Restaurant Automation: Robots in the Foodservice Industry

Increases in technology have totally changed the manufacturing industry by making the process more efficient, but automation has never been successfully implemented in the foodservice industry on a widespread scale. Nevertheless, many big-name companies are now working to develop technology to automate many tasks in the foodservice industry, which has large implications for business owners and employees, especially those in the fast food industry. Keep reading to learn how new automation trends could possibly affect the restaurant industry, how they're currently being implemented, and specific ways that robots could be used in your establishment.

The Benefit of Automation in Restaurants

fast food restaurant automation

If you follow foodservice news, there are countless news stories coming out about restaurants and fast food chains implementing automation and robotics. While it comes up in the news a lot, automation and robotics in foodservice is still relatively new and cutting-edge, so why are so many businesses so interested in investing in expensive and unproven technologies?

One of the main reasons is rising labor costs, especially as many states have raised the minimum wage. While developing new robots for the foodservice industry is expensive, the technology can pay for itself quickly once it is perfected. Not only do robots replace human workers, thus reducing your labor costs, but they also can work 24/7 without breaks, increasing the time that your business can stay open.

Here are a few other benefits of automation in restaurants:

  • Robots eliminate user error. You won't need to worry about a robot misunderstanding an order or making something incorrectly.
  • You can ensure correct portion control and reduce food waste.
  • Automation in restaurants is still a novelty, so using robots in your restaurant can give your establishment publicity and help bring in curious customers.
  • Automated machines don't need to take sick days or call off work last minute.
  • While automation is expensive, it's getting cheaper and cheaper. A recent study found that costs have fallen 40% since 2005.

While automation has the possibility to totally revolutionize the foodservice industry, at this point, the technology is only capable of performing low-skill and repeatable tasks that are commonly found in fast food establishments.

And while automation in restaurants may seem like a distant goal, there are already many businesses that have implemented that technology and are operating and cooking food with robots. One of the best real life examples of robots that have been implemented in a foodservice setting are pizza making robots that are being used by Zume Pizza and Little Caesar's.

Zume Pizza and Pizza Making Robots

Zume Pizza is a pizza chain headquartered in Mountain View, California that has successfully added robotic workers to their business. Zume's pizza making robots roll out their pizza dough, add sauce, and then transport the assembled pizza into the oven and remove it once it's finished cooking. But, there are limitations to Zume Pizza's robots, and they still need workers to add toppings to the pizza, slice it, and package it for delivery.

In addition to Zume Pizza, there are other pizza chains that are trying to get into the pizza-making robot game. For example, Little Caesar's was issued a patent early in 2018 for a pizza making robot that they continue to develop before adding it to their stores.

How Restaurants Could be Automated

With kiosks in the front-of-house, food assembly machines in the back-of-house, and self-driving vehicles delivering food, the possibilities for using robots and automation in the foodservice industry is nearly limitless. But, rather than list all of the possible things that we wish could be automated, we created a list of foodservice industry processes you could expect to see automated in the next few years.

Automation in Front-of-House Areas

Automation in the front-of-house areas will probably have less to do with installing robots that can handle simple tasks and more to do with replacing cashiers and servers with self-service kiosks. Several large chains, like Wendy's, McDonald's, Panera Bread, and Shake Shack, are already beginning to test self-service kiosks in their restaurants. While this is still in the testing phase, it could soon become a feature in every store if it's successful.

Also, front-of-house automation isn't limited solely to fast food establishments, and several prominent sit-down restaurant chains have added automation to their front-of-house areas. For example, many Red Robin franchises have tablets on each table that customers can use to order drinks, appetizers, or desserts, which frees up their servers to handle other tasks.

Automation in Back-of-House Areas

Robots in restaurants

Robots in restaurants excel at completing simple, repetitive tasks, which makes them perfect for use in back-of-house areas of foodservice establishments. And while this may seem like science fiction, there are several cases of restaurants that have already implemented robotic cooks in their kitchens. One example of a robot that is currently completing low-skill and repeatable tasks is the machine at Zume Pizza that rolls out the dough or adds the sauce to the pizza. There are other examples of restaurants that are using robots in kitchens, such as Spyce, a restaurant based in Boston. Spyce uses multiple robots in their back-of-house to retrieve food from the refrigerator, prep it, cook it, and even plate and garnish it before it's ready to serve.

