One thing is for sure – the march of technology isn’t slowing down. Automation is enhancing our experience in many areas, from connected cars to Amazon delivering by drone, and the restaurant scene is no exception. There has been a record rise in the amount of technology advances, which all see diners and operators getting a better experience and an easier time. Call Systems Technology Managing Director, Eloise Sheppard, talks us through some of the best recent developments.

First it was computerised order-taking at the table and automatic communication between front and back-of-house. This has progressed dramatically, to completely automated order management, technical tracking of diner locations while they wait and pager systems to alert customers when their table is ready.

We’re witnessing unprecedented growth in automation across both front and back-of-house – and it is largely customers who are reaping the rewards, by way of reduced wait times and consistency across dishes. For operators, the technology provides huge efficiencies at all touchpoints in the customer journey, from booking, to dining, to paying the bill. So which are the biggest trends across hospitality right now? And will they stand the test of time?

Chatbots

Gartner, the American research and advisory firm, predicts that by 2021, more than 50% of businesses will spend more per annum on bots and chatbot creation than on traditional mobile app development. Research also predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with a restaurant without a single human interaction so operators will have just that small 15% window to get it right. It’s only a matter of time before tech-savvy diners view chatbots as an expectation, forming an important part of their experience with an operator.

Digital kitchen display systems

Smart operators want smart solutions, and an increasing number are installing automated kitchen display systems that are easy to use and integrate seamlessly with the EPoS system to streamline kitchen processes. Not only are operators realising the switch to digital gives substantial gains in productivity and efficiencies, but they’re also looking at the tremendous data capture potential. The technology in kitchen display systems tracks every action, painting a vivid, real-time portrait of kitchen activity. So, if an operator sets a goal for only 10% of its orders to take no longer than 20 minutes from cooking to plating, for example, the solution will advise how well back-of-house is performing against the operator’s all-important KPIs.

Robot workers

We all remember Flippy, a burger-flipping robot, who started work a couple of months ago for CaliBurger in the US. Flippy was hired for his speed (allegedly able to cook as many as 2,000 burgers a day) and consequently fired because his human counterparts couldn’t keep pace. As the chef shortage continues to be a worrying issue for all restaurant operators and the potential for an additional skills gap come Brexit, we will naturally see the emergence of artificial intelligence and automation technology to fill the void. Some tech specialists are even predicting that the robot trend will soar. However, a kitchen will always need chefs and human intelligence to run a consistent, warm and real service. Far from replacing the kitchen team, Flippy’s creators see automated assistants as helping to improve working conditions back-of-house, mechanising mundane tasks, controlling waste and decreasing wait times, allowing chefs to get back to focusing on what they love.

Nutrition technology

With product choice already in exponential growth and brands fighting for attention, forward-thinking operators are taking the food sector to new realms, using data-driven technology not just to understand customer demographics and social needs but to base food choices on an individual’s DNA. Habit, a US-based nutrition tech start-up, is helping the food world utilise personalisation, capturing data from saliva to make personal food recommendations to consumers, based on each person’s unique metabolic system. Restaurant diners can then make detailed, DNA-based requests, fine-tuned and personalised to their specific requirements. Operators can also use this hugely powerful data for strategic marketing and promotions. Picture this email: ‘Hi Ollie, you told us you wanted to include more plant-based nutrition in your diet, so why not come and celebrate our new Vegetarian Week with us!’ or ‘You said you wanted to up your protein intake so join us for Steak Night on Tuesday.’ Restaurant marketing doesn’t get more personal than that.

Recognition technology

We’ve seen a proliferation in tablet-based ordering over the last couple of years. Just last month, McDonald’s announced it had completed the installation of automated ordering kiosks in all of its sites across the UK, Canada and Australia, adding that the roll-out across its US estate couldn’t come quickly enough. KFC in China, however, has gone one step further, installing facial recognition technology. The technology recognises human features and categorises faces according to gender, age and even mood, basing food suggestions on the data. Technology of this kind can even recognise customers by face and name, assigning previously harvested data to them personally, such as allergies, special dietary requirements, even meat cooking preferences. One to watch.