Yes, Chef! IoT and Restaurant Operations

Posted by on Jun 8, 2017 5:00:00 AM David Weber  
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Operating a restaurant always has been a risky undertaking thanks to significant overhead costs, slim profit margins, unpredictable diner tastes, high staff turnover, and a variety of other factors. Sometimes entire sectors can enter an unforeseen downward spiral, such as the current decline of fast casual chains (Olive Garden, Chili’s, Applebee’s, etc.) that once were a safe revenue bet. Even trendy gourmet restaurants with glowing reviews and lines out the door are vulnerable. Research shows that once their ‘flavor of the month’ appeal wears off, diners look elsewhere to eat.     

 

While IoT technology can’t eliminate all the risks restaurateurs face, it dramatically can mitigate a lot of them, including the biggest threats to any operation’s viability—energy, staff, and food wastage.

Energy

In addition to traditional energy costs, such as lighting and HVAC systems, restaurants must pay for stoves, refrigerators, and possibly external heat (heat lamps, fire pits) that other retail establishments do not. Smart sensors can be attached to doorways, cooktops/ovens, refrigeration units, light fixtures, and other appliances. They compile data on these resources regarding daily and peak usage, if equipment is left on during lull periods or after hours, and the overall efficiency versus standard metrics. Once analyzed, the information can provide valuable insight into appliance maintenance, how any given area is being utilized, the exact cause of a sudden energy spike, where energy leaks are occurring (for example, a seldom used door never shuts properly), or any number of other components that affect gas and electricity consumption.

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Staffing

Restaurant staffing management has never been an easy job, especially in tight labor markets. That means operators need to maximize the productivity and efficiency of staff, regardless of internal/external conditions. IoT deployments enable extensive automation of many managerial functions, which allows supervisors to focus on mission-critical tasks rather than constantly worrying about personnel issues.

Scheduling becomes simpler as managers know, in advance, which staff will be present. Reminder alerts can be sent to smart phones of non-regular employees (such as high school students) in advance of their workday, or to notify them if they are late. GPS tracking nametags can determine the best workflow, or if any crewmembers are in unauthorized areas or lingering unnecessarily (a busser spending 20 minutes in the kitchen during rush times). Jobs (such as cook) can be matched to appliance usage in order to improve energy utilization. And food/liquor theft can be reduced or eliminated as sensor data can match amounts actually used (or missing) with receipts or attendance levels.  

Of course, any such initiatives will need to be done with the consent of staff and within the boundaries of privacy/employment laws.

Food spoilage

Like the grocery industry, restaurants must fight an ongoing battle with food spoilage, especially with diners wanting more farm-to-table, fresh, organic, and other special meal types that have very short ingredient expiration dates. IoT-enabled devices and sensors can monitor foods and their associated storage unlike ever before, making food management a highly proactive undertaking.

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A restaurant system can send instant alerts if a freezer door is left ajar, a refrigerator breaks, a fish tank/seafood-on-ice counter display malfunctions, or other environmental issues are compromised. Food areas (or the food itself) can be ‘tagged’ with any number of preset conditions. These include:

  • Use-by date and times
  • Meal-specific ingredient notifications (these ingredients must be used together)
  • Combination notifications (if you are cooking this, you also must use this)
  • ‘Lifecycle’ notifications (if a food was not used as intended, it can be repurposed, such as put in a soup, prior to expiry)
  • Compost schedules (if an ingredient is deliberately or inadvertently ignored and reaches expiration)

Once a condition has been triggered, an alert is sent out to the appropriate personnel. The whole process is tracked (with follow-up notifications, if warranted) until a task is complete, an important feature given the hectic nature of restaurant operations. Such initiatives ensure every ingredient/foodstuff is maximized from the moment delivery is made.

For more information on how IoT can help with restaurant services, contact us.

 

 

Topics: IoT, smart appliances, restaurant services, food waste