Restaurants and other food services have been under pressure in recent years due to labor and supply chain challenges, as well as tighter budgets. For those that can afford to invest in new technology, there are exciting options already emerging, partly as a result of pandemic challenges. Businesses that serve food can meet demand and operate more efficiently with the help of the following modern innovations.
Mobile Apps Integrated with Infrastructure
Establishments that offered mobile apps prior to the pandemic were mainly focused on limited functions to facilitate transactions. But once lockdowns hit, demand for ordering food online increased enormously. Apps then needed better coordination with kitchen and back-office personnel to ensure orders were executed properly in a timely manner.
As the focus shifted to customer online ordering and deliveries, restaurant apps quickly evolved to help manage order flow. Due to the need for social distancing, sit-down restaurant chains such as Panera began adding a dine-in mobile ordering option to their app.
QR Codes for Menus
Interest in QR codes rose dramatically during the pandemic as a means for offering in-app delivery ordering for customers. QR stands for "quick response", as these matrix barcodes contain deeper information for identifying customers with mobile phones and tracking orders. Fast food chains began to use customer location data from Google Maps and similar services to prioritize orders and streamline the delivery process.
The use of QR codes for menus is likely to grow for full-service restaurants, since they help make the ordering and payment processes more efficient. QR codes are already replacing tabletop technology for in-store ordering, which allows waiters to handle more traffic at one time. According to Datassential, 58 percent of consumers favor using QR codes for dining and grocery shopping for a more positive experience.
The pandemic pushed many public places like airports and restaurants to consider adopting kiosks for ordering as a social distancing strategy. McDonald's, for example, plans on using self-order kiosks more in the future. These devices will help free up personnel to assist customers with orders.
Kiosks allow the customers to have more flexible payment options and help fill the gaps of labor shortages. The screens on kiosks are typically larger than those on smartphones, allowing for easier ordering. Kiosks are designed to be very user-friendly, so the learning curve is a matter of seconds.
Drive-Thru Automated Machines
Another way the pandemic affected purchasing pattern changes was the need for better drive-thru automation technology. Some companies are testing face recognition technology that identifies customers as a solution to speed up the drive-thru ordering process. A system called PopPay takes a photo of the customer, which identifies them and links to their financial information, bypassing the need for the customer to pay with cash or a card.
Smart Kitchen Robots
The emergence of kitchen robots is helping restaurants mitigate the effects of labor shortages as well as cutting costs on preparing food. Chipotle is one of several restaurant chains testing autonomous kitchen technology for cooking certain food such as tortilla chips. Miso Robotics is partnering with companies such as Chipotle to help add robotics to kitchen environments. Bear Robotics is a similar firm partnering with Denny's and Chili's.
Robotics are useful for improving order accuracy and consistency in preparing foods like pizza. The technology helps ensure orders contain the right ingredients. Another rising form of robotics technology in the restaurant industry is computer vision, which encompasses 50 cameras that monitor cooking and ordering operations.
Find out more about the latest innovations in the food, agritech, restaurant and grocery sectors. Click the button below to watch the replay of our "Connected Food" webinar:
Financial Planning and Analysis Tools
Many food establishments emphasize financial planning and analysis tools in their digital transformation toward more seamless solutions. These tools help management forecast customer demand based on weather and availability of ingredients based on supply chain conditions. The tools help establishments schedule staff members more effectively to meet near-term demand and understand customer behavior.
One of the great challenges restaurants still face following the pandemic is dealing with food supply shortages. It's important for managers to use better tools for gauging market demand to avoid shortages. Apps that connect directly with suppliers provide seamless solutions for ordering available supplies.
Geofencing to Target Specific Neighborhoods
Digital tools can also be used to target consumers in specific geographic areas with the help of geofencing. This technology provides tracking information as to what time and day customers visit a particular establishment so it can send appropriate notifications about new offers. Geofencing software tracks customer mobile devices via GPS or RFID signals and ultimately helps reduce wait times after ordering.
Online Ordering via Delivery Apps
Some pandemic period changes will remain in place due to helping make operations more efficient. Online ordering through delivery apps is an example of one of these shifts that's here to stay now that the food delivery market has exceeded $150 billion. Many diners have found that delivery apps have made their businesses more convenient for customers, as well as provide better means of engagement.
One of the reasons online ordering isn't going away is because gas prices have become unpredictable. Consumers are now forced to plan commutes and shopping travel more efficiently to avoid wasting expensive fuel. The more consumers get into the habit of ordering online, the less need they have to drive around searching for food.
Touchless Payment Systems
Hotels that embraced digital transformation have found touchless payment systems to be useful beyond social distancing. These systems make paying simple with smartphones, smartwatches and smartcards. Contactless payment systems are expected to triple to $6 trillion globally by 2024. Over a third of consumers have reported this option is extremely important to them.
Digital Kitchen Display Systems
Many restaurants have adopted a kitchen display system (KDS) that consists of a digital menu board for kitchen personnel to view. These screens display customer orders automatically linked with the restaurant's point-of-sale (POS) system. It tracks product inventory and delivery times to make the ordering process more efficient.
Air Purification Technology
Another area of concern for sit-down restaurants is to make physical environments safer for customers. Air purification technology creates safer and more comfortable conditions, as it filters dust, debris and other harmful pollutants. It makes both air and surfaces more sanitary, contributing to greater sustainability. These systems will help food services better prepare for the next public health crisis that requires social distancing.
Inventory Management Software
Perhaps the most significant investment a restaurant or hotel can make in its digital transformation is toward inventory management software. Warehouses and wholesalers have led the way in testing and utilizing this technology for more accurate and timely tracking of inventory products. Tapping into the right management software platform will be crucial for restaurants in the future to ensure they are fulfilling orders properly based on available supplies.
While the pandemic drastically disrupted the restaurant industry, it also provided a wake-up call to streamline operations by paying closer attention to supply and demand principles. Digital solutions help restaurants reduce waste and fulfill orders in a more timely fashion. Apps and other software platforms further help empower restaurants to be more closely connected with their patrons. So don't be surprised if you see more advanced technologies appear at national restaurant chains and local establishments in the near future.