When it comes to the food industry, technology isn’t always what comes to mind first for most people. Maybe you think of an elegant restaurant, a top of the line chef, or the delicious meals they prepare. Or perhaps you think of manufacturers and farmers. Regardless of what comes to mind for you, tech in food is involved in each step of food production—whether that be mobile applications, food delivery services, and inventory management processes.
To some, it may seem evident that technological advances have made it easier for food industry workers to increase efficiency and food quality, but some disagree. Let’s take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of specific tools available for tech in food industry.
Pros and Cons of Tech in Food Industry
#1. The Magic of the Self-Ordering Kiosk
If you have ever gone out to eat, then you know it’s a pain to wait in line and then wait for service when you’re hungry. All of that goes away with the self-ordering kiosk. As a restauranteur, you save on customer wait times, which not only makes them happy but also allows you to seat more patrons. In addition, kiosks provide efficient ways to input orders to the kitchen using a computerized system. You’ll be able to get every order 100% correct every time since guests can customize meals how they’d like.
Kiosks are also a great way to upsell guests. You can promote particular in-season items, or you can offer larger drinks or desserts right before the guest checks out. While cashiers are usually trained on upselling, they often forget or just don’t if it makes them uncomfortable.
Guests also easily see and pay their bills through the food service kiosk, and they can split the bill or add tips. There are even ways to conduct customer satisfaction surveys and get feedback.
While that all sounds fantastic, some people wish to have a human interaction still while ordering their food. They argue it is part of what makes the experience. Additionally, if there is no human interaction, there is no one to provide customer support if the patron has a question on what something is. Lastly, the upfront costs of purchasing a self-service kiosk are quite high, and the costs of maintenance can be as well.
#2. Better Efficiency and Food Quality with Robots
Automated machines and robots may be the key to more precise food preparation and execution, especially for the fast-food industry. Amazon is leading the way in robotics and machinery that can handle complex processes. These smart robots increase kitchen productivity and food quality, but they can also cut down on waste.
Many restaurants are using automated machines to increase their kitchen’s output, while also making room for faster food delivery with ground robotics. The Spyce Robotic Kitchen by MIT shows all of the possibilities of a gourmet chef robot and cooking automation.
However, would automated cooking robots replace chefs and food service workers? In some ways, robotics have come a long way, but there are still some tasks and customized orders that require a human’s touch. For now, automated cooking doesn’t seem like it can replace everything that chefs or restaurant workers do. However, this technology does streamline specific processes and add efficiency to fast food restaurants.
#3. New Robotics in Food Packaging
Robotics and automation go hand-in-hand with food packaging. With the uniform needs at the food packaging stage, it’s the most efficient way to tackle food safety as well. Raw food packaging requires uniform shape and sizing, but this wasn’t always so easy for automated robots. Processed foods were easier to handle for robots than raw food.
Now there are robots at every stage of the food packing process. The initial analysis is that food quality increases as long as there aren’t any unique sizes with different types of food. However, more automated robots have been added to the food packaging line to check for errors and ensure quality is maintained.
#4. Fast At-Home Food Delivery with Mobile Ordering Apps
Nowadays, it’s easy to get your favorite restaurant’s food at home. You don’t have to talk to a human or even leave your house with food delivery and mobile ordering apps. These new smart applications allow users to order complex meals that are ready and delivered within 30 minutes in some cases. These apps are usually either owned directly by the restaurant, or there are third-party apps, like GrubHub or UberEats, that get the job done.
It’s also a big revenue earner for small, local restaurants that want more exposure. You can list your restaurant on every food delivery app with your entire menu. All of the ordering is automated through your restaurant. There are even ways to have employees accept and deliver orders, or you can depend on the food delivery service drivers.
The list of cons is pretty minimal as far as tech in food indusrty is concerned. Since it is tech, the mobile app could crash so you would have to call to place an order. There is also usually an additional convenience or delivery fee added to the meal’s cost. Perhaps in the worst scenario, the order is damaged or gets cold on its way to the patron. But some restaurants, like Dominos, have carryout insurance where they will replace a damaged pizza for free if the original is returned.
While many restaurants have never considered adding delivery, it’s now convenient and almost demanded by customers to have a delivery option. However, it’s not to say that easy online ordering and delivery will replace traditional, sit-down restaurants.
#5. Better Safety and Control
For a while now, machines have improved food industry safety for both the food workers and consumers. For example, robots are often used in “depanning,” which means removing food items from hot ovens. This can be a dangerous task if you’re not an expert, but why not avoid injuries altogether? With new machinery, mass-produced baked goods are easily removed from hot racks and large ovens safely using robotics.
In addition, robotics are also useful for denesting, which is usually combined with depanning. These two robots work together to add and remove good from a rack. For example, cupcakes are easily manufactured with depanning and denesting robotics. It’s fast, safe, and efficient.
Furthermore, technology can be used to more successfully uphold quality criteria in a production line, machine vision cameras are now used inside production units to identify food items which do not match the standard required, this could be based on shape, colour, size or blemishes on baked goods or fresh fruit. Another use of such technology is verification of labelling on goods being packaged ready for distribution, with the cameras scanning important elements of the packaging to ensure all labels are present and important information about the product is visible for the consumer.
With that being said, there are still plenty of “dirty” or “dangerous” jobs in the food industry that robots cannot yet do. For instance, beef is still too complex for machines to butcher. The most impactful con of machines in the manufacturing phase of foods is the threat of job losses. Everyday robots are performing tasks that humans once did in food safety. While there are tremendous perks, like reduced foodborne illnesses due to fewer human hands involved and increased levels of efficiency never seen before, is the rise of unemployment worth it?
#6. Does Tech Depersonalize Restaurants?
Every restaurant brand has a certain aesthetic, so not all are suited for automation and mobile ordering. However, the new digital age consumers demand mobile ordering and smart convenience for almost everything now.
Of course, some restaurants remain purist about the entire experience. There are still ways that gourmet restaurants can stay apart of the digital age without it overcoming their aesthetic. For instance, what if you had a smarter host tablet that could easily predict guest traffic and provide customer data on wait times? What if it could organize reserved tables efficiently for savvy guests who wanted to reserve online beforehand?
There are many uses for tech in the food industry, but restaurant owners also need to decide whether tech is necessary to help their business in the long run. For many restaurants, it’s the key to beating the competition and improving their visibility with customers.