At the customer end, foodservice is all about personal relations and how people “feel”. Yet, technology is sharp-edged and transactional. How do the two get along in foodservice?
The simple answer is they do get along, but with some difficulty. And foodservice, like the rest of the hospitality sector, of which it is an integral part, copes with technology by being a late adopter. Spreadsheets and charts are not for chefs. But this world is changing and has been for some time.
Young people entering the sector have used social media and all things to do with the front end of technology, all their lives and now expect it in their workplace too. So, they are becoming an important influence on the adoption of technology in foodservice. Added to that, the covid pandemic is forcing everyone to examine how to use technology because it holds answers to many of the questions which are forcing operators to think about how to build a sustainable future for their business.
The challenges thrown up by covid are many. What future to plan for (and what lessons are there from the past)? How do finances stack up (and how do the daily figures perform against target)? How many people to have on site and what skills do they need (and how does daily headcount match the needs of customer demand)? How to communicate effectively? How to cope with Test & Trace? How to cope with all the information that IT systems throw up? The list is large and varied.
And so, an ecosystem of services has been built up to provide the answers. Many services are designed for back of house activities: monitoring stock, scheduling people, managing finances, identifying bottlenecks, reducing costs. And many are for the front of house environment: attracting customers, capturing their orders, managing bookings, taking orders, making payments, enhancing communications between front of house and back of house.
Foodservice, being entrepreneurial – and not wedded to or being willing to fully understand technology – is characterised by a wide range of systems that often do not communicate meaningfully with each other.
And out of this, it seems to me that the role of delivery is partly to develop the use of technology in foodservice. Many of the technologies that foodservice needs, especially the ones that work in the front of house environment are precisely what delivery aggregators offer via their apps, websites and behind the scenes software.
Is foodservice then destined to be in thrall to delivery aggregators because they are the route via which twenty first century technology becomes mainstream in foodservice? I fear that may be the destiny.
Within that context, covid has forced operators to up their game and really focus on technology. It does essentially provide a solution to many problems – app ordering reduces customer dwell time, to take just one example.
But, nevertheless today arguably the biggest challenges surrounding delivery, technology and covid restrictions is maintaining the personable, experience that people expect. Operators are having to work hard to ensure that technology enhances opportunities to eat out of the home – personal engagement needs to maintained.