With over 160,000 workers, the food services industry is a sizeable employer contributing 5% of total employment in Singapore. Efficient technology-enabled processes are critical as this can improve workflow, enhance the working environment for staff and retain employees with the right skills and aptitude. As of end-2017, more than a third of food outlets in Singapore are already adopting technology such as digital services and kitchen automation.
RESTAURANT 3.0 at Food and Hotel Asia 2018 showcases some of the newer technologies that F&B companies can deploy. These include digital, robotics and technology-enabled modular systems that improve the overall supply chain – from farm to processing and production (back-of-house), to service at the table (front-of-house).
1. Urban farming
F&B operators and hoteliers can experiment on an urban farming solution to grow their own vegetables and herbs in a controlled environment. Such a solution caters to customers’ increased preference for fresh ingredients and healthier food. The solution can also help create a novel dining experience.
2. Outsourcing of food preparation
F&B outlet kitchens can be made much more efficient with the concept of outsourcing parts of the meal preparation to larger and better-equipped central kitchens, operated by food manufacturers.
By outsourcing some or all food production to central kitchens, smaller F&B operators can do without hefty investments in fully-equipped kitchens. In addition, kitchen staff would have more time to review menu items, and work with the manufacturer to serve consistently good food. This could apply to hotels as well.
3. Ready Meals
The concept of ready meals is not new. Today, many successful F&B operators use this model, by leveraging a central kitchen, to enable lean operations, where kitchen assistants only heat up, plate and serve. This way, back-of-house manpower can be reduced and the chef’s time is freed up for menu engineering.
By extension, the concept of ready meals could open up new distribution channels, such as supermarkets and e-commerce, without having to open additional outlets.
4. Optimising workflow with automation
RESTAURANT 3.0 also demonstrates how smaller food companies can adopt bitesized automation in their outlet kitchens, where workflow can be streamlined and redesigned to reduce labour-intensive tasks, such as:
a. Inventory management (receiving, storage, drawing of stocks)
b. Food preparation
5. Food preparation with robotics
Robotics are a step up from automation, where more complex tasks can be achieved. A pre-programmed robotic arm that has been tasked to grill beef, for example, can pick up the raw meat from the chiller, cook it on the griddle, plate the steak and have it placed at service point, all at the touch of a button.
6. Food vaults
A productive business format showcased is the food vault, where meals can be ordered from anywhere through a mobile phone app or web-based platform, and then picked up at the allocated vault. This innovative system is not only convenient for the customer, but spares the operator the need to employ waiters.
7. RFID vending machines
Food vending machines save manpower and space. The first Vendcafé , launched at Anchorvale Drive in 2016, has 90% less manpower than an eatery offering a similar menu and seating space. Open 24 hours, patrons can pop by anytime for a meal or takeaway. From an operator’s standpoint, this completely man-less outlet, which delivers a meal in under three minutes from ordering, is productive.
RESTAURANT 3.0 showcases new-generation vending machines that utilise Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to serve up a variety of hot and chilled meals to suit the lifestyle needs of today’s consumers.
Robotics deployed at the front-of-house to serve customers have proven to be both efficient and entertaining. For example, a robotic platform may be programmed to fulfil an order of serving ice cream inside a coconut shell, or make coffee. This is another fully man-less solution.
As with back-of-house processes, food companies can also automate front-of-house operations such as customer reservation and queue management, as well as ordering, serving, billing and payment.