Another famous example of robots being implemented in the kitchen is Flippy, the robot that flips burgers at Caliburger, a fast food chain in California. While Flippy was a novelty that brought in curious customers, the robot was temporarily taken offline because it couldn't keep up with demand or outperform a human chef. In many other cases, while robots can complete some foodservice tasks, they haven't reached they point where they are more efficient than trained chefs or human staff.

One other potential issue with robots in the back-of-house, though, is that they aren't able to identify errors and troubleshoot if necessary. For example, a robot wouldn't be able to identify produce with blemishes or if food was getting burnt like a human would.

Automating Delivery

pizza delivery robot

With advances in technology surrounding driverless cars and drone delivery, there is a lot of opportunity for the foodservice industry to update their delivery systems. Additionally, delivery is growing in popularity, especially with the proliferation of ghost restaurants and delivery-only foodservice businesses. Just like with robots in the front- and back-of-house, there are businesses that are already testing and seeing how driverless delivery systems might work.

For example, one startup, Starship Technologies, is testing robots in Washington DC, that can deliver food from your restaurant directly to your customers' house. Their robots have an insulated interior where you place your food, and then they use GPS and cameras to navigate the sidewalks from the restaurant to your customers' location, and these robots are smart enough to recognize street signs, crosswalks, traffic lights, and even other pedestrians. Once the robot arrives, it is unlocked with a phone app and customers can then retrieve their food.

While this technology is cool and very high-tech, it currently only works in a hyperlocal area because the robot can only travel 4 miles per hour. So, don't expect to be making deliveries across town using robotics anytime soon. Another thing to note, though, is that these types of automated delivery systems are currently only being tested in urban environments, so it will take some technological adjustments to implement drone or robotic delivery in suburban or rural areas.

Automation in restaurants will totally revolutionize the industry and workforce, but the technology is still a few years off. Most of the restaurants that are creating prototypes or working to implement robots in their franchises are large corporations that have millions of dollars to spend on research and development, so it will take a few years until after they've perfected the model for robots to enter the mainstream and become accessible to regular restaurants. Even though this technology is still developing, you should be aware of it and how it can affect your business, so you can prepare your restaurant for the future.

Posted in: Foodservice Trends | Management & Operation | By Richard Traylor

Offering Smaller Portion Sizes in Restaurants: Benefits and Tips

If you’ve noticed customers sharing meals, ordering lunch-sized portions for dinner, or going with a simple soup and salad combo instead of an actual entree, then it might be time to rethink your restaurant portion sizes. If your portions are like a majority of restaurants’ serving sizes in the United States, then they most likely exceed the USDA’s recommendations for fat, saturated fat, sodium, and calories per meal. So, in order to help retain your customers who are trying to lead healthier lifestyles, it’s important to offer more reasonable portions. Plus, offering smaller portions can have many benefits for your restaurant.

Why Do Restaurants Offer Large Portion Sizes?

how to control restaurant portion sizes

Profit margins for restaurants are slim due to a number of fixed costs including wages, rent, equipment, and utilities that must be paid despite the amount of customers served. Therefore, in order to increase profits, restaurants will justify a higher menu price with larger portions.

This can be especially effective when these larger meals are supplemented by low-cost items including pastas, potatoes, beans, or rice. For example, doubling the size of a pasta dish may only cost your restaurant fifty cents more, but you can charge twice as much.

While this strategy may have worked in the past, an increased awareness of calorie consumption in consumers is putting smaller portion sizes back on the map. Switching to smaller portions may lower each item’s profit potential, but it can make up for it in an increased customer base.

Does Offering Larger Portions Negatively Impact Your Restaurant?

As consumers put more focus on what they’re putting into their bodies, they start to cut out unhealthy options such as eating out. These shifts in focus can be attributed to popular diet plans, healthier lifestyle campaigns, and smart phone apps designed to count and track your calorie intake. If your restaurant is offering large portion sizes, the higher calorie counts could keep these customers from coming through your doors.

For those who still enjoy the social aspect of going out but want to avoid unhealthy choices, they may decide to split a meal with a friend or only order the house salad. While these choices still bring customers to your business, they can ultimately lower your restaurant’s profits. If consumers stop eating out as often or altogether, your restaurant could start to suffer.

Therefore, it’s important to consider ridding your menu of large portion sizes that scare away health-conscious customers and instead offering meals with more appealing calorie counts.

What Are the Benefits of Offering Smaller Portions in Your Restaurant?

benefits of serving smaller portions in your restaurant

While smaller portion sizes can mean a smaller menu price, your profits don’t have to take a plunge. In fact, adjusting your portions and prices to better match the shift in consumer views can positively impact your bottom line. Below are a few ways in which smaller portion sizes can benefit your restaurant.

