Organizations in the foodservice industry have to constantly innovate if they wish to stay competitive, keep ahead of ever-changing customer expectations, and respond to unforeseen events like COVID-19. As Fresh Ideas’ Chief Technology Officer, I have the enviable role of implementing cutting-edge technology solutions to help solve our customer’s needs today as well as peer into the future and discover innovative technology that will impact the foodservice industry for years to come.
Here are five innovations that I believe will have the biggest impact in foodservice in the coming years:
Hyper-personalizing the customer experience
Unless it’s planned for and used intelligently, technology in the foodservice industry can detract from the customer experience. For example, take the process of a customer coming into a dining venue. In some cases, the experience is like herding cattle; students enter the dining venue, scan their student ID card and there’s no interaction with dining hall staff.
At Fresh Ideas, we’ve taken a different approach and empowered our teams to welcome guests into our dining facilities using technology. We redesigned our point-of-sale system to enable cashiers to recognize each guest as they enter a dining hall and greet them by name. It’s even possible for our team to suggest an order to a customer based on their most recent purchase.
- Mobile Order is King
It’s no secret that smartphones play a central role in our day-to-day lives. From social networking to online banking, mobile apps fulfill a wide range of uses and desires we encounter on a daily basis. Ordering food is no different. Today, our guests simply expect that menu items at our dining outlets can be ordered on their smartphones. Without mobile order functionality, food service outlets of all types forfeit not only sales, but also opportunities to engage and communicate with customers. At Fresh Ideas, we’ve placed an emphasis on developing mobile order solutions that allow our guests the convenience of ordering food when they want it and provide our teams the flexibility to process orders efficiently and serve customers with warm hospitality. Furthermore, we’ve integrated our mobile order technology with Fresh on Demand and our Pickup Pods to enhance the flexibility and convenience our guests desire when ordering and receiving their food when it suits their schedule.
- Virtualizing the Food Preparation Experience
There are several reasons customers love dining in restaurants with open kitchens. Firstly, they’re curious – they want to see what’s cooking. Diners enjoy watching the kitchen staff bustling around or a chef’s impressive flambe’ technique. Secondly, an open kitchen shows that the restaurant has nothing to hide in terms of professionalism and hygiene conditions, and reassures the customer that their food is being prepared just before they eat. But the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that in many places, the customer can no longer see their food being prepared. We’re working to solve this problem using technology. It’s all about virtualization and helping the customer see and taste through their eyes. Imagine being able to see a chef prepare your food order from the comfort of your home or apartment. Now if we can just add “smell-o-vision” we’d complete the customer’s virtual experience!
- Keeping Guests Safe
Our partners need convenient and contactless food service options for students, faculty and staff during regular and off-peak times, especially late at night. We’ve adapted unique technology to meet these needs.
- Fresh on Demand Self-Service Dining Venues – Our Fresh on Demand self-service machines offer fresh food in buildings where customers live or congregate. Fresh on Demand greets the customer by name, unlocks the machine’s vending door and then transacts the purchase against the payment methods loaded onto the guest’s mobile app. Fresh on Demand is available for use 24/7 and is ideal for late-night snacks or meals when the dining venues are closed for service.
- Pickup Pods – Our Pickup Pod product is a slim, modern pod system that includes cubbies used to safely hold food for guests to pick up at a desired time. Typically placed in highly trafficked areas, Pickup Pods allow guests to pre-order food via a mobile app and safely pick up their order late at night or when it’s convenient without waiting in line during normal operating hours.
- Delivery Robots
It might seem that using delivery robots in food service operations runs counter to offering guests a personalized experience focused on hospitality. But when deployed appropriately, delivery robots can enhance the guest experience in a number of unique ways.
Semi-autonomous delivery robots enable our teams to expand service to customers without adding extra labor. In fact, we’ve discovered students think the experience of receiving their food order via a delivery robot is fun and entertaining.
Operationally, delivery robots help us enhance the guest experience by acting as a shuttle between multiple food service outlets within dining programs. Instead of sending a key teammate across campus to pick up a necessary ingredient – which takes valuable time – a delivery robot is able to perform the same function. This allows teams to remain fully-staffed during peak times which helps ensure guests are satisfied during their dining experience.