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Restaurants serve up automation for quick, error-free service


Guest blog by Arthur Cole

In case you haven't noticed, automation is quickly becoming a common aspect of restaurants these days. From fast-food joints to upscale eateries, automated systems are effecting dramatic changes in both customer-facing and behind-the-scenes operations.

In some of the nation's largest chains, tablets already adorn the tables at many establishments, allowing customers to order food, access audio/video content, play games and even pay the check. Meanwhile, some restaurants have begun deploying self-service kiosks at select locations, while a place called Eatsa in San Francisco says it can provide your meal with no human contact at all. And some companies are even automating the bar.

But all this is only the tip of the iceberg as the industry looks to place everything from supply management and basic food prep to music and mood lighting under digital control. The ultimate goal, says Luis Orbegoso, president of ADT Business, is not only to lower costs and maximize profit, but also to enhance the customer experience and capitalize on new business opportunities. Automation provides the ability to customize the restaurant environment to a fine degree, allowing managers to control not only the ambiance of the room, but also the pace of the meal, the frequency of server interaction with the diner, and a host of other variables. At the same time, it can address broader operational issues, such as shortening wait times during high-volume periods and reducing order-errors that lead to wasted food.

_329079.jpg"Where's Rosie?"

The key challenge in automating the restaurant is that the technology is complicated and in a constant state of development. Even moderate automation will require sensors and other devices throughout the restaurant, as well as in key infrastructure elements such as HVAC, lighting, and kitchen equipment—and it all must be linked to either on-premises or cloud-based processing and analytics engines. Owners will need to find managers who understand both the restaurant business and the sophisticated control systems driving this change. That may be tough to find in a single employee for the time being, but as the technology goes mainstream and user interfaces become more intuitive, it will soon become no more daunting than today's automated reservation systems.

There will also be the perennial question of how much automation is appropriate for a given establishment, but this is largely a judgment call for the owner/manager. Few customers are likely to mind a fully automated fast-food experience, but something will definitely feel off if a favorite roadside diner were to replace Rosie the waitress with a self-serve kiosk. And in fine dining, customer-facing solutions should be deployed with great care, lest people start to think that a once-fine establishment is little more than a cafeteria now.

The future calls for automation

It's important not to overlook the generational shifts influencing the dining public's attitude toward an automated dining experience. According to a recent study from Ohio-based franchisee Frisch's Restaurants, nearly a third of 18–24-year-olds hit the drive-thru these days specifically because "they don't feel like dealing with people." As social interactions of all types become increasingly digitized, future generations may view the automated restaurant as normal, while human waiters and waitresses become as quaint as bowler hats and penny-farthing bicycles.

As with any industry contemplating digital automation, the restaurant business is focused on enhancing its value chain. From initial food procurement to the tip at the end of the meal, there are myriad ways in which advanced technologies can help, or hurt, the dining experience. The task at hand today is for proprietors to figure out what works and what doesn't in their particular establishment and incorporate the best practices as core functions in the business process.

Learn more about automation and orchestration infrastructure solutions for the entrepreneur of the future.


Arthur Cole.jpeg

Arthur Cole.  With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.


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About the Author


Tracy Siclair has worked for HPE for 20 years in various positions, all geared towards providing a better customer experience. She has a passion for thinking out-of-the-box and finding innovative ways to get the job done. While not on a computer for work, she enjoys watching her kids play sports, photography, videography, and the occasional game of billiards. Tracy resides in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado.