Bring together more than 1,200 leaders in restaurant technology and you’re sure to hear nonstop speculation about which advances will next disrupt the business. Here are some of the predictions that caught our attention at FSTEC.
Two years ago, the notion of using a facial scan to identify and charge a restaurant customer seemed the stuff of science fiction. At that this year’s conference, several operators acknowledged they’re investigating it, though at most in extremely limited tests. None would predict when the capability might hit the mainstream, but several noted the proof provided by Amazon Go that the needed technology can work in high-volume situations.
A number of exhibitors showcased ways of replacing humans with technology that can analyse fluid situations and provide seemingly thoughtful responses, often in voice form. The systems were touted as ways of providing enhanced service without additional labour, such as politely responding to the information-type phone calls (“Do you offer gluten-free options?” “Do you provide parking?”) that tend to distract the staff during the height of premeal prep.
A fellow traveller of artificial intelligence and machine learning, technology that can read and respond to verbal commands is already being used for rapid reordering; consumers can state their favourite order into a so-called smart speaker in their homes. But presenters at FSTEC suggested that voice recognition is being adapted for a host of other uses, such as providing prep instructions upon request for kitchen workers who can’t leave their posts to study a recipe card or call up how-to information on a computer screen.
New delivery models
Echoing the buzz outside FSTEC’s conference rooms, presenters and attendees noted that the traditional third-party delivery setup is undergoing rapid changes. No longer is it a matter of agreeing to pay a 20% to 30% commission, take it or leave it, and forgoing any claim on the customer information that’s gathered by the delivery services.