Technology is changing all areas of foodservice, including equipment, labor, supply chain and—of course—the guest experience. At The Hospitality Show in June, presented by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Questex, parent company of Hotel Management Magazine, insiders shared insights on what kinds of challenges F&B professionals are facing—and how they are leveraging technology to rise to the occasion.
The Restaurant Technology Network surveyed a number of restaurant executives about their strategic goals in terms of technology. The most pressing issues, said Abby Lorden, co-founder of Restaurant Technology Network, were digital customer engagement, business analytics and employee productivity and retention. “All of these are fairly close in percentage,” she said. “So essentially, they're looking to boil the ocean with respect to technology. They're trying to do everything.”
According to Lorden, notable tech-related F&B hurdles include working with legacy systems and the challenges that come with integration, budgets that are “not what they need to be” in order to support that integration and having the in-house talent to manage the tech resources.
Despite the challenges, Lorden described the restaurant industry as “incredibly scrappy and incredibly resilient.” As the pandemic upended traditional business, she noted “some incredible things happening” from hospitality professionals. For example, one restaurant pivoted its table-management system to manage parking spaces as if they were tables, which kept the traffic flowing in the parking lot.
Skip Kimpel, a senior consultant with ConStrata Consulting, said the rise of so-called “ghost kitchens” has provided restaurants with an additional revenue source. The concept lets restaurants use underutilized areas of their kitchen to support other food-related businesses with their own delivery- or takeout-only menus. “As we look at some of the larger hotels and resorts, we find that there's a lot of extra capacity, potentially, in those kitchens,” Kimpel said.
Robert Peterson, AVP of new business, North America, at Oracle Food and Beverage, said hotel restaurants can take a subset of what they serve on property and “sell it to a larger audience” of locals. Peterson also noted that many meals delivered to private residences can travel as much as two miles from kitchen to table—and hotels can partner with restaurants in that radius to provide meals for their guests. “Third-party delivery and/or other companies … will do the recipes [and] the virtual brand for you,” he said.
Susan Lucas, chief information officer/chief technology officer, Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants, agreed, describing hotel kitchens as a “sunken asset” when space goes unused. “You might as well use that capacity for something else,” she said, noting that a ghost kitchen or a partnership with an off-site restaurant can give hoteliers a chance to try something new. “It gives you a good chance to experiment with your brand from a restaurant perspective. Maybe [you] want to try an offshoot brand or a totally different concept. You already have the facility to do it. You don't have to [set] up a new kitchen for that.”
Automation and Robotics
While hotels have been quick to leverage eye-catching technology like service robots, Kimpel said robotics can be a boon behind the scenes as well. A machine, he noted, will do “the same thing it's told to do over and over again.” If a robot is tasked with making french fries, “it is actually going to be a perfect fry every single time.” Secondly, using robotics in a kitchen can lessen the risk of worker injuries by keeping people away from hot surfaces.
While managers could well be concerned about replacing human workers with machines, Kimpel argued that they can transition their staff to different areas of the restaurant. Similarly, he noted, F&B businesses that leverage this technology will need technicians to service, program and maintain the robotics. “So it opens up a whole new world.”
Lucas agreed that robots should not be used to replace hotel employees when dealing with guests. “We want that one-on-one interaction,” she said. Quick-service restaurants, however, can be a different matter. “If that robot can get me the food faster, I don't care if it's somebody or the robot that gets me the food.” As such, she said, a hotelier should consider the brand and how they want to balance logistics with the guest experience, particularly front-of-house. “But I think everybody can leverage back-of-house for that efficiency, quality [and] consistency.”
The Hospitality Show is produced by Questex, Hotel Management's parent company, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Next year's show takes place Oct. 28-30 in San Antonio. For more information, visit TheHospitalityShow.com.