By Merilee A. Kern
When technologist Kevin Ashton coined the term ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) back in 1999, referring to a computer network that would connect the everyday objects around us, the concept seemed fantastical and futuristic. Less than 20 years later, however, the concept is poised to dominate our society.
The IoT market is projected to be worth more than US$1.7 trillion by 2019, encompassing a network of more than 42 billion connected devices around the world. It has certainly behooved the food-service and hospitality industry to take notice of this trend, as technology can make the trade more efficient, more profitable, safer and smarter.
“Restaurants can use IoT to monitor the equipment that stores, cleans and cooks food,” says Jeffrey R. Kiesel, CEO of Restaurant Technologies, which has leveraged the technology for clients like McDonald’s and KFC. “There is currently ‘smart’ kitchen equipment that measures fryers, grills and ovens to monitor their temperature and provide prompts to take action, such as filtering cooking oil. IoT becomes important when franchisees or their managers wish to export this data for remote monitoring or to compare one restaurant with another.”
In another example, by using routing software with IoT sensors, restaurants can enable dynamic scheduling for their food deliveries. By receiving deliveries only when needed, they can increase efficiency and reduce administrative costs.
“An easily deployable smartphone app can allow the operations management team to check on each driver’s progress and proactively contact them when needed,” says Kiesel. “The same principles can be applied to service technicians, human resources (HR) and other departments.”
As such, IoT services can provide real-time information about whether or not a restaurant’s employees are adhering to standard operating procedures (SOPs). This comprehensive approach to data can help franchisees enforce their system’s rules, simplify their managers’ jobs, produce food more consistently and reduce waste.
“The type of data to be collected will vary, depending on an individual restaurant’s specific needs,” says Kiesel. “A vegan restaurant might not use a deep fryer, for instance, but can collect data from refrigerators to ensure adherence to food safety standards.”
The same cellular data transmission units that are standard in other industries are applied in ways that are optimized for the food-service industry’s back-of-house (BOH) needs.
“The real value comes not from the devices themselves, but rather from the transformation of data into useful information,” says Kiesel.
Not if, but when
Many restaurant franchisees assume an IoT system is not within their financial reach, but this is not necessarily the case.
“It need not be expensive to set one up,” says Kiesel, “and the expenditure is worthwhile when compared to the value derived. Even a budget-friendly app can reduce energy costs and improve employee morale, while more sophisticated and costly measurement tools that provide drill-down analytics can offer a very fast return on investment (ROI).”
Indeed, with the proliferation of IoT technology in the food-service industry, the question is rapidly becoming not if a restaurant franchisee should implement it, but rather when and to what extent. Those who do not make the leap risk being left behind to suffer higher costs, reduced efficiency and missed opportunities.
“Top-tier food-service operations do not make assumptions, but rather data-driven decisions, based on key learning on multiple fronts,” says Kiesel.
Merilee A. Kern is president and chief strategist for Kern Communications, a public relations (PR) and marketing agency. For more information, visit www.kerncomm.com.