In this episode of “On Foodable Weekly,” host Paul Barron is joined by tech journalist Mike Elgan, founder of food and technology podcast The FATcast, to discuss tech trends and how technology is impacting the future of foodservice.
Though the restaurant industry itself is rooted in slow technology adoption, it has certainly accelerated more quickly in the past five years. “What’s driving that,” says Barron, “is everything from the on-demand economy logistics, with companies like Uber; mobile and smartphones, which have kind of transcended the whole POS industry; obviously the tablet business is really exploding; and we’re seeing wearables in social media really have an impact on restaurants that are making an amazing jump into the future.”
Food and technology. The two are more similar than you might think. “What I’ve found in talking to tech people is that technology-oriented people tend to also be foodies,” says Elgan. “And I think the reason for that is, a nerd — a technologist — is somebody who doesn’t accept things the way they are. They think there’s a better way to do things. And so those same kinds of people also tend to be of a similar mind when it comes to food — they don’t just accept the food that’s around them. They don’t just do the same things over and over in the kitchen or in restaurants, and so on. They try new things.”
So, what does the future hold for restaurant technology?
In 2015, Apple came out with its first iteration of the Apple Watch, joining other companies in the wearables category. Some restaurant businesses have already begun implementing wearables for crew tracking and movement patterns, but is wearable technology for business use something that’s going to stick?
According to Elgan, yes, the wearable industry is going to explode. Imagine a future with delivery anywhere, he says. “How about delivery where you order it, and you don’t know where you’re gonna be when you get the delivery, but you order it anyway, and they’re fine with that? You track each other on media and they drive by and they give you your order, it’s already paid for, just like Uber.”
Seamless ordering and delivery experiences like this may very well be the differentiator amongst restaurants in the future.
In a modern world, where no one wants to be advertised to, companies are trying to become smarter by offering contextual marketing gleaned from big data.
“Companies like Google and Facebook and others are harvesting mountains of data and yet they still can’t provide us with contextual advertising,” says Elgan, noting that we are still in the infant stages of it.
Elgan predicts it will get much better with the application of artificial intelligence. “And so, a tiny startup with four people working out of somebody’s basement in Ohio can use Google’s artificial intelligence for their food marketing app.”
In the past five years, point-of-sales systems have undoubtedly shifted from clunky hardware to sleek, portable, mobile options. Many POS systems are now developed around iPads, which have become the norm, especially for new and lean operations. But what does the future hold for the POS experience?
“What’s going to rattle the foodservice POS world are companies like Uber,” says Elgan. In the experience of Uber, consumers don’t need to be weighed down with consciously paying for the ride. Elgan calls this an “invisible transaction.” “I think that’s what’s really gonna transform the whole foodservice industry is invisible transactions. People will simply take things, or pick up things, or enjoy foods or whatever, and walk out. And if they want to glance at what they’ve paid for or any of that kind of stuff, that’s fine,” he says.
Food Delivery: At Home Food Versus Food Away From Home
At-your-door subscriptions services like Blue Apron have become all the rage in terms of convenience, experience, and, now, quality of ingredients. With the rise of these logistics services, will we continue to see a deeper interest in at-home sourcing, and will this affect food away from home versus food at home?
“We’re entering in a new phase where we are using technology in order that we not modify the food…as a foodie, that’s the most exciting thing — where you can use technology to not modify the food,” says Elgan.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, a lot of restaurants are going the route of delivery system logistics — some without any retail locations, “where pretty much everything you order is going to come from a commissary of sorts,” says Barron.
Says Elgan, “It’s big data, it’s eventually going to be artificial intelligence, but most of all, I think…the smartphone is enabling all this stuff where, consumers will be able to seamlessly give their locations, seamlessly pay for things, seamlessly know exactly when something’s going to be delivered, seamlessly go through and choose this, that, and the other thing without the problems and expense and errors with a human person on the phone.”