Still, networked devices are having a heyday and kitchens are exceptional places to find efficiencies. Beacons can be used to retrofit older equipment, making cost a lesser factor. The allure of reduced manual errors, improved inventory tracking, and faster ticket times are pushing restaurants to invest in smarter kitchen gadgets. Here are three technology trends that are ripe for adoption in the kitchen.
1 Internet of Things (IoT)
Simply put, the Internet of Things refers to making formerly “dumb” objects “smart.” This is usually accomplished by placing a sensor on the object to collect and transmit data. Tauzin says that a good deal of new kitchen technology falls into this area. IoT has application for refrigeration, lighting, HVAC, fryers — basically any piece of commercial kitchen equipment — and it’s already being used in restaurants. As more devices come on line, restaurants can monitor the kitchen via an IoT command center platform.
Several winners of the National Restaurant Association 2015 Kitchen Innovations (KI) Awards are prime examples of IoT at work in the kitchen: FilterQuick by Frymaster (www.frymaster.com) monitors the health of oil, and Icelink (http://icecubelink.com) transports ice to a production area. The win here, says Tauzin, is that “IoT helps restaurants save on labor costs and increase employee satisfaction because staff no longer has to perform these manual tasks.”
Yum! Brands (www.yum.com) franchisee Luihn Food Systems, for example, uses Kitchen Brains’ (www.kitchenbrains.com) Quality Production Management application to automate and streamline food production in its KFC restaurants. The system wirelessly networks the company’s cooking appliances, automates food production and provides real-time remote monitoring and administration. This has improved labor productivity and food availability and quality, while also increasing sales and lowering costs.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, the connected kitchen will contribute to at least 15% savings in the food and beverage industry. Many of these wins will come from the ability to leverage big data analytics (item two on our list) to perform tasks such as real-time inventory management of menu items (item three on our list) .
2 Data & Analytics Tools
The majority of next- gen kitchen tech produces data that can be used to improve efficiency, decrease waste and improve food quality. To see the biggest ROI from these networked devices, a restaurant will need to access and organize the data produced in a smart kitchen, and then effectively apply analytics to make decisions. Right now, most restaurants have a patchwork of technologies in a computing environment that already requires better integration. Adding inputs from a smart kitchen will further complicate the data environment. Big data is at work in a minority of restaurants — just 30% according to HT’s 2015 Restaurant Technology Study — but it’s a top priority for one in four restaurants over the coming year. Eventually, the emergence of standards around IoT will reduce complexities for accessing data. However, Gartner predicts that “through 2018, there will be no dominant IoT ecosystem platform.” Until then, Gartner says, IT leaders will need to compose solutions from multiple providers.
For now, this opens up a diverse playing field of solutions that gather and churn out kitchen data, ranging from inventory tracking tools, to menu management, to procurement. For example, menu analysis tools were used by 57% of restaurants in HT’s study with another 11% planning to add the technology within a year.
ClubCorp (www.clubcorp.com) has found significant wins with a recipe management system from Birchstreet (www.birchstreet.net). The membership-based leisure business is one of the largest owner/operators of golf, county, business and sports clubs with over 160 locations. ClubCorp’s recipes — all 400 of them – were kept in an Excel spreadsheet, where price management was cumbersome at best.
Today, using BirchStreet, there are 3,000 recipes in the system and each ingredient is linked to its nutritional value as well as the preferred supplier. Pricing is available in real-time. With the cloud-based platform, every club and golf course had access to every recipe, plus images and videos, to create consistency and enforce brand standards. “This ensures similarity across restaurants as well as reduces time on menu creation,” says Jeff Zimmerman, director of culinary development.
3 Real-Time Ordering for Inventory
The third trend coming to restaurant kitchens is more about the ingredients than the equipment: it’s the ability to order inventory in real time. John Laporte, CIO of Logan’s Roadhouse (www.logansroadhouse.com), says that vendor ordering guides are often out of date by the time they are downloaded. When this happened to his restaurants, they’d receive substitutions, which impacted their ability to fulfill orders.
In Sept 2014, Logan’s Roadhouse installed Compeat Enterprise (www.compeat.com) to manage its back office and inventory. Using the cloud-based version of the product, Logan’s can manage inventory in a “just-in-time” basis, so that product can be received at its freshest. “We can see the vendor data in real time and we know that what we order is actually in stock and will show up in our order, not something else,” says Laporte. Tauzin agrees that real-time inventory is a growing trend in restaurant kitchens. She says that before long, all kitchen ordering will take place in real time, not just from big vendors, but local and niche farms as well.
Additional reporting by Lisa Terry