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Kitchen Innovations Revolutionizing Back-Of-House Operations

By Elsa Klein

Digital innovation is everything when it comes to making your restaurant operations more efficient, cost-effective, and productive. A labor shortage combined with crippling cost spikes means that, to keep overheads manageable, hospitality businesses have no choice but to look to technology to streamline their processes. Often overlooked is how these digital tools can be used behind the scenes to help companies reduce their dependence on staff and also help staff perform their role easier, faster, and with less stress.

If you’re wondering what is and what could be in store for kitchen technology, here’s a snapshot of how the industry is currently leveraging digital advancement and AI to cope with the competitive labor market

The State of the Restaurant Industry

Over 26 percent of restaurants say that they can’t find enough cooks, and those who are fully staffed are facing an average 10 percent raise in wages and higher turnover rates than was seen even at the peak of the pandemic. The simple truth of the current labor market is that businesses are not able to keep up with staff demands.

In many cases, businesses are choosing to slow or stop hiring as a way to reduce costs. However, this comes with significant risks, such as burning out their current staff and not having enough support to provide quality service to their customers.

To keep up, the world’s largest QSR brands are turning to automation wherever possible. From McDonald’s widely successful self-order kiosks and mobile app to Domino’s piloting delivery robots and drones, industry leaders are looking for ways to maintain exceptional, fast service without relying on the human workforce.

Optimizing Your Menu for Maximizing Profit

Menu optimization is helping hospitality businesses increase order sizes, boost profits, and maximize the customer experience.

Look out for these back-of-house innovations

As restaurants continue to invest in new technologies to optimize their kitchen, TASK’s US President John Laporte cautions businesses to stay attuned to the impact on customer service. “Digital innovation is necessary to keep up. But don’t forget that every transition you make has a cost. Take advantage of what’s out there, but make sure you approach everything by first considering the impact on your customers and your customer service.”

Trevor Dee, TASK’s US Vice President of Business Development, adds, “The way we see it, the primary purpose of technology and technology partners is to help people. It’s to help solve problems and make people’s lives easier, and that includes both consumers and staff. You want to create a system that gets your customer what they want quicker, with less hassle, and that almost always coincides with tools that make things simpler for your back-of-house staff.”

Bottom line – prioritize your customer as you take on new digital transitions. Keeping this in mind, here are the top developments in back-of-house technology to watch out for and consider as you optimize your kitchen and staff flow to accommodate faster service and easier operations for your teams.

Artificial Intelligence

Rather than relying on manual processes to analyze large amounts of data quickly, automation technology can help provide valuable insights about your customers, your operations, and the effectiveness of your efforts.

On the customer service side of your restaurant, AI-driven kiosks, chatbots, and ordering platforms can help provide personalized recommendations and messaging to your customers. This helps maintain your close customer relationships without putting on more pressure and responsibility on your staff.

Capacity Management Technology

When it comes to simplifying your kitchen workflow and ensuring quality service for your customer, capacity management is crucial. Based on predictive data, this kind of technology can estimate to a startling degree of accuracy how long a certain food item will take to prepare based on real-time business levels and how many staff are currently working.

John says, “To deal with orders coming in all at once from different channels, many restaurants just rely on static algorithms (hard rules such as only taking in 15 orders per half hour). However, these algorithms don’t account for your actual capacity in the moment. What we provide at TASK is a full end-to-end solution that can automatically pace orders coming in to maximize your capacity without pushing too much at any one time. That means that your predicted pick-up times for delivery drivers or customers are highly accurate.”

Leverage Restaurant Inventory Management Technology

One of the more time-consuming tasks for back-of-house and management staff is tracking stock and placing food orders. What Restaurant Inventory Management (RIM) software does is automate this entire process for ultimate efficiency.

Trevor says, “RIM combines it all – POS menu build, recipe management and modification capabilities, theoretical food cost, electronic purchase orders, and invoicing. What that means for the store manager is they simply have to review and approve the automatically generated orders and the task is done. Ultimately, this is a huge cost-saving tool, but it also reduces human error and makes life a whole lot less stressful for that manager.”

Additionally, RIM software ensures that you always have the right amount of stock based on historical data. This helps reduce food waste and sunk costs on inventory.

The Future of Front of House

Technology is making life easier for front of house staff, helping businesses drive better experiences and increasing their bottom line.

Incorporation of Robotics

Robotics have the potential to automate complex or dangerous tasks in the kitchen, helping keep your staff safe and improving efficiency.

Operating the hot fryer, for example, is one of the leading causes of injury in QSR kitchens. In theory, a robot that could operate the fryer could help reduce labor costs, assure consistent food quality, and make the kitchen a safer place. This was exactly the spirit of Miso Robotics’ Flippy the Burger Robot from Jack in the Box.

However, with a  $5,000 installation price tag and $3,500 per month for rental, John says this solution may be more cost-effective in the future. “You have to consider that future updates and roll-outs for this tech will demand specialist on-site technicians, who will require higher salaries than a QSR cook. The analysis I’ve seen so far suggests that the ROI for Flippy (over other existing fry automation solutions) isn’t there – yet.”

As digital tools continue to improve at astonishing rates, however, it is likely that robotics will eventually play a much larger role in kitchens. Keeping an eye on this space may carve out future opportunities for drastic optimization opportunities.

3D Food Printers

While this may seem like a new phenomenon, 3D food printers have been in development for over 20 years and have been used by NASA to design cuisine fit for space.

3D food creation starts with a digital design and then uses ingredients to create intricate food items to perfection. From detailed desserts to juicy burgers, the technology is out there to create high-quality food at a rapid and consistent rate.

While not a staple of restaurants yet, this technology may bring huge cost savings for QSRs who value consistency.

Virtual Reality for Staff Training

The process of hiring and training staff can cost businesses thousands of dollars for each new team member. Virtual reality could help streamline this process. Newly hired kitchen staff could undertake training in a virtual environment or take tours of the restaurant environment all without setting foot in the actual kitchen.

But for restaurants who don’t want to go down this path, Trevor says that there are also structural ways to simplify training. “Having a POS system that is intuitively designed is hugely beneficial. When your entire network of touchpoints is interconnected and presented in an easy-to-use way, that means your staff has immediate access to all the information they could want. What that means in practice is that your teenage employee at the front counter doesn’t have to know every allergen on the menu or memorize a long series of steps to leave off the ketchup from a burger. Instead, it’s all right there, straightforward, and easy to navigate, resulting in fewer mistakes and better order accuracy.”

How to know what technologies to leverage first

With so many opportunities out there, and such a huge amount of pressure on restaurants to make strategic decisions with the best ROI, it can feel daunting to know where to turn and how to implement your digital transitions seamlessly. That’s exactly why it is so important to work with technology partners that can approach your technology transformation holistically and develop a solution that matches your brand’s specific needs.

Keeping up with labor shortages and rising overhead costs means that hospitality businesses must invest in strategic technologies to meet and exceed customer and staff demands. Leveraging technology and customer experience experts can help you define exactly how to make the most of the digital capabilities available and ensure that you are maximizing your margins.