Decreased Food Costs

Paying close attention to your portion sizes is a simple and effective way to keep food costs in check. Smaller portions can often mean less food waste per meal. And because chefs are closely monitoring portion sizes during the plating process, the risk of over-portioning is reduced. Less over portioning means less money waste and a higher profit margin per entree than entrees plated without proper portioning.

Healthier Ingredients

Since you’re focusing on quality over quantity, offering smaller portions can give your chef a chance to use healthier, organic, or more exotic ingredients. That’s because offering smaller portions enables chefs to create more dishes with less ingredients. This is especially important if the ingredients come at a higher price.

Appeals to a Larger Market

Placing smaller portion offerings on your menu can encourage health-conscious visitors to order an entree rather than a less expensive salad or side. Offer both small and larger sizes to appeal to a wider audience and draw attention to your new, healthier portions. Additionally, offering smaller portions of dishes can give the chef a chance to diversify your menu. That’s because smaller portions allow you to focus your food budget on a wider variety of ingredients rather than a bulk, limited selection.

How to Offer Smaller Portions

Cutting portions needs to be done tactfully to avoid angering customers who are used to dishes being a certain size. For example, if your dedicated customers notice that their favorite pasta dish is now half the size but the same price, they’re not going to react positively. However, there are a few tips and tricks below to help you successfully offer smaller portion sizes to benefit your business and your customers.

Focus on Presentation

When offering smaller portions, it’s important to turn your attention to plating and presentation. That’s because putting more time into how the food looks on the plate can take focus away from the smaller portion sizes. Here are a few tips to creating an attractive and alluring presentation of your smaller portions:

  • Serve meals on smaller servingware to prevent plates and bowls from looking empty.
  • Fill plates with more vegetables and fruits to make them look fuller without packing on unhealthy calories.
  • Use taller, narrower glassware, like zombie glasses, for serving drinks.

Incorporate Menu Psychology

Menu psychology can be used to help influence your diner’s decisions. Implement the following strategies into your menu’s redesign to help gear customers towards your new, smaller portions:

  • Describe your smaller portioned entrees positively on your menu by using terms like “lighter” and “healthier.”
  • Display calorie counts on your menu.
  • Place smaller portions on the menu under a “Lighter Fare” or “Healthy Selections” section.

Create Healthier Options

If you’re trying to draw health-conscious customers into your business, you need to be sure you’re offering healthy, wholesome options. Consider incorporating the following suggestions into your menu selections:

  • Keep meals under 700 calories, which is a healthy caloric intake for adults.
  • Allow customers to choose half sizes of their favorite salads, soups, and meal combos.
  • Make miniature versions of burgers, sandwiches, and wraps using slider buns, crustless bread, or small tortilla wraps.

As you transition your menu to offering smaller portion sizes, don’t forget to utilize portioning tools such as ladles and electronic portion control scales. Properly training staff to plate with these tools can ensure consistency and minimize food waste.

Offering smaller restaurant portion sizes can be a great practice for your business. Consider reducing the serving sizes of all of your entrees, or test it out by simply adding a lighter fare section to your menu. Your budget and health-conscious customers are sure to thank you. Additionally, be sure to advertise your restaurant’s initiative on social media to draw customers back in.

Posted in: Foodservice Trends | Menu Tips | By Rachel Jenkins

Choosing Self-Contained or Remote Refrigeration

Every kitchen, whether it's a small cafe or a large cafeteria, needs somewhere to store cold foods. Refrigerators come in many different sizes and styles, which is useful because it allows you to purchase the option that best suits your restaurant's layout and individual needs. When shopping for a refrigerator for your restaurant, you may come across the terms "self-contained refrigeration" and "remote refrigeration," and you'll notice that there is a large price difference between the two. In this blog we'll break down the differences between self-contained and remote refrigeration and each of their unique pros and cons to help you make the best decision for your establishment.

What Are Self-Contained Refrigeration Units?

Self-contained refrigeration

Self-contained refrigerators are appliances that house all of their components, such as the condenser and evaporator, inside the unit itself. These types of refrigerators are the most popular option used, and they comprise nearly 90% of refrigerators used in commercial kitchens.

Pros of Self-Contained Refrigeration

Here are some benefits to choosing a self-contained refrigeration unit:

  • Self-contained refrigerators are very easy to set up, and many allow you to just plug them in and start using them.
  • Everything you need to set up your refrigerator comes in one convenient purchase.
  • Because everything is housed in one unit, it's easy for repairmen to service your refrigerator if there is an issue.
  • Self-contained units can be moved easily.

