While easy to overlook, the prep cook is the backbone of any restaurant. Prep cooks have a hand in all aspects of the service, even though executive chefs often receive the credit. One missing ingredient can fail a dish, leading to a few unhappy customers and a cacophony of other problems that can be avoided when a prep cook performs their job well.
The restaurant technology world has never been shy about its filial relationship with the prep cook. In fact, it can be effectively argued that the majority of advances made in restaurant technology have improved food preparation above all else. From advances in tempering steel to make stronger knives to connected equipment that alert users of their malfunctions, food preparation technology is outpacing the industry’s growth.
But, while it is easy to incorporate technology for the sake of utilizing what’s new, it’s important to understand how what problems this technology is solving. Below are 10 ways technology has revolutionized food preparation, and how each piece can help business owners grow a stronger, more efficient business.
Reducing Human Error
No cook is without error. Whether they are a Michelin Starred chef, or someone who is just starting out. At times, error seems to be the one constant ingredient of the restaurant industry. To that end, Seattle-based technology company Picnic developed a product that automates the dish assembly process by using a robotic assembly line tailored to fit the needs of business owners. Currently, Picnic is focusing on pizza restaurants, a concept that is traditionally ripe with overuse of ingredients. Picnic’s automated assembly line allows its customers to exactly predict their ingredient usage, thereby raising profit margins, standardizing cost control, and improving the accuracy of financial reporting and predicting.
Improving Safety and Productivity
Nowadays it seems as though Google dominates every aspect of our lives. It provides news, calendar software, email, and so much more. But, for restaurants, it also provides a product that greatly improves employee safety and work performance. Google Glass may have failed as a consumer product, but it remains alive and well in foodservice. The product helps workers stay informed about their tasks by accessing training videos, annotated instructions, or quality checklists from the lenses of the glasses. The product costs between $1,200 and $1,400 per pair, along with subscription fees for the use of Google’s software. But, these costs pale in comparison to the costs associated with worker injury, including medical bills and lost productivity.
Reduction of Foodborne Illness
The degree of separation between safe, edible food and potentially life-threatening food is less than one. It takes bacterial less than 20 minutes to multiply on a piece of protein that is kept one degree above its safe storage temperature, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Because of this, restaurant technology companies are incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT) into many new products to connect business owners with their equipment and reduce foodborne illnesses along the way. That’s why D6 Labs created its FoodSafe.io program, a software system that connects mundane kitchen equipment such as a chiller to a business owners’ smart phone. The equipment utilizes an app to send alerts when it’s time for maintenance or when food is sitting at an unsafe temperature. This alert allows owners to immediately diagnose and fix a problem before it becomes lethal to their business.
Every restaurant wants to utilize fresh natural ingredients in their dishes. However, doing so often comes with healthy costs. There are fees associated with sourcing and transportation, and oftentimes restaurant owners can’t control the quality of their products as much as they would like. There are also considerations of space and its functional uses. That’s where Farmshelf comes in. The business created an agricultural bookshelf that allows restaurants to produce vegetables and herbs nearly twice as fast as traditional farming while utilizing the natural beauty of their products as a design element for their restaurant space. It’s currently being tested at Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Gardens, New York, and from the looks of it, seems like it’s in its natural habitat.
Outside of human error, the other truism of the restaurant industry is that it is full of paper. There are invoices, receipts, parchment, you name it. And while these pieces of paper serve a purpose, they also contribute to the continued deforestation of rural and tropical lands. The natural costs of deforestation are unimaginable, and the human costs are just as high. That’s why sustainability has become such a focus for restaurants of all types. Sustainability isn’t just good business practice, it’s also part of being a good steward of your community. That’s why several restaurant technology companies are focusing their efforts on developing products that promote sustainability. One such company is Expensify, a Point of Sale (POS) company that is working to eliminate the use of paper in all facets of a restaurant, from invoicing to providing receipts. The company has developed a product that helps streamline many back-of-house accounting problems that are currently trapped on paper. This helps keep business owners organized and gives them the freedom (and desk space) to solve more pressing problems.
Extending Shelf Life
There’s nothing worse than putting all of your effort into a dish or product only for it to rot within 24 hours. For restaurants that sell juices, shelf life is a primary concern. One of the hottest new trends in food preparation is high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), a process that utilizes water to remove pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms from food. The process was developed for cold-pressed juices and improved the shelf life of juices from one week to over 30 days. Once company pioneering both industrial and consumer products is Avure HPP. The company offers a variety of solutions for foodservice providers, including machines designed specifically for vegetables, seafood, and other proteins. So, if you are looking to increase the shelf life of your fresh products, HPP is worth the investment.
Eliminating Food Waste
Extending the shelf life of products goes a long way to eliminating food waste, but doesn’t completely solve the problem. Another way to reduce food waste is to measure exactly what your business throws away in a day, week, month, or year. That’s why Winnow Solutions reimagined how trash cans can be utilized to reduce food waste and developed the Waste Monitor, an AI powered trashcan that measures and categorizes every wasted ingredient of a kitchen. Whenever a server of kitchen staffer throws out a product, Winnow tracks it and logs it into a database that business owners can track. Doing so allows business owners to visually see where their waste is coming from, allowing them to make minor adjustments that can lead to huge returns on investment.
Increasing profitability is a pipe dream for business owners that don’t make a concerted effort to control costs. The traditional process is often tedious, leading many business owners to forgo it altogether. That’s why Transact created BHOA Food Prep, a software that calculates how much food to prep for a given day based on a business’ historical sales data and inventory metrics. This systems removes the guesswork from kitchen prep, and helps business owners accurately determine the cost of doing business for a given time period.
Increasing Product Yield
Whether you’re selling vegetarian dishes or own a farm to table concept, increasing product yield is a key to increasing both sales and profits. The more meat you can pull off of a fish, the more fish you have to sell. Seems simple, right? Unfortunately, many businesses that have in-house butchers end up wasting more than they should. That’s why Scott Technologies from New Zealand is bent on automating the process by using robotic butchers. Their technology serves a double-edged purpose. On one hand, it helps business owners increase their product yield. On the other, it promotes sustainability by reducing food waste.
Food preparation is as much about the people performing the work as it is about the tools they use. SpreadTHAT! created a butter knife that warms with the skin temperature of its user; Vitamix created an automated blender with different setting for the kind of food or drink being made, and Anova Culinary created a sous vide cooker that connects to an app which takes the guesswork out of cooking time. There are so many new gadgets on the market that it’s hard to keep track of at time. Never stop looking, though. The next great kitchen gadget could truly revolutionize the way your prep cooks work.