This article is part of Raydiant’s Future of The Restaurant Industry series which interviews top experts on their perspective of technology and trends that are shaping the industry.
The following is an interview we had with Chris Boyles, VP of Food Safety, Steritech.
Outside of COVID, what have been the most dramatic changes you’ve seen in the industry over the past 3-5 years?
CB: The biggest change may be the integration of technology throughout the restaurant and its broad acceptance by customers and staff.
- Temperature sensors have been around for many years, but the ease of setup and use have improved dramatically.
- Digital task management systems to ensure self-checks are performed on time, often with linked thermometers for direct input.
- Ordering/payment kiosks, tablets, and apps have gone mainstream and helped to reduce common friction points in the dining experience.
- Digital menus and signage make updates instantaneous.
Ghost kitchens (also called cloud kitchens, dark kitchens, etc.) have become more commonplace.
- They allow restaurant brands to reduce operating costs by sharing overhead costs, especially for brands that are just starting or still in development. Moving forward, networks of them may help drive delivery capabilities by putting small, less expensive distribution points closer to the intended destinations.
Companies are employing new approaches to training to engage young employees and increase retention.
- The traditional lengthy initial indoctrination has been replaced by just-in-time training on specific knowledge points as needed.
- Training that is interactive and made into an online game has become commonplace.
What are the top trends you see shaping the future of the restaurant industry in the next 3-5 years?
- Ghost kitchens allow you to order from multiple brand menus at a single location.
- Robots flip burgers and deliver meals to your table.
- Drones deliver to your house.
- Self-driving cars deliver you to our chosen destination.
- Grocery stores allow you to shop without going through a checkout process.
- Voice-activated apps allow you to order without touching anything.
- Artificial Intelligence bots manage customer service interactions, asking clarifying questions to gather the necessary details.
What technology do you believe will have the biggest impact on the restaurant industry in the next 3-5 years?
CB: Camera technology mated with AI has enormous potential for helping restaurants, though there are obvious Orwellian risks. Some potential applications include:
- Track and recommend ideal deployment of employees in back of house work stations.
- Analyze traffic patterns and design an ideal workflow.
- Monitor handwashing practices: did an employee wash hands upon entering the back of house, after working at the raw meat station, after handling the cash drawer, etc.? Did the employee spend the appropriate amount of time at the handwash sink? Are customers greeted and served quickly enough?
Data from sensors (including cameras) and every other source in a Smart Restaurant will be combined and mined for insights. There are immediate benefits to the individual restaurant, but there may be bigger long-term benefits for large chains. Trends across big data sets may provide unexpected insights.
- Are there correlations between observed behavior patterns and the results from detailed regulatory or third-party assessments? With customer satisfaction measurements?
- Do protocol errors increase on specific days or shifts?
- Do they track with time or with revenue?
- Can the trends be impacted by updating or reviewing existing training?
- Is new training more effective?
What’s the future of restaurants?
CB: For fast food, as self-driving cars continue to become more sophisticated, the drive-thru may evolve for a pre-order lane. The driver orders a meal using voice commands. The navigation system finds the nearest compatible restaurant, places the order, and then reroutes the vehicle. It arrives just in time to pick up the freshly-prepared order and barely stops long enough for the handoff before driving away, payment handled automatically. We may eventually simply send an empty car to pick up the food and bypass the delivery driver as well.
From a food safety perspective, far UVC light is a growing area where the light destroys germs but doesn’t harm humans. Maybe this replaces our constant disinfection of frequently touched surfaces. And sensors technology is advancing rapidly. There are already sensors that can monitor food for shelf-life attributes and sanitizer for proper concentration. As the preparation and cooking processes become more automated, sensors may also be able to ensure greater safety.
The role of many employees may evolve from manual tasks to more human interaction. The food itself may no longer be enough to draw people to a restaurant since it’s so easy to have it delivered to your home. Restaurants may compete by creating more and more elaborate experiential dining, whether it’s adventuresome, like dining in the dark, or communal, where our social media habits organize dining events with like-minded individuals.