Cons of Self-Contained Refrigeration

While there many benefits to these refrigerators, here are a few downsides to choosing a self-contained unit for your restaurant:

Self-contained refrigeration unit
  • Self-contained units create a lot of heat, raising the temperature in your kitchen very quickly.
  • As a result of the hot air in your kitchen, your air conditioning will have to work overtime to compensate, resulting in a higher utility bill.
  • The evaporator and condenser on these units can be loud, which is not ideal if you have an open concept or small kitchen, as it can disrupt guests.

What Are Remote Refrigeration Units?

Remote refrigerators are insulated cold food storage areas that are outfitted with an evaporator inside, but the compressor and condenser are located in a remote area away from the refrigerator itself. Typically, foodservice establishments will place their condensers and compressors on the roof, depending on the climate, or in a cool basement.

Because the components that give off the most heat, the compressor and condenser, are moved to a separate location, remote refrigeration units are ideal for restaurants that have heat concerns, such as establishments with poor ventilation or low ceilings. Additionally, if you have a large grocery store, deli, or commissary kitchen that operates multiple coolers, remote options are an excellent choice because they keep your interior cool and comfortable for your guests and also remove the noise from the condensers.

Pros of Remote Refrigeration

Here are some benefits to using remote condensing units in your establishment:

Remote condensing unit
  • Because there are fewer components in the main body of the refrigerator, remote refrigerators have more storage space.
  • Remote refrigerators eliminate any noise issues, which is ideal for display units or refrigerators in grocery stores.
  • These products can reduce your electric bill because your fridge will be producing less heat that your air conditioning needs to deal with.
  • If you operate in a cool climate, installing your condensers and compressors on the roof or outside can help your unit run more efficiently.

Cons of Remote Refrigeration

Even though there are many benefits to choosing remote condensing refrigerators in your establishment, there are some downsides as well:

  • Remote refrigerators are more expensive to install because you need a professional to run lines from your kitchen to wherever you want to install the compressor and condenser.
  • Additionally, because the components of your refrigerator are separated, they're more difficult and time-consuming to repair.
  • Remote refrigeration units have the potential to increase your utility bills because they require more power to move the coolant from the body of the fridge to the remote compressor and condenser.

Self-contained and remote refrigerators are both excellent choices for different types of foodservice settings when you're looking for a new refrigerator. But, while there are some instances where choosing a remote refrigerator is an ideal option, in most restaurants a self-contained refrigerator is the perfect option due to its easy setup and versatility. When it comes to refrigerators, though, it's best to consider your options and think about which type of refrigerator is best for your establishment's unique situation and needs.

Posted in: Management & Operation | Product Spotlights | By Richard Traylor

How Restaurant Color Schemes Affect Your Customers

Restaurant color schemes

The colors that you use to decorate your foodservice establishment have a huge impact on your customers, how long they spend in your operation, and how they feel. Colors can make your customers happy, boost their appetite, increase table turnover, and make your dining space seem more spacious. But, they can also have a negative affect on your customers, so it's important to understand how your interior color choices affect your restaurant's message. To do this, you first need to understand the psychology of colors and then learn how colors go together into a pleasing and complementary color scheme.

The Psychology of Colors

Because various colors can affect your guests in different ways, they are powerful tools for shaping how your customers behave in your restaurant. It also means that you can't just choose colors for your walls and decorations arbitrarily, and you'll have to use thought when choosing your restaurant's color scheme. Here is a brief summary of how common colors affect your customers and which types of establishments might utilize them:

