2021 is the year that restaurant automation takes off. Until this point brands have dabbled in automation solutions, often seeing them as a nice to have rather than essential; they quickly change that opinion once the technology is installed and they’re reaping the benefits.
Brands don’t need to instantly kit out their sites with automations throughout; each new automation helps standardise processes, creating consistency and increasing efficiency. With every solution employed, be that a self-service system, digital ordering and booking software or kitchen automation, companies move further towards the goals of improving service and table turnover, reducing operating costs and growing revenue.
While there are numerous automation technologies available, we’re going to look at few of the most popular options for brands at the moment.
There was a moment at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when some thought the writing was on the wall for kiosk technologies. Before the lockdowns they were heading towards a standard within the fast-food and travel hub industries – McDonald’s was particularly well known for their use. Now, as the world reopens, kiosks are rising in popularity again. They are a way for brands to interact (without contact) with guests and present food in a fresh and exciting way.
Kiosks allow customers to order as soon as they enter the premises without the need for server interaction; staff are freed to enhance customer service in other areas such as off-premises order fulfilment. Customers enjoy the bold, colourful images and customisation options, while management benefit from the data they gather from transactions.
The advantages of kiosks are now being realised by brands outside of fast-food. Quick-service and casual dining venues such as UK-based Chilango and international brand, Jollibee, have adopted the service to automate their front-of-house. Meanwhile, in the USA, Red Robin franchises have placed tablets running ordering software on tables. Just like free-standing kiosks, these let customers request drinks or food without face-to-face service.
Kitchen Display Systems
At its most basic, a kitchen display system is a digital order viewer that replaces the need for handwritten tickets or ticket printers. In reality a KDS carries far greater benefits for restaurant automation; it can contribute to efficiencies by creating smooth workflows that adapt to kitchen activity levels, thereby improving speed of service.
Through a KDS, a brand can collect data about average ticket, item and cook time variances versus expected cook times, cooking delay and item/order times. That information can be used to drill down into kitchen output, helping management refine the service provided.
Software further prevents miscommunication around the kitchen. As staff can see what items and orders are needed, and when, they have a greater chance of focusing on cooking, not on listening out or trying to remember items a chef is shouting across a busy kitchen.
Robotics have always seemed a bit ‘out there’ and unrealistic for most. The image of robot chefs and staff wheeling around like Rosey the Robot is fun but a fantasy. That being said, robotics are now being put to good use by brands serving simple, repeatable foods such as burgers or pizza.
One of the most famous restaurant automation robots to date has been Flippy, a computerised arm that flips burgers at Caliburger, a fast-food restaurant in the USA. Flippy was introduced to enhance the quality of output through consistency, and to increase food safety by keeping human employees away from hot grills.
Flippy gained a lot of attention but could have been seen as a flash in the pan moment if it hadn’t been for other brands investing in similar robotic automations. In France, Pazzi claims to use a pizza-making robot that wows customers. Diners place their orders from a kiosk or their phone and then watch robotic arms make their pizza as well as slicing and boxing it. And it’s not the only pizza making robot in use. Zume Pizza in the USA uses robotics to prep its pizzas which are then cooked on-route to deliveries.
Is robotic automation about to become mainstream. No, but might it in the future? Yes, absolutely. As more brands see the efficiencies robot can provide, we will see more automated technologies of this type in use. They may not all be as grand as Pazzi or Flippy, but if even the simplest repetitive tasks can be automated, the time and cost savings could be enormous.
In our next blog we will continue looking at automation opportunities, including payments, reservations/table management and loyalty. Check back in a week to read more.