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Rethinking the Kitchen & Optimizing Investments


Smarter kitchen systems that leverage data, artificial intelligence and IoT can be a salve for the top challenges that restaurants face, while also achieving on top strategic goals for tech investments. Data from Hospitality Technology’s 2019 Restaurant Technology Study indicates that 38% of restaurants were looking to increase investments in kitchen management software. Technology that allows staff to be more efficient and accurate, while freeing them from menial tasks, is a top strategic goal for tech investments and leveraging these solutions in the flow of operations from the kitchen is a vital step.

Many kitchens are still using traditional technology and sticking receipts in a line, observes Revel Systems. This is not an effective strategy, with an increasing number of orders from multiple channels. Restaurants need advanced kitchen display systems (KDS) that are capable of aggregating orders and gives restaurant frontlines an overall view of items needed. Instead of fulfilling orders one by one in serial order, the kitchen becomes a production zone. 

Off-premise sales are predicted to hit 60% of restaurants’ overall sales. This shift in customer preference, as guests are ordering online and eating elsewhere, has required brands across segments to reconsider operations and service structure. Tad Low, Senior Marketing Director, Off Premise and Field Marketing at Moe’s Southwest Grill, agrees. “There’s so much focus on operations and the impact of online ordering and delivery,” he says. “The restaurant industry is starting to lose focus on the in-store guest. Service is on the decline.”

Improving Business Analytics

The first step is to have a handle on your data and use it, says Revel Systems. Restaurants need to know how much is being cooked and selling in order to be predictive and know what limitations exist. A guest ordering a delivery can be told there is a 45-minute wait, but a customer waiting in line won’t accept that. If restaurants don’t have systems that can predict and manage order throughput as off-premise dining frequency increases, these sorts of problems can do great damage to a brand’s reputation.

Connectivity Will Power Kitchens of the Future & Improve Efficiency

While third-party delivery and the lack of order integration may be the most disruptive, the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) is fueling the evolution of the connected restaurant, says Oracle Food and Beverage.

With IoT, commercial-grade broadband connectivity is a must-have. “Broadband connectivity is not a luxury. It is just as important as water and other utilities. All restaurants need to be connected to the outside world and the outside world needs to be connected to the restaurant,” says Toby Malbec, Managing Director, ConStrata Technology Consulting

Using IoT to drive more predictive auditing of food safety concerns can lead to efficiencies and cost savings, says GoSpotCheck. IoT devices such as BLE thermometers and sensors provide restaurant operators with the ability to monitor food storage. Most restaurants are not automating their workflows, however, and many are not using IoT to manage food safety in locations. 

Of the 300 largest restaurant chains in the U.S., roughly 91% use pen and paper for daily food inspections, says GoSpotCheck. Before implementing GoSpotCheck for compliance and monitoring, American Dairy Queen Corp.’s (ADQ). data collection was unstructured across its 6,800 locations that include franchise and corporate stores. ADQ’s Franchise Business Consultants (FBCs) used to spend an hour at each restaurant aggregating and submitting both data and photos to corporate; with GoSpotCheck those same tasks takes about 10 minutes. By equipping FBCs with GoSpotCheck, Dairy Queen has decreased the amount of time needed to gather and analyze restaurant brand standards data by 80%.

In addition to inefficient data collection, the lack of a mobile solution made it difficult to see trends across the enterprise in real-time. “For me, it’s as important with the operations team as it is working with franchisees to reinforce ‘Here are the things we need to work on,’” said John Scheid, ADQ’s Director of Concept Support Services, in a statement.   

To make sure kitchen operations are running smoothly, expect an increasing role not only for IoT but also for AI and data analysis. CMX, a provider of Enterprise Quality Management Solutions (EQMS) for supply chain management and operations, points to AI and its abilities to continuously monitor data; for example, McDonald’s uses AI to determine peak and low volumes and to determine the best time to schedule cleanings.

Buffalo Wild Wings’ 1,200 sports bars use CMX’s Activity Studio for self-assessments and in-depth location audits on food safety and temperature monitoring, back-of-house operations, kitchen equipment, staff training, guest reviews and more.

Drew Roberts, Director, Brand Ops Performance for Buffalo Wild Wings, acknowledged in a statement that the AI enabled the brand to improve management and resulted in an immediate positive “impact on operational excellence” across all of the brand’s sports bars. 

Staying Ahead of Systems Maintenance

A quarter of restaurants (25%) name reducing operating costs as a top strategic goal while 41% feel challenged by being saddled with legacy systems, according to HT’s 2019 Restaurant Technology Study. This paints a picture of restaurants that often find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of systems failing. 

In its Q4 earnings call with analysts, Starbucks shared details on the new Mastrena espresso maker. Not only can it pull a triple shot of espresso, but an IoT sensor communicates data to the Starbucks support center, allowing them to see “centrally if there is a machine that’s out there that needs tuning or maintenance,” explains Kevin Johnson, President and CEO. “With the Deep Brew and our predictive analytics, we’re going to be able to determine if a machine needs preventative maintenance on it before it breaks.”

AI combined with IoT-enabled equipment can help restaurant operators not only monitor and schedule routine maintenance but also gain deeper insights from facilities management.

Roger Goldstein, executive director of facilities with Panda Restaurant Group uses ServiceChannel’s SAAS-based platform to source, manage and pay for infrastructure maintenance and repairs at its 2,200 locations. The company not only helps oversee complex kitchen equipment, but helps to cut operational costs and energy expenditure, as well as completing work orders without disturbing diners. 

Being able to track and make sure routine maintenance is performed or being able to dispatch a repair technician and verify the repair has been made is essential. Certain “periodic maintenance (of kitchen equipment) is required by code,” he says.

Even systems maintenance comes back to data. With a single system across the enterprise, one of the major benefits is the “collection of data and information we have to work off of to keep improving,” Goldstein says, adding that he uses this information to identify spending trends as well as outliers.

Being able to compare costs across the enterprise helps Panda efficiently manage scheduling services and repairs for kitchen equipment. “In some cases we can look harder to get a better price,” he says. “It is good to collect and report to ops what is happening.”

Data is great but actionable insights are even better. Systems are great at storing data, but they’re not providing it to store managers in an actionable way, says Revel Systems. In general, the software should look at data and tell the store manager what needs to be done and what the best practices are. Actionable data is “the next holy grail.”  

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