Color Effect Establishments That Use This Color
Red Red increases your guests' heart rates and can make them hungry. It can also make your guests eat quickly and leave, which is useful for increasing your table turnover rate. Fast food restaurants, fast casual restaurants, establishments that want a high table turnover
Orange Orange makes people feel happy and cheerful. It's also excellent for establishments that serve desserts or unhealthy food because it makes people content and less likely to feel guilty for eating poorly. Fast food restaurants, ice cream shops, casual eateries
Yellow Some shades of bright yellow have a similar impact as orange, making people happy and content. Generally, yellow is very vibrant and exciting, so it's not an ideal choice for relaxed environments. Fast casual restaurants, ethnic eateries, bistros, cafes
Green Earthy tones like green are very relaxing and comforting. Green is found commonly in nature, making it an excellent choice for establishments that serve healthy and natural foods. Health food stores, salad bars, vegetarian and vegan restaurants
Brown Brown is an earthy color that helps guests relax and feel comfortable. It can also give customers a sense of support and stability, and it can even convince guests to come back as repeat customers. Coffee shops, bistros, contemporary restaurants, bars
Blue Blue is a color that most restaurants should avoid. It's not commonly found naturally in food, and it can cause your customers to lose their appetites. Additionally, if you have bright blue walls, the shade of blue can reflect onto your food and make it look less appetizing. Blue reduces customers' appetites, but it makes them thirsty. Bars, coffee shops, cafes, nightclubs, seaside restaurants
White This color gives your space a relaxed and leisurely feel. White can also make your dining area look clean, and it can make a small space seem larger. But, too much white can make your dining area look sterile. Small restaurants and bistros, upscale eateries, banquet halls, wedding venues
Black You can use black strategically to make the other colors in your restaurant pop and look more vibrant, but too much black can make your space look cramped and dark. Nightclubs, bars, contemporary restaurants

Menu Color Schemes

Your restaurant's interior isn't the only place where you need to be conscious about your color choice, because the colors on your menu can also affect your customers. So, when you're creating a menu for your restaurant, you should be aware of which colors you're using and how they interact with your customers and affect their appetite and choices. When it comes to menu colors, a lot of the same rules as interior design apply. You will want to avoid unnatural colors like blue and purple and instead choose bright and vibrant colors like red and orange, depending on your restaurant's concept and style.

You will also want to be aware of how the colors on your menu interact with each other and ensure that they don't clash. Another consideration is how your menu colors interact with the colors in your dining space. For example, you wouldn't want to use a lot of bright colors on your menu if your interior uses a lot of earthy colors like brown and dark green.

5 Color Scheme Ideas

Now that you know how colors will affect your customers, you need to understand which colors go together and how to make a pleasing color scheme. For readers that don't have much interior decorating experience, we created a list of some versatile and popular color schemes to give you an idea of what colors go together. Here are five interior color scheme ideas:

1. Light Color Scheme

Colors: Ivory, beige, white, pale yellow, light gray

A light color scheme is often used a make a smaller room look bigger than it is. Additionally, light colors evoke a leisurely and relaxing atmosphere, which makes them an excellent choice for upscale restaurants and bistros. But, due to the relaxed and comfortable nature of this color scheme, it's not ideal for restaurants that want a high turnover rate.

Light Color Scheme

2. Dark Color Scheme

Colors: Crimson, brown, purple, navy, dark green

A dark color scheme is excellent for creating intimate and romantic settings, which is perfect for some bars, trendy restaurants, and romantic bistros. But, if you use too many dark colors or very dark shades, it can make your space feel cramped and claustrophobic.

Dark Color Scheme

3. Warm Color Scheme

Colors: Yellow, terracotta, orange, red, gold

Warm colors are very exciting and bright, and they provide a lot of visual stimulation for your guests. But, because these colors are so bright, they can become irritating after a long period of time. This helps to increase your turnover rate, which makes warm color schemes ideal for high-volume establishments like fast causal eateries, buffets, or fast food restaurants. But, because warm color schemes can be overwhelming, you don't want to overdo it.

Warm Color Scheme

4. Earthy Color Scheme

Colors: Brown, olive green, beige, umber, dark orange

This color scheme is supposed to reflect colors that are found commonly in nature, and it features lots of browns and greens as well as some neutral colors. An earthy color scheme is ideal for relaxed and welcoming environments, like cafes. This color scheme has also grown in popularity recently, so you can find it in many trendy restaurants as well. Additionally, color schemes that prominently feature green and brown are excellent choices for establishments that are focused on healthy foods.

Earthy Color Scheme

5. Pastel Color Scheme

Colors: Sky blue, pink, light yellow, lavender, pale green

The pastel color scheme is very light and soft, and it is most often used in settings like bistros, cafes, and casual eateries. But, because these colors are very light, they have an almost neutral tone to them that can fit in with most types of decor. This color scheme was very popular in the 1980s, and it is becoming popular again in trendy restaurants and bistros in major cities across the U.S.

Pastel Color Scheme

Choosing a restaurant color scheme is very important because the shades you use to decorate your business can have a big effect on your customers. To choose the ideal color scheme, you should think about what kind of experience you want your customers to have in your restaurant. Additionally, for modern establishments, you may want to consider the types of decor and color schemes that are popular. But, regardless of what colors you use in your operation, you should make sure that they are true to your purpose.

Posted in: Facility Design & Decor | Management & Operation | By Richard Traylor
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