By Merilee Kern
When British technologist Kevin Ashton coined the term “Internet of Things” in 1999, referring to a network connecting not just people but the everyday objects around them, it was a concept both fantastical and futuristic. But with a new emphasis on food safety engendered by the sweeping reforms of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, it behooves the foodservice industry to look to new technology and utilize the IoT to help ensure compliance. Food safety, however, is just the beginning.
With more than 25 years of senior leadership experience, including in an executive role at GE and as the current CEO of Restaurant Technologies, Inc., Jeff Kiesel knows a thing or two about the IoT within the foodservice and hospitality space. His innovation-driven company’s IoT-related tech solutions are making the restaurant and hospitality trade safer and smarter and, in doing so, more efficient and profitable, which has attracted multi-billion dollar customers, including leading brands like McDonald’s, KFC and Marriott Hotels.
I connected with Kiesel for his take on the IoT’s place in foodservice:
1. What are some key ways restaurants can apply the internet of things?
For one, restaurants can use the IoT to monitor equipment that cooks, cleans or stores food. Currently, there’s smart kitchen equipment that keeps track of fryers, grills, ovens, etc., and prompts chefs and cooks to take action, from filtering cooking oil to closely monitoring temperature. The IoT also enables restaurant owners or managers to monitor restaurant data remotely or compare one restaurant to another. In other words, the IoT let’s owners and managers “see above the store.”
Operationally, by utilizing technologies like routing software and IoT sensors, foodservice businesses can enable dynamic scheduling of deliveries that boost the bottom line. For example, receiving deliveries only when needed eliminates administrative costs and management concerns while helping drive efficiencies. Apps can allow your operations management team to check on a delivery driver’s progress and easily contact them when needed. The same principle can be applied to service technicians, human resources or whatever department is applicable to your restaurant business.
2. What type of data is collected/exported and why?
In addition to sales revenue and equipment performance data, above-the-store data collection allows the combination of several pieces of information to reveal trends—both positive and negative. For example, our company collects data about cooking oil usage to drive our dynamic distribution of oil, enabling us to deliver cooking oil only when our customers need it. This data collection also provides information to our customers which helps them analyze usage and even alerts them via text if they’re using too much.
Some customers supply us with data on how much food goes into the fryer, enabling us to calculate a food-to-oil ratio, which is a good efficiency and food quality metric. We also have an IoT service that monitors fryer filtration events, giving our customers real-time information so they know if their restaurant staff is adhering to their fryer management standard operating procedures. This comprehensive data collection helps restaurants be more efficient, produce less food waste, prepare more consistent food, enforce standard operating procedures and simplify the jobs of management personnel.
3. Are restaurant-specific IoT devices readily available?
Absolutely. Our own company utilizes standard cellular device transmission and applies it in a way that’s optimized for the foodservice industry. But the real value of IoT doesn’t come from devices; it comes from the transformation of data into useful information. Back-of-house technology is focused on reducing costs, improving operational efficiency and food quality and helping managers to govern more efficiently. IoT is evolving at a rapid pace, but it must meet several standards in order to be relevant, including having an articulated return on investment, as well as being easy to use, reliable and scalable.
4. Is an IoT system financially within reach for most restaurant owners?
There really is no financial benchmark here, as the types of food and beverage IoT solutions and applicable price points can vary widely. That said, setting up an IoT system doesn’t have to be expensive, and any amount strategically spent is a worthwhile expenditure. Sometimes, deploying nothing more than a budget-friendly smartphone app and lead to cost savings, improved management practices, consistent food, better equipment utilization, reduced energy costs and increased employee engagement and morale. More sophisticated, and costly, IoT measurement tools that provide drill-down analytics to foodservice tradesmen can be even more worthwhile, providing a very fast return on investment.
5. What’s on the horizon for IoT in food service?
The future of IoT in the competitive foodservice space relies on innovative applications coming to market, with those demonstrating a clear return on investment making the difference between realizing profit or loss in a given year. Food service is a “pennies business” and each IoT application will need to stand on its own merits. But there will be no shortage of options from which to choose given how ripe this industry is for interconnectivity-driven innovation.
When it comes to assessing the long-term gains and challenges that technological advancements can bring, scalable solutions need to perform past tasks more simply and efficiently, provide greater insight or provide a combination of all three. Any given task should take less time, labour and resources to achieve the same or better quality than before while also requiring less supervision. Insights provided should include data on job performance and present it in a binary manner, such as either done or not done, if the job was completed within an applicable time or resource constraint, and if safety protocols were adhered to. Ultimately, data should reveal how these and other activities could be improved over time.
With the proliferation of IoT technology in the foodservice industry and the benefits that related solutions afford, the question is rapidly becoming not if a restaurant owner should implement an IoT system, but when. Those who don’t adopt new technology and make the leap to IoT risk being left behind.
About the Author
Branding, business and entrepreneurship success pundit, Merilee Kern, MBA, is an influential media voice and lauded communications strategist. As the Executive Editor and Producer of “The Luxe List International News Syndicate,” she’s a revered consumer product trends expert and travel industry voice of authority who spotlights noteworthy marketplace change makers, movers and shakers. Merilee may be reached online at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.