Greater levels of automation in commercial kitchens are inevitable. And that will put pressure on restaurants to bridge the gap between man and machine, writes Eloise Sheppard of Call Systems Technology.
It looks as though the kitchen of the future will be all about automation. More than a quarter of hospitality operators expect back-of-house to undergo significant technological change, installing devices that weigh, wash and chop.
According to research commissioned among 750 hospitality workers by Brita Professional, in an ideal world, artificial intelligence will also be checking portion sizes and food temperature in 25 years’ time. 73% said there would be no need for front-of-house staff by then either. Hospitality in 2044 is an illuminating report but it does beg the question, where are all the people?
I have a long-held belief that the personal touch still goes a long way, not least in the hospitality business, and it probably always will. After all, going out to eat is about the warm welcome, the “happy anniversary!” and that favourite bottle of wine that appears before you ask.
It’s not the same when a tablet flashes it onto a screen. However, what cannot be ignored are the labour and therefore cost-saving advantages of technology and operators would be wise to pick a few good machines.
Tech can take the pressure off teams and help create a more harmonious environment for staff, too. Using technology to make hospitality more attractive as a workplace fit for the modern age should also help ease the industry’s staff recruitment and retention problems.
Hospitality in 2044 points out that the anticipated levels of automation make it increasingly likely more brands will start to open round the clock, catering for every possible day-part. But it must be thought through.
How do operators maintain order in a largely robotic operation? Of course, the best equipment will not only automate routine kitchen tasks, it will also be self-servicing to ensure regular maintenance and minimise down-time.
But what about order in the restaurant? Being open at 4am isn’t just about food preparation and delivery, it’s about atmosphere and a harmonious environment.
Perhaps a permanent staff presence at the entrance isn’t possible and probably impractical to maintain at all hours. For my money, though, operators need to factor in some element of personal service.
Think of the lost opportunity to build a relationship when there’s no-one to greet customers or deal with enquiries. This is where intelligent communication comes in. Operators must consider how the staff they do have on site can speak to each other effectively and handle requests efficiently.
Something like a customer and waiter paging system would do the trick, minimising the numbers needed front-of-house but maintaining perfect service.
The feel-good factor
Aside from operational considerations, isn’t it just as much about the experience these days anyway? Many believe the increasing retreat of services behind the screen will simultaneously grow our emotional need for human interaction.
Will restaurant technology therefore eat itself? Absolutely not – efficient industries are the ones that grow. But the way consumers view hospitality will change.
Great menus, devised by innovative chefs and executed to perfection by machine 100% of the time could become the norm, a standardised experience it’s safe to expect.
I suspect success in the restaurant of the future will depend instead on the welcome, the experience and the feeling each visit produces.
For all that technology is enriching the scene, with better safety and increased operational capacity, it will still be the teams who make or break an occasion – so mind the gap.
Eloise Sheppard is managing director of Call Systems Technology (CST), a leading supplier of communication systems to the hospitality sector. www.call-systems.com