Smart Kitchens Seek Smart Investments

By Lisa Terry, Contributing Editor | February 15, 2017

Customer-facing technology often gets the lion’s share of attention when it comes to innovation, but solutions that impact back-of-house operations are equally — if not more — important. Every restaurant kitchen houses what is essentially a manufacturing facility, and production processes represent huge opportunities to boost efficiency and reduce waste.
 
Chris Rodrigue, industry consultant and outsourced COO for Sammy’s Grill contends that restaurant operators must “think in terms of just-in-time or Six Sigma,” both popular concepts in manufacturing. “Just-in-time” is an inventory strategy that involves receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, thereby reducing inventory costs. “Six Sigma” is defined in manufacturing terms as a measure of quality that strives for near perfection.
 
“It’s all about how to build the most efficient process,” Rodrigue says. 
Restaurants are adopting technologies and software to help give them more visibility and control over kitchen operations and are eyeing emerging technologies that promise even more benefits.

Prep Software with an Eye on Profit: Many restaurants tout items that are “made fresh daily,” but things like sauces and marinades have longer shelf lives and are often more efficiently made in multi-day batches. 

“People tend to over-prep, over-staff and over-order, leading to a three to five percent reduction in profitability,” says Rodrigue. He is currently helping Sammy’s Grill implement several Compeat products including its Inventory solution, which offers help with prep production and portioning with prep to shelf life forecasting. He favors this software for its ability to predict inventory needs rather than just report historic trends. As a result, the software is able to help drive down labor costs, food costs and waste.
 
Analytic Kitchen Production Systems: Oracle is seeing POS, ordering, production and kitchen display systems used together in new ways such as applying algorithms to ensure the kitchen isn’t flooded with too many orders at once from new channels. To ensure that food is hot and at peak quality when it’s delivered to the guest, some restaurants are using technology in the kitchen to alert when to fire a burger: as the customer enters a geofence versus arriving at the door. Collecting and analyzing the data helps expediters coordinate activity and informs future prep and production planning.
 
High-volume kitchens are using sensors and KDS systems to record and track what’s happening at stations, according to QSR Automations. Kitchens are then able to use this data to reduce waste and delays.

Efficient Recipe Management: Recipe cards can be difficult to access while cooking and are costly for chains to update. Recipe management systems centralize recipes for easier management, global access to ingredient data and integration to inventory systems. Costing functions help chefs understand the true cost of recipes, and kitchen display systems can be used to show recipes, proper plating and video tutorials, ensuring quality and consistency. Sophisticated systems will break recipes down into tasks by station. BirchStreet Systems notes that nutrition and other food data not only supports compliance, but helps restaurants respond to diners’ growing interest in where their food comes from.

Omniscient Inventory and Ordering: An Oracle study found 66 percent of restaurant managers spend more than three hours a week managing inventory. Some operators are pushing to make this more efficient. Marriott is working to integrate its BirchStreet procurement and recipe management solutions across North America.
 
“In addition to easy organization-wide access to nutrition data, the Birchstreet technology links with vendors, so if I’m doing a crab cake dinner, I automatically know the price of crab,” says John Huppman, senior manager, culinary operators, global recipe database administration for Marriott International. He is also able to use the system to see opportunities for savings. “It provides a better picture of financial position day to day, so decisions can be made to shore up spending,” he adds.
 
Predictive Workforce Management: Systems are moving past managing current staffing and presenting historical trends to predicting staffing demands. In the kitchen this often means accounting for skill levels: putting the best grill cook on during the most important shifts, for example. Integration with prep planning helps ensure the best-fit staffing to meet product mix and anticipated demand. 



3 INNOVATIONS FOR FUTURE-READY KITCHENS
Internet of Things
Kitchen equipment is getting more intelligent, featuring sensors that enable operators to measure and monitor ovens, walk-ins and reach-ins — all big time and labor savers for HACCP compliance — and send alerts when equipment exceeds parameters.
 
Monitoring platforms from energy management and food prep/safety vendors are converging, each pushing a growing roster of equipment that ensures temperatures and hygiene are in compliance while optimizing equipment use. Powerhouse Dynamics started in energy management and expanded to become a monitoring platform, similar to how Kitchen Brains expanded from timers to monitor a range of equipment.
 
Pushing such data to the cloud and applying analytics could deliver real savings. The data could help determine the correct number of ovens, fryers or grills that need to be fired to meet expected demand, as well as predicting and preventing equipment breakdowns. 

Over time, communications will be increasingly two-way to push out updates, remotely control devices and even enact recommended mitigations, Anna Tauzin, senior marketing manager for the National Restaurant Association, contends. 

Marriott’s Huppman is excited about the potential to use things like cloud-connected ovens to ensure quality and consistency at smaller operations without a full culinary staff. Arby’s is using Powerhouse Dynamic’s SiteSage cloud platform for enterprise visibility and control over heating, cooling and refrigeration, and the restaurant chain is now adding ovens to the platform to ensure safety, quality and consistency.

Robotics
Robotics will be a great fit for “tasks that are easily repeated: salad making, dishwashing, burger flipping, French fry making,” says Tauzin. Makr Shakr, a robotic bartender, is already aboard four Royal Caribbean ships and McDonald’s has tested robot-run restaurants.

Mobile
Remote access to real-time data from kitchens helps managers, at the store level and above, quickly spot and address issues before they grow into big problems. Compeat is seeing a growing number of operators performing mobile inventory counts. Mobile also helps eliminate paper and provide real-time data so managers can take action to prevent issues. 

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