In Part III of our Restaurant Technology Trends for 2020 series, we are going to explore Robotic Process Automation.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Whether RPA comes in the form of software bots or AI workers, it’s clear that restaurants will be embracing this technology in operations, HR, and finance. According to Smartbridge, a consulting firm specializing in technology strategies, the adoption of RPA will be increasing from 40 to almost 80 percent in the next 3 to 5 years.
According to Gartner Predicts 2020, “Hyperautomation refers to an approach in which organizations rapidly identify and automate as many business processes as possible. It involves the use of a combination of technology tools, including but not limited to machine learning, packaged software, and automation tools to deliver work.” They estimate that, by 2024, organizations will lower their operational costs by 30 percent by combining these technologies with “redesigned operational processes.”
One of the latest AI worker creations is BellaBot, a mood-changing, food-delivering robot kitty that was featured at CES 2020 tech expo in Las Vegas. It moves through restaurants with a stack of shelves carrying food trays and meows at customers, prompting them to pick up their order.
Flippy, the robotic quick-order cook that can be found at several CaliBurgers, and spent some time cooking at Dodger Stadium, has raised more than $13 million in investments and is looking to more than double that amount in the near future as it looks to quick-serve establishments that need help keeping help in the kitchen. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hospitality industry—accommodations and restaurants—had 822,000 job openings as of December 2019.
The Los Angeles Times broke down the cost effectiveness of this strategy, the price of which has reduced significantly over the last few years. In 2016, a robot arm cost about $100,000. Today, that arm comes in at about $10,000. Miso Robotics, the creators of Flippy, is offering Flippy on a subscription basis for $2,000 a month.
No matter your fondness for, or distaste of, conversational machine-learning chatbots, it’s clear that they are here to stay. With the need to respond to customers in a timely matter at an all-time high, we expect more and more restaurants to embrace this technology. Restaurants are using these online talking robots to place orders and suggest upsells, recommend pairing, make a reservation, answer standard questions, and receive a payment.
Chatbots have come a long way since their humble beginnings. For those of you that remember the first computerized phone-based attempts as compared to today’s Alexa, Siri, and Cortana—it’s clear that virtual and voice assistant technologies have created the ability for bots to respond to guest’s questions and requests in creative, sometimes humorous ways.
Restaurants incorporating RPA technology:
San Francisco is home to several robotic, automated restaurants, or at least it was. Eatsa, an automated quinoa-bowl shop that had more automation than people at its units, has closed their two San Francisco locations and is joining forces with Starbucks. Zume, the forerunner in robotic pizza making, has turned from pizzas to food-truck technology and packaging. Spyce, the world’s first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen created by MIT grads in Boston, received $21 million in funding last year. Today, it is temporarily closed while its menu and kitchen are revamped.
Creator, home to the 5-minute burger-making robot, still seems to be alive and well (pun intended).
Once again, Domino’s is at the forefront of technology, offering customers the ability to place an order via their pizza bot on Facebook Messenger with a simple emoji. KFC and Pizza Hut have both enabled voice-activated ordering for their customers.
ManyChat, a service that allows you to create chatbots for Facebook Messenger, reported on the increase in profits obtained by Rapid Fired Pizza, after they deployed a Facebook bot—over $16,500 in just four months. Not bad.
Businesses in the forefront:
PuduTech is the mastermind behind BellaBot, and currently has its predecessor food-delivery bot in about 2000 restaurants around the world. In addition to delivery, they have also created HolaBot, a dish-return robot.
Guestfriend is a chatbot service that allows restaurants and other businesses to create a virtual host. This personalized chatbot answers a customer’s questions via the restaurant’s website or Facebook page by text. According to Chatbot Magazine, the chatbot can be created in as little as 5 minutes and interacts with customers in real time. Just as OpenTable revolutionized the restaurant reservation process, the creators of Guestfriend believe this chatbot service will revolutionize the customer service experience.
Chatfuel also offers the ability to create and engage customers with a chatbot in about 7 minutes. This chatbot offers assistance by answering questions 24/7, takes reservations from the Messenger app, and accepts online orders. And, as a nice bonus, it does this all while gathering information about your current or potential customer.
Now that you’ve caught a glimpse of some of the latest innovations in restaurant technology, let’s take a look at a few of the ways these tech advances are supporting operations in the front and back of the house.
Integrating Technology in the Back of the House
While we may not be quite ready for metallic chefs, there are numerous other technologies that support the back of the house and increase efficiency. A few of these include:
Near Field Communication (NFC) tags are a radio-frequency technology that transmits data between an NFC tag and an NFC-enabled device.
Chick-fil-A began testing a mobile ordering service that lets customers place food orders using their mobile phone and then tap an NFC tag on their table with their smartphone, which then connects their order with where they are sitting. Customers using this dine-in mobile ordering service no longer need to stand in line or place an order at the counter.
Voice Recognition for Prep Instructions
While still in its infancy, presenters at FSTEC conference in 2019—which focuses on digital transformations of restaurants—relayed that voice recognition is being adapted in order to provide prep instructions upon request for kitchen workers. No longer would BOH staff need to leave the line to pull out a recipe card or search on the computer.
You may wonder what the fastest growing social media platform has to do with restaurants, particularly the BOH. Designed to create short, 15-second videos, restaurants are using this technology to share BOH theatre such as quick food clips. It has grown from 0 users in 2013 to 524 million users just five years later. Chipotle decided to join the TikTok ranks in 2019. Their first foray was a “lid-flip stunt” performed by one of their employees which generated more than 230 million views.
The world’s first AI-powered trash bin has been created. Winnow Vision, a UK technology startup, uses a camera and smart scales to keep track of what types of food your restaurant is throwing away. The machine-learning bin learns more about the different types of food as it is used. With this knowledge, operators are able to better control waste through purchases, inventory tracking, and portion control.
Integrating Technology in the Front of the House
Technology has, to a great degree, focused its solutions on the front-of-the-house. Here are a few of the solutions that we expect to see increase exponentially.
Tabletop Ordering Systems
Tabletop Tablets have revolutionized the ordering process for many restaurants. In addition to improving the guest experience for digital-hungry diners, tablets also decrease table-turnover time and increase check totals. Guests can use these devices to play a game, check-in on social media, join your loyalty program, request their server, and put an end to any waiting period when they wish to order another drink or opt for a dessert.
Applebee’s began testing this technology in 2014. Today, ordering tablets can be found at every one of their tables in the U.S. Applebee’s reports that over 70 percent of their guests interact with them and 50 percent of them use the devices to pay. Outback reported a 30 percent increase in their dessert sales after implementing a tablet ordering system.
Handheld Ordering Devices
We expect handheld POS systems to increase substantially in 2020. This technology has recently hit its stride with Toast Go, a fully integrated handheld POS system that allows servers to take orders and payments and issue digital or email receipts tableside, hitting the market in 2018. These devices allow orders to hit the bar and kitchen immediately with no delay.
Beverages and Robotic Bartenders
While robotic bartenders are a rare site, tech startups are eager to make them an everyday occurrence. Makr Shakr, an Italian startup, introduced their first robotic bartender that can make up to 120 cocktails in an hour in 2013.
It has found a home in Dubai, London, Milan, and Las Vegas.
Monsieur makes drinks while learning guest’s preferences while a mobile app allows guests to place their order from a short distance away. You can catch Monsieur at several professional sports venues, some movie theaters, and celebrity events.
We’d like to end on one of the hottest topics of the last several years—delivery.
Technology Adaptations in Delivery
In 2020, revenue in the online food delivery segment is expected to amount to over $23,990 million. At its current growth rate of 5.1 percent, it is expected to grow to $29,222 million by 2024. According to Business Insider, restaurants that use an online-ordering system are able to increase their revenue 30 percent more than those that do not. In addition, Restaurant Business notes that Technomic reported that off-premise sales makes up 44 percent of all restaurant sales, with 25 percent of those accounted for by delivery.
One of the challenges facing restaurants that do not provide their own delivery services, is the use of third-party that, though beneficial and easy to implement, can eat away at profits—anywhere from 8 to 30 percent.
Technology is coming to the rescue by offering cost-effective solutions. Here are just a few:
Hybrid Delivery Models
Sweetgreen, a quick-growing salad chain with over 90 locations, started their Outpost Program in 2018. This hybrid-delivery model includes designated kiosks located in companies such as Nike, United Talent, and Refinery 29. There is no fee for the company and no delivery fee for the customers who simply order using Sweetgreen’s app or website. The system enables the fast casual brand to delivery their fresh, made-to-order bowls and salads to groups without the need for third-party delivery services.
Delivery Management Software
Delivery management software delivers data from several online ordering platforms directly to the kitchen display system. Restaurants no longer have to use a handful of tablets that connect with each third-party online platform. Chowly is one of the companies leading this brigade.
This delivery model also gives restaurants more control by obtaining delivery orders via their own apps and websites, and then having DoorDash deliver the food.
If you think these innovative technologies are only for the big boys, think again. Panelists, from the ICX Association 2019 Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, believe adoption of the latest technology including AI, VR, and AR is wide open to smaller restaurants. Dan Simpson, CEO of Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, which has grown to 86 locations in 17 states, believes it’s important to adopt these technologies. “AI is no more complicated than knowing how to predict sales based on past. If your systems do that, you are already leveraging AI. The smaller you are, the quicker you should adopt these things. It gives you an efficient way to stay ahead.”