Technology has taken over many industries, improving efficiencies, productivity, safety, and quality, yet the restaurant industry has been slower than other professions to adopt digital solutions. Historically, restaurants have relied on pen and paper systems for ordering, inventory, safety inspections, etc., but this antiquated “clipboard” system is problematic on many levels. It’s difficult to access specific files in a towering pile of paperwork. It’s nearly impossible to integrate and analyze data from paper forms. There’s a high risk for human error or even “pencil whipping,” where employees fake inspection information to avoid doing the actual work. Yet, many restaurant chefs, owners and managers continue to use pen and paper because this is how they’ve always done it and they’re resistant to change.
At renowned chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, we’re an early adopter of technology, and have incorporated digital systems and solutions across more than 30 restaurants, including fast casual Beefsteak. We’ve found that our digital systems have elevated the way we do business, with measurable improvements in ThinkFoodGroup’s efficiency, productivity, accuracy and safety, and a reduction in foodborne illness incidents and food waste.
After implementing innovative digital systems across our enterprise, we’ve seen significant benefits, including:
Less food waste—U.S. restaurants generate 11.4 million tons of food waste (costing $25 billion) annually, according ReFED. ThinkFoodGroup uses technology to better manage the ordering process. For instance, our digital systems mean our chefs and managers can easily access and analyze previous months’ sales numbers to gauge necessary volume. Armed with this data, we can be much more accurate in what (and how much) we order. Higher accuracy in ordering means less food waste—better for the environment and the company’s bottom-line.
More accurate temps—ThinkFoodGroup uses sensors and digital thermometers to ensure that foods are being held at—and cooked to—proper temperatures. These digital tools help boost food safety and reduce human error. Cooking foods to proper temperatures—and holding them correctly—is instrumental in preventing foodborne safety incidents and outbreaks, as well as reducing food waste.
Better safety checks—Like many other chefs in restaurants nationwide, we used to conduct safety inspections on paper, with multiple clipboards all over the kitchen. Now, ThinkFoodGroup relies on digital systems to conduct more convenient, accessible, accurate and efficient safety checks. Digital tools have evolved to be so convenient and user-friendly, offering cross-platform functionality so it doesn’t matter if our team members are using an iPhone or an Android. Our team can use the cell phones in their pockets to record and access important data. Streamlined tech systems mean that the restaurant’s GM or chef can review the information from anywhere, ensuring that necessary tasks (e.g., inspections, ordering, inventory, etc.) were completed correctly, accurately and on time. An added bonus: we don’t have to decipher messy handwriting on paper forms, resulting in more accurate, usable results.
A better “big picture” view—Since ThinkFoodGroup has numerous restaurants, from upscale to fast casual, we need the ability to see sales and other key data points across the board, and tech systems provide a more holistic view. Our integrated system provides consistency from one restaurant to the next, creating value and scale across all concepts. Their scalable system grows with us as we expand and add new restaurants each year. The consistency across the enterprise is extremely helpful, as we have staff members move from one restaurant to another within our company, and they’re able to seamlessly transition as the systems are exactly the same in each of our concepts.
Streamline everyday processes—In the restaurants, chefs and managers appreciate tech tools’ ability to streamline and centralize information. If power goes out in the middle of night, we can instantly and effortlessly tell what time it went out, how long it was out, and the temperature of the walk ins at any given time. This information is critical to food safety, preventing waste, etc. Tech tools are also a huge timesaver around daily tasks, like ordering, invoicing, and monitoring critical points of hazards.
More time doing what we love—Chefs and their teams want to concentrate on doing what we love—cooking delicious food and providing exceptional customer service. By utilizing digital systems, it’s faster, easier, and more convenient to do the “less fun” parts of the job so we can get back to what we enjoy.
Restaurants of all sizes—from large-scale enterprises to independent single units should understand the benefits (and necessity!) of upgrading to tech tools (versus outdated pen and paper record-keeping). Many resist this transition because they fear tech tools will be expensive, complicated, and overwhelming to implement. In fact, as digital solutions become more mainstream within the restaurant industry, they’ve become very affordable, accessible and user-friendly. While it’s true that there’s a learning curve with any new system, we’ve found the process to be painless and we’ve certainly found the benefits to be substantial and significant.
Aaron Helfand is the Head Chef at ThinkFoodGroup. He oversees the kitchen at the prestigious Washington, D.C., restaurant Jaleo.
Manik Suri is the co-founder and CEO of Therma aims to make food safer and filing cabinets obsolete. Therma software powers food safety, quality assurance, and standards management for restaurants and food manufacturers. The company's obsession: Make food safety and quality management software that is fast, flexible, and easy-to-use.