The food processing and service industry is in the middle of a substantial shift. Restaurant technology is bringing the sector into the digital age and changing how businesses process, prepare, and serve food. As the industry grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, this technological transformation reached new heights.
Restaurants are no strangers to technology. They often embrace tools to increase efficiency, provide new experiences, and stay ahead of the competition. Amid the disruptions of the pandemic, though, these resources saw faster and more widespread adoption. Tech has moved past a competitive advantage and become a necessity.
Of course, not all tools have the same impact on the industry. Here’s a look at the emerging restaurant technologies having the most significant impact on the sector.
Automation has been on the rise for some time now. As of 2019, 22 percent of food manufacturers had implemented advanced automation systems. These technologies became all the more enticing amid a rising need for efficiency and a diminished workforce.
Robots in food processing plants sort and package food far faster than humans can. Similarly, automated vehicles can move products throughout a facility, so employees don’t have to leave their workstations. More recent advances in machine vision have even made it possible for robots to inspect product quality in detail.
While robots have been prevalent in processing plants for years, their emergence in restaurants is relatively recent. Robot waiters may not be taking orders yet, but automated cleaning systems and robotic cashiers are seeing more implementation. Unemployment concerns may keep these technologies from replacing human workers, but they’ll likely augment the workforce more in the future.
Few emerging restaurant technologies are as disruptive as mobile apps. The vast majority of consumers have smartphones and use them constantly, so restaurants would be remiss not to take advantage of them. Mobile apps provide a wealth of valuable information and services to businesses, too.
Food delivery app revenue more than doubled amid the pandemic as dining out became a less viable option. Partnering with these apps expands restaurants’ reach, making them more appealing to a broader range of consumers. Enabling in-app deliveries also helps reach customers who may be uncomfortable with talking over the phone.
Apps aren’t just changing the way people order, either. Restaurants can use dedicated mobile apps to offer exclusive promotions to draw in more customers. Some businesses have even used geofencing services to push coupons to customers near a competitor.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT) has thoroughly disrupted the manufacturing and logistics industries, and it can do the same for food. In the production and processing stages, these connected devices help facilities track their products. This increases supply chain visibility and helps restaurants and other food businesses anticipate deliveries and react to any disruptions before they become larger problems.
IoT sensors can also help monitor and maintain food quality in storage. For example, an atmosphere of 3-5 percent oxygen and 5-10 percent CO2 is the ideal condition for fresh fruits and vegetables. Connected climate control systems can monitor these levels and adjust automatically to maintain them, preserving the freshness of fruits and vegetables.
IoT location tracking can enable restaurants to provide customers with real-time updates about where their orders are. This information will help manage customer expectations, improve satisfaction, and increase loyalty. Before long, these benefits will drive IoT adoption in the food industry to a similar level as manufacturing and logistics.
Another disruptive restaurant technology that’s shaping the industry is self-service kiosks. These partially automated machines have seen remarkable success in grocery stores, and now they’re moving into restaurants. Implementing these kiosks can make businesses more appealing to digitally literate customers, decrease crowding, and increase revenue.
These machines are typically designed to push higher-margin items and encourage additional purchases to drive profits. A 2018 study found that average checkout totals rise by 15-30 percent after implementing self-service kiosks. Socially conscious customers may also be more comfortable with these machines, so they won’t rush their order and potentially order more.
Self-service kiosks aren’t meant to replace workers, but rather support them. In a high-volume restaurant, these machines help serve more guests at once. This efficiency improves customer satisfaction and minimizes lines that would otherwise dissuade people from entering.
New Restaurant Technology Is Reshaping the Food Industry
Technology advances exponentially these days, including innovations in the restaurant industry. As this happens, the tech that was once cutting-edge becomes standard-issue. In the end, the industry looks entirely different than it did before. This kind of transition has happened before, and it’s happening right now.
The food processing and service sector has always adapted to changing customer trends. Today, technology is driving those trends. Restaurants and food preparation facilities that don’t take advantage of these resources will quickly fall behind the competition. Those that can capitalize on them could see remarkable success in the coming years.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing for the food and beverage industry.