Restaurant Development & Design

SEP-OCT 2018

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4 4 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • S E P T E M B E R / O C T O B E R 2 0 1 8 TECHNOLOGY AND CONVENIENCE: THE RESTAURANT OF THE FUTURE "There is a lot of automation being brought into restaurants right now for no other reason than unemployment is so low," adds Lisa Kennedy, director of design and construction of Manna, Inc., a company that owns and operates vari- ous franchised restaurant concepts. "We can't get people to work. There is also the pressure of the increasing minimum wage. Anything that can be automated will be automated." Rising real estate costs will shape the restaurant of the future, too. "As you expand, you might not find an afford- able 5,000- or 6,000-square-foot space. You might find 2,000 square feet where you can plug a kitchen in," notes Juan Martinez, principal of consulting firm Profitality. The smaller space means a more efficient kitchen design takes on greater importance. This is where multi- use equipment such as ventless equip- ment and multifunction items like combi ovens can change the game. Automation in the '60s In case you thought restaurant automation was new, enter the phrase "Automated Hamburger Machine: 50 Years Ahead of Its Time" in your search engine of choice. Watch and wonder. AMF de- signed a fully automated kitchen, called AMFare, in 1964. Customers began the transaction by speaking their order into a speaker from their car when visiting the drive-in or via an AMF dial-a-phone at their booth. The entire storage, prep and cooking process was automated. It was brilliant. Sadly for AMF, there was plenty of cheap labor, so the need for automa- tion was not there. Fifty-plus years later, the need is here. Robots and automation will transform operations, making them more productive. While the allure of technology can be intoxicating, industry experts caution robotics and automation are not a one- size-fits-all solution. The end goal of any foodservice operation will still be customer satisfaction. It's how a brand achieves that goal that will make the difference. "You have to remember that this is a hospitality industry. Technology is another tool in the operator's toolbelt to improve the customer experience. It will become increasingly relied upon to generate long-term success," explains Hudson Riehle of the National Res- taurant Association (NRA). "But it will play a supporting role in achieving the attributes important to consumers: food quality and service." What the BOH Future Looks Like The biggest demand for change will be in the kitchen, Martinez predicts. "Au- tomation in the kitchen will continue to grow, impacted by how the mini- mum wage moves. As it continues to creep up, demand for automation and robotics will grow. Sort of a supply and demand situation." Today, though, common back-of- the-house automation takes on a less futuristic appearance. For example, Wendy's uses double-sided grills that cook both sides of a hamburger patty at the same time. They moved to this equipment a few years back to enhance product consistency, Kennedy recalls. Now the chain uses this equipment more to address labor issues because the double-sided grills cook burgers faster than the previous units, thus making staff more productive. Kitchen design will evolve to accommodate technology and human interaction. Even the most automated system still needs a human to perform certain tasks. The beauty is that robotics or automation can handle the most re- petitive tasks in production, freeing staff to add the brand's proprietary touches. One system on the drawing board that could have a profound impact on future kitchens is voice recogni- tion technology based on the Alexa model. Chefs and staff can interact with equipment, such as Wi-Fi-enabled scales that speak the weight. With voice control, a chef can say "order more chicken" or, at delivery, "accept" instead of signing papers. The applica- tions are almost endless. At Zume Pizza, robotic machines produce pizza for customers. Image courtesy of Zume Pizza

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