These days, it seems every industry is affected by the technological revolution. Food service is no exception – in some ways, it is one of the sectors most impacted by smart technology and innovation. After all, people like to eat – it stands to reason that developers would spend time and money on ways to make the restaurant experience faster, easier, tastier and better overall.
Many of the same trends that are happening in the business and manufacturing worlds are actually occurring at restaurants as well. In some cases, chains are implementing devices to expedite customers' visits, while others are tackling the very way by which food is made.
Apps do servers' work for free
Increasingly, fast food chains and other restaurant groups are implementing smart phone apps to let folks order and pay remotely, as well as in-store tablets that eliminate the need for cashiers and servers altogether, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some eateries are concerned that rising wages will cut into their profits – what better way to reduce those overheads than by having an app take care of ordering and paying instead? Consumers benefit by taking more control over the ordering process, doing it on their own time and paying immediately.
President Obama pledged to raise the minimum wage to as much as $9 an hour earlier this month. Carla Hesseltine, of Just Cupcakes LLC, is weighing the option of buying a few tablets to avoid paying a higher minimum wage to employees and sinking her business. With tablets to take care of ordering and paying, Hesseltine could cut a few employees and ensure the small bakery remains profitable.
Taco Bell is one chain that has begun to embrace the move to mobile ordering, according to CNN. The restaurant group unveiled a new app at the end of October that offers users the option to order and pay via smart phone.
"You get to skip the line," Jeff Jenkins, director of mobile experience at Taco Bell, told CNN. "When you get within 500 feet of the location, you get a notification on your phone that says, 'Looks like you've arrived. Would you like us to start preparing your food?'"
Other chains have similar apps, like Starbucks, McDonald's and Wendy's – although the latter two don't offer the option of placing orders remotely.
3D-printed food becoming a reality
One of the primary draws of additive printing is its increasing ability to allow operators to print virtually anything they can dream up. Now, CNN reports that claim is a step closer to reality, as Natural Machines' Foodini is a 3D printer that is similar to most others – except for one major difference. The Foodini doesn't use print plastics or metals, but food.
"It's the same technology," Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines, told CNN. "[But] with plastics there's just one melting point, whereas with food it's different temperatures, consistencies and textures. Also, gravity works a little bit against us, as food doesn't hold the shape as well as plastic."
While it might seem like an E-Z Bake Oven of the future, it isn't quite there yet. Its designers explain that the Foodini is only used as a means of bypassing the most tedious parts of food preparation, like cake decoration, homemade pizza or filled pasta. The most important part: so far, there are no complaints about the food.
Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, leaders in food service equipment financing. Marlin is a nationwide provider of equipment financing solutions supporting equipment suppliers and manufacturers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.