Automation set to positively impact on the future of foodservice

Key points

  • Today’s unprecedented technological change can benefit foodservice operators
  • How you adapt to and capitalise upon evolving technologies will impact on your business success
  • Automation innovations are creating new jobs for humans, while leaving the labour-intensive, repetitive tasks to machines
  • Everything is ultimately directed at improving the customer’s experience

The new era of automation which our society is entering will have major positive impacts on all industries, and foodservice is no exception.

Regardless of whether you work in an independent pizza outlet, café, restaurant, pub or club, the success of your business in the future will depend on how efficiently you can adapt to these evolving technologies and capitalise on the profit opportunities they offer. There is unprecedented technological change on the horizon with the potential to offer huge benefits to foodservice operators.

Over the past several years we’ve already seen how automated solutions like online ordering enable greater efficiency and cut down costs. The next-step evolution from these is in-store touchscreens for customers to input their own orders, which have made inroads in QSR chains such as McDonald’s and are now being adopted by clubs, pubs and some independent quick serve cafes.

Not only do digital menu inputs reduce labour and save time, the data capture provided by the technology enables you to make real-time menu adjustments in response to stock levels, customer demand and other variables. For example, you can remotely change the menu to promote specials or highlight meals in response to special events or weather conditions — such as an AFL grand final meal deal on 29 September.

We’re also seeing the widespread adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a customer assistance tool on websites and mobile order platforms. Domino’s Pizza now has a virtual assistant on its mobile app which interacts with customers, providing conversational answers to their questions on everything from choice of toppings to store locations and opening hours. Having pioneered the use of Drones to deliver pizza in a highly-publicised New Zealand test case, Domino’s is now also testing self-driving cars.

At Zume Pizza in San Francisco, five robots are utilised at a central production facility to undertake the repetitive, labour-intensive side of the pizzamaking process. These robots are able to press dough five times faster than human hands, and with greater consistency of presentation. They are also used to transport the pizzas to and from the oven, again speeding up production as they are able to operate in far hotter environments than we can.

Zume has no in-store dining — its entire business model is home delivery. This process has also been automated, as the pizzas are able to finish cooking while on route — thanks to automated smart pizza ovens which have been incorporated into the delivery vehicles.

And while some foodservice workers worry that automation innovations will result in less jobs, that isn’t borne out by the facts. The truth is that automation is creating more jobs — it’s simply that these jobs will no longer be labour-intensive, repetitive tasks as they are being left to the robots who can do them more efficiently. Zume, for example, has more than 120 fulltime employees.

In fact, as the rate of technological change continues to grow exponentially, the opportunities it brings for food distribution and delivery are truly remarkable. In order to capitalise on this potential, you need to keep abreast of emerging technological applications as they relate to the key benefit of making it easier for your customers to get the food they want, faster.