking, Automation, Quality Control, Digitizing Workflows, New Ways of Working, RFID, Hospitality,

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