Cost and Efficiency: How Automation is Redefining Foodservice
In a world that increasingly prefers to shop online, our changing habits in how we purchase goods and service are having an effect on the way we eat. Restaurants, intent on catering to the modern customer, are employing things like automated ordering and augmented reality into their dining experience. Not to mention even credit cards are revamping their model for the 21st century.
No matter where you live, society is moving faster by the year. Consumers want instant information and instant gratification. Today’s ecommerce market reflects that, and as more and more people buy their goods online, direct human contact is decreasing. We often don’t need to interact with a single person throughout the entire shopping process. Instead, we examine what we want on a website, order, pay, and it’s dropped off soon after — maybe even that same day.
In the food industry, this trend hasn’t gone unnoticed. Kiosks are replacing cashiers, menu apps tell consumers everything they want to know about food before they order, and tableside payments are making dinner more seamless than ever.
A rising minimum wage is only adding incentive for businesses to replace their human workers with digital counterparts, and while the personal touch still matters in restaurants, it’s hard to tell where to draw the line for automation. Manufacturing jobs have been facing this for years, and it’s not a very large stretch to imagine it happening in food service.
The robots are here to stay, and they seem to have both a thirst and a knack for commerce.
Automation is a controversial issue with the debate raging on over whether it’s a good thing or just a job killer. Regardless, it’s indisputable that rising pay alone makes it more difficult to employ large numbers of minimum wage workers. In food service, especially fast food, this makes for a large problem as it represents a massive percentage of their workforce — which, in turn, is a massive part of their bottom line.
Regardless of the fears, a robot revolution is brewing in New York City. Eatsa, a California-based fast food chain opened its first East Coast location late last year. As it becomes more difficult to get younger consumers to leave their homes for food and goods, they’re streamlining the food experience to be as quick as possible. Offering automated, customizable quinoa bowls served up from the bowels of a mysterious, secretive kitchen, they allow the introverted consumer to acquire food without having to speak to another person. The only staff present are cooks concealed behind the wall of cubbies, and a representative or two that can offer assistance to those that need it.
In the ideal Eatsa experience, you place your order on your phone and head to the restaurant, paying online. Your food comes up in minutes, so you just have to confirm your order at your cubby, grab the meal, and go. The entire process takes only a few minutes.
For someone that runs on limited time for lunch, or just tends to be on the shy side, this kind of system is a dream come true. In a society that values speed and reliability, these technologies are looking an awful lot like the future of food.
Even if it’s not full automation, lots of restaurants are adapting technology like order kiosks, because it allows them to move employees to other areas of the business where they’re needed more. Owners of high-volume McDonald’s restaurants say that this could actually enable them to employ more people in kitchens where they’re traditionally understaffed. Running a restaurant is a game of pennies, and business owners that want to maximize efficiency and minimize cost may have no choice but to digitize in the future.
Automated efficiency isn’t just limited to fast food, although it’s extremely well suited to the task. Sit-down restaurants are employing their own digitization strategies to make their consumer experience quicker and easier.
KabaQ’s menu app is turning the classic restaurant menu into an augmented reality experience. Diners using the app won’t have to rely on menu text or verbal descriptions to decide which item to order –every noodle and grain of pepper in your bowl of beef stroganoff will be laid bare before your examining eyes.
We’re also seeing tableside payment systems, where customers can use their smartphones to pay for their meal. Ziosk makes tablets that give patrons the ability to pay for some or all of their meal simply by touching a screen mounted on the table, and also carries games and videos for kids. You can also order drinks, appetizers, and desserts or page waitstaff directly to your table.
Integrating pay-at-the-table with point-of-sale systems provides numerous benefits to a restaurant’s efficiency. When servers don’t have to leave to input orders or juggle receipts, they can spend that extra time at their tables, interacting with customers. It also removes the error factor — if diners are putting in their own orders, any mistakes made are not the fault of an employee, reducing the number of meals that have to be compensated or thrown out. Of course, this system is also faster as orders are sent directly to the kitchen rather than waiting for a server to make their rounds and then enter them all in at their own station.
By giving more information and control to customers, the time it takes to get them their meals and take payment is reduced, meaning the establishment can cycle their tables faster with greater accuracy. Over time, this means countless customers moving through the restaurants at higher rates of speed, and, naturally, increased profits while taking off a good amount of stress from the waitstaff.
Pocket Bot Revolution
As restaurants optimize and consolidate processes on their end, payment is also becoming easier and more convenient for the consumer. With the rising popularity of all-in-one online payment systems like PayPal and cryptocurrency through the blockchain, products with similar functions are being introduced to the world of physical commerce. The Fuze Mobile Wallet is an all-in-one device that enables you to put information from any card you own — be it credit, debit, or even gift cards — in one place.
Customers can quickly cycle between payment methods, and it works anywhere you’d use a regular credit card. It’s more secure than your average credit card as well, with a built-in physical PIN number. It also has smartphone linking so that, should you lose it, you can wipe the information from the card remotely. It offers nifty features like multi-card payment, so if money’s tight and you need to get creative, you can use a combination of both credit and debit instantly.
Moving forward, consumers should prepare to see much more automation in their daily lives. As human employees become more expensive and interactive technology becomes simpler and more available, businesses will naturally gravitate toward automation to keep costs down. After all, if you own a business, the smart money is on observing the changing world of commerce, and adapting the way you work to embrace the trends. With more people preferring to order goods and services via app — and many want to avoid interaction, even over a phone call — putting control in the hands of consumers with technology can not only make you more efficient, but can help you appeal to a much wider and tech-savvier customer base.
As our robot overlords integrate themselves into our society, the only choice is to embrace it, or fall by the wayside. Will you choose evolution… or obsolescence?