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Automation Amplified: Foodservice Digs In Deeper to Automation Trends

Automation Amplified

40% of consumers surveyed find the idea of interactive tabletops highly appealing1; they’re also likely to try robot-made menu items. 2

Tech is transforming the foodservice landscape with seismic shifts from humans to machines that seem poised to drive cost-efficiency and profitability to new heights. As consumer demand for speed and convenience accelerates and labor costs continue to rise, automation becomes increasingly mission-critical for foodservice operators who hunger for more favorable margins.

With a feeding frenzy of tech advances for them to tap into, operators appear to be on the cusp of a new age of automation. From front-of-the-house kiosks to AI-enabled menu customization to mobile order placement and tracking, processes that were once staff-driven are increasingly automated—and next-gen technology seems sure to continue to refine and streamline the foodservice experience.

As Fred LeFranc, president of Results Thru Strategy, a strategic advisory firm for restaurant brands, explained: “For certain types of concepts, especially QSRs, automation and robotics will definitely be part of the future … The cost and scarcity of labor will require that it happens, and technological innovations just keep moving forward toward greater automation.”3

LeFranc points out that as the minimum wage increases to $15 or $20 an hour, investment in automation can be a cost-effective solution if amortized over time, without the staff expenses that come with turnovers, training, paid time off, and inconsistent performance.3 An analysis by the management and policy consulting firm Mckinsey Global Institute found that up to 73% of foodservice labor and accommodations subject to eventual automation.3

Tapping Tech Innovation to Connect with Sales

Technologies on the horizon that pique the interest of operators surveyed include predictive ordering (53%), automatic menu price adjustment based on demand (36%), drone food delivery off-premises (16%) and automated food or drink delivery onsite (9%).3

Baum + Whiteman includes the rise of robotics as one of the top trends to watch in 2019. The food and restaurant consulting firm points to the development of fully automated restaurants in China as a sign of things to come in America and globally.4

Baum + Whiteman cites Zume Pizza, an automated pizza delivery operation in Mountain View, Calif., as an example of the inroads restaurant automation is making in the U.S.4 Zume Pizza uses robotics to handle such low-skill labor tasks as dough pressing, sauce spreading and placing pizzas in ovens with exceptional speed, exactness and efficiency.

And then there’s Café X, “a robotic sidewalk coffee monger in San Francisco’s financial district,” as Baum + Whiteman describes it.4 “You order a variety of beverages using smartphones or tablets and a robot does the rest… Its mechanical arm clears the counter … even waves goodbye. A human refills the beans. Imagine the impact of Café X in the lobby of a hotel … or on a corner or mall near you … Starbucks must be wondering … what’s next?”4

Major chains are already experimenting with automation-intensive concepts. Shake Shack’s Astor Place, New York City unit features a cashless ordering environment, where all customer transactions are handled via digital kiosks or mobile app. Dunkin’s concept store in Quincy, Mass., also expedites the order process with digital kiosks and offers a first-of-its-kind drive-thru exclusively for DD Perks loyalty program members who order ahead through the chain’s mobile app.

McDonald’s Experience of the Future strategy has been serving up a feast of self-order technology, including thousands of payment kiosks across America and a mobile order and payment rollout to more than 20,000 units worldwide.3 What’s more, the fast food juggernaut has been quick to implement digital menus that collect data and adjust offerings based on daypart and weather.

In an environment of increasingly challenging margins, leveraging high-tech to help yield a higher check average while lowering costs is a must. Expect more and more operators to feed the bottom line (and a tech-hungry foodservice market) by bringing their establishments up to speed with the latest automation and artificial intelligence technology.

1 Technomic, Planning Program: Consumer Hot Buttons, June 2018, p. 31
2 Technomic, p. 32
3 Tanyeri, Dana, “The Future of Automation in Foodservice,” Foodservice Equipment and Supplies, May 1, 2018
4 Baum + Whiteman, 2019 Food & Beverage Trends, 2018, p. 5



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