Slowly but surely, the line separating the physical realm from the digital one is becoming further blurred and obfuscated. More physical objects and entities are interacting with the Internet than ever before, adding to the rapidly growing network dubbed the Internet of Things, or the IoT.
IoT technology has already made waves across numerous industries, from the real estate business to the education sector. So it’s no surprise the food service industry is next to undergo the transformative revolution of IoT.
The multi-faceted nature of the restaurant business means the potential applications for IoT are innumerable. Below are just a few of these prospective implementations, their benefits, and even some examples of innovative food service companies that are already using them.
The foundation of the food service industry, restaurants must comply with an ever-updating set of rules and regulations to ensure the safety of their customers. Many of these health standards are based on meticulously recording the time and temperature of various ingredients.
Taking these recordings is a tedious, time-consuming task that currently must be performed manually. But with the IoT, smart refrigerators, freezers, or other food storage units can automatically record time, temperature, and other relevant safety data.
An IoT-enabled “smarT” refrigerator (Source)
More robust IoT systems could provide alerts when products were going to spoil, and when they no longer complied to health standards. These smart storage units could even integrate USDA recalls or product advisories into their system, further ensuring the quality of the food.
One of IoT’s most common applications, many industries have already implemented smart HVAC systems to monitor energy usage and cut costs. These systems even analyze HVAC data to let restaurant operators know when necessary maintenance and repairs should be scheduled.
Arby’s is just one of the food service enterprise companies that have already embraced IoT technology. Looking for a way to boost their bottom line without increasing prices or decreasing product quality, Arby’s turned to an IoT-based solution to reduce the costs of their HVAC system.
The result? Arby’s surpassed its storewide goal of a 15% reduction in energy consumption, and posted a savings increase of 15.2% by the end of the fiscal year. It’s a feat made even more impressive when Arby’s reported their HVAC-related savings paid for the cost of implementing the IoT system in just one year.
The kitchen itself may be one facet of the restaurant business most reluctant to adopt IoT technologies. Chefs are, after all, artists, and their methods and techniques are often time-tested traditions of the culinary industry.
But this doesn’t mean the IoT doesn’t have a place in the kitchen—in fact, when properly used, it can provide invaluable benefits that save chefs time on mundane tasks, allowing them to exercise their culinary artistry on more important matters.
Imagine smart pots and pans that can monitor how thoroughly something is cooked, alerting a chef exactly when their ingredient is ready for consumption or further preparation. It would eliminate the possibility of under or over cooking, resulting in a perfect dish every time.
IoT technology could also be implemented in measuring tools that sense the amount of an ingredient with absolute precision. While helpful for any kitchen, this could be especially ideal for higher-end restaurants that ration their often expensive ingredients to the milligram.
THE GUEST EXPERIENCE
The IoT applications discussed so far have been in the domain of the restaurant unbeknownst to the customer, the facet of the food industry behind kitchen doors. But some of the IoT’s most innovative and exciting applications lie in providing an engaging experience for the customer.
We’ve seen early iterations of this already—many restaurants provide a small receiver to waiting customers that vibrates or lights up when their table is ready. Many customers find this tech useful already, so why not extend it to other sections of the dining experience?
Consider a table that was connected to a smartwatch worn by a server. Guests could send alerts directly from the table to the watch, letting their server know if they needed drinks, were ready to order, or wanted the check.
Another restaurant giant, Panera Bread, utilized a user experience design agency to embrace IoT tech to provide a more immersive, engaging experience.
In 2014, Panera introduced a “Table Tracker” system that provided customers with a wireless device for their table, so that food runners could take their meals directly to the table. This eliminated hungry consumers waiting around counters for their food.
And this is just the tip of the IoT iceberg—the potential applications are limited only by the imagination and innovation of the restaurant employing them.
So why not join the cutting edge of the food service industry? Whether it’s a full-scale integration, or something as simple as mobile app development—you don’t want to be left behind while the competition advances.