On the QSR operator’s radar now: Robotics, 3D printing, blockchain

Restaurateurs should look both within and outside of the foodservice industry to find the best technological answers today for specific brands. That’s the advice of International Food & Beverage Technology Association President and CEO Robert Grimes.

He spoke recently at the  National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) show in Las Vegas and acknowledged that there are, indeed, already plenty of tech choices available within foodservice, but he stressed that a comprehensive look at even options being used outside the foodservice space is critical groundwork in making the best choices for the restaurant audience. 

Robert Grimes encourages foodservice operators to consider consumer technology’s application to their business.

By way of example, Grimes said he saw a company at this year’s National Retail Federation Show in New York City, displaying both hot and cold pickup lockers. Pickup lockers, which are already used by big-box retailers and Amazon, also have use in foodservice, he said.

Just last August, for instance, PizzaMarketplace told readers about the so-called “pizza portal” that Little Caesars initiated for its’ customers. But overall today, Grimes said restaurateurs should be watching the three following areas of technological innovation very closely right now. 

1. The robots are coming
Grimes told attendees that robotics is an important area that foodservice outlets are already testing. Take Pepper the robot, for example, which a few airport restaurants are using to greet guests, provide menu details and offer menu recommendations. (Caliburger, whose CEO John Miller keynoted the 2017 Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in London, is also testing a robot. Flippy, Miller said, is designed to work alongside kitchen staff.)

Chowbotics Inc., a manufacturer of a robotic machine that uses 21 ingredients to create more than 1,000 types of salads in around 60 seconds, is another example of how the foodservice industry is incorporating robotics. Grimes noted that the Chowbotics machine was on the NAMA trade show floor.

2. 3D printing
3D printing, which can be used to prepare and serve cakes, pizzas and other foods at the point of sale, will enable the foodservice industry to serve more fresh food — faster and with less space than traditional foodservice, Grimes said. He said kiosks and vending machines can incorporate 3D printing to dispense food.

One example is a Barcelona-based start-up —  Foodini. It prints food in a variety of many shapes and sizes from as small as 1.5 millimeters high for crackers or several centimeters for a tart.

3.The blockchain
Grimes also pointed out that blockchain technology is already making food supply chains more efficient. In addition to providing the infrastructure for virtual currencies, it is bringing new efficiencies and transparency to supply chains in several industries, including the food industry.

By digitally recording the identity of goods, a blockchain can provide a permanent, immutable record for every food ingredient as it travels from farm to table. This transparency can give processors, wholesalers, distributors, foodservice operators and consumers information about where their food comes from, how it was processed and a full accounting of its movement along the supply chain.

The ‘seven Cs’ of foodservice technology
Grimes encouraged his listeners to consider the “seven Cs” of foodservice technology — clarity, convergence, connections, convenience, choice, consumer and commitment.

He placed clarity at the top of this list since the rapid growth of technology calls for clarifying what one refers to when using the word, which increasingly means different things to different people. Foodservice technology can refer to payments, preparation equipment and business management tools like marketing, operations and finance.

“You have to have clarity between your departments,” he said. “What you don’t want is people working in silos.”

This comment led right to the next “C,” convergence, which Grimes indicated was one of the most important considerations foodservice operators have with regard to technology. Business organizations need to have a holistic view of technology for their different departments. If they fail to do this, they run the risk of choosing the wrong system. Where data from different departments need to be integrated, for example, the technology supporting that data has to allow the integration.

“There is no such thing today when technology stands alone,” he said.

Connections” refers to the opportunity technology provides people to stay in touch with each other nowadays via social media.

Convenience” speaks to the need to enable customers to access technology easily.

“People want to be able to get to their technology however they want to get there,” he said, be it via a kiosk, a smartphone, a watch or a desktop.

Choice” speaks to the extensive technology offerings that now exist in the market. 

Consumer” refers to the expansion of consumer technology, which Grimes cited as an opportunity that foodservice operators need to consider when shopping for technology tools. 

“If you want to lower the cost of technology, go with consumer technology,” he said. Many businesses already use consumer smartphones and laptops for this very reason.

Commitment” refers to the need for buy-in at all levels of the organization when it comes to technology. As simple as this may sound, Grimes insisted that many businesses continue to view technology as an overhead expense instead of an opportunity to improve service and efficiency.

To utilize technology, an organization must make a concerted effort to ensure that all employees are making use of it.

Want to hear more about innovation and technology in the foodservice industry? Register for the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summits, April 9-11 in Louisville and/or July 16-18 in London.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared on sister site, Kiosk Marketplace. 

Feature photo: iStock

Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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