Article contributed by Guy Yehiav
The conditions of our current economic environment require food service management to provide more precise prescriptions for their operations.
With a potential recession, inflation challenges, and restaurant employee shortage looming, the margin for error is increasingly small for restaurant operators to maintain operational efficiency and food safety. Economic uncertainty creates an environment where optimizing existing equipment investments is essential. For example, less staff available means that HACCP compliance tasks such as temperature and humidity logging and reporting need to be digitalized with automatic and continuous monitoring combined with digital decisioning for the operator.
The employee shortage makes higher retention rates a priority. With all these requirements, restaurants need automated prescriptions that guide their employees — from the kitchen all the way to the corner office — with descriptive insights, corrective actions, and execution confirmation that keep food safe, compliance maintained, and customers satisfied.
Commercial IoT solutions for restaurant operations have long been isolated and opaque, mired in fragmentation. However, today’s market is moving toward a more open approach that leverages sensors from multiple vendors, integrates with existing restaurant equipment, and uses sophisticated software featuring prescriptive workflows and automated HACCP compliance. With any food service technology investment, the question of ROI is always a top consideration. For restaurant operators at any scale, the urgency to stay ahead of the tech curve goes beyond convenience — it’s critical for achieving greater operational efficiency and supporting improved margins.
IoT Sensing as a Service offers seamless interoperability with third-party sensing devices and enterprise management systems, allowing food service companies to successfully leverage their existing tech stacks for task management, asset monitoring, menu management, and food safety. At the heart of this technology is the capability to:
- Protect assets — the refrigerators, coolers, and walk-ins that keep food at the right temperature and humidity levels for safe consumption and maximized customer experience. IoT-enabled food safety combined with a corresponding prescriptive analytics engine gives restaurant operators the ability to predict failure of assets before they fail, automatically dispatching technicians for preventative equipment maintenance. Longer equipment life extends the value of capital investments and mitigates the risk of downtime during store hours.
- Cook, warm, and cool food based on HACCP compliance protocols for specific customized menu items.
Enhancing Traceability Throughout the Food Chain
When it comes to food safety, the speed and precision at which a restaurant or food service provider can identify the source of foodborne illness are the key ingredients for fighting contamination. The quicker restaurant operators can pinpoint the source of contamination, the faster they can stop the distribution of unsafe food. The better the accuracy, the less product that must be thrown out. Greater visibility, enabled by IoT sensing capabilities, protects consumers through a digital trail that empowers food service providers and public health agencies with the information they need to react with speed and intelligence.
Traceability goes beyond in-store operations alone, however. Food-safe temperature and humidity levels need to be maintained from farm to fork, and everywhere in-between. Unfortunately, some truck drivers try to save on gas costs by cutting corners and turning off refrigeration in the middle of their journey between production facility and restaurant. Truck drivers turn on the refrigeration again at some point in their journey with enough time to get the product back to safe levels and no one is the wiser. Without the proper traceability processes in place, store operators are unaware of the intermittent period without refrigeration. To protect food in transit and the customers that will eventually consume the food, the right sensing, reporting, and alerting technology needs to be implemented throughout the cold chain.
Promoting Profitability with Waste Reduction
Preparation, quality, safety, and waste reduction are all critical considerations for restaurant operators. It’s estimated that the combined food waste of QSR and full-service restaurants in the U.S. totals somewhere between 22 billion to 33 billion pounds each year. In total, the U.S. restaurant industry is missing out on $2 billion every year in potential profits. Waste reduction is a massive opportunity for improving profitability for restaurant operators.
Day-to-day kitchen operations provide several risks of food waste. For example, if the kitchen staff cooks too much chicken, what are the food-safe strategies that can help remedy the situation? Prescriptive workflows and automated guidance help cooks pivot from their initial menu plans and follow the HACCP compliant methods for cooldown and reuse of chicken — making chicken salad with unsold chicken that would otherwise go to waste. Beyond prescriptive workflows, training itself can be automated to operate in real-time, leveling up employees with varying levels of experience. IoT-enabled guidance and training prevent unnecessary waste, providing easy-to-understand corrective actions and confirmation of execution.
Without real-time data capture and corresponding actionable insights, reducing food waste by any meaningful amount is increasingly difficult. However, armed with the tools to increase efficiency and improve productivity, kitchen staff can make substantial progress in the fight against food waste, making the restaurants they work in more profitable and more sustainable.