What's next in foodservice tech?

Sara Rush Wirth, Senior Editor

technology options palm hand

It could be a little early to call, but I’d bet that 2017 will be The Year of Voice. Last year ushered in new tests and developments that make voice recognition a real possibility in foodservice operations—and a potential way to ease labor problems, language barriers and more.

Voice recognition will shake up standard operating procedures for both front- and back-of-house teams. Here’s a look at where it might be put into action this year.

Customer ordering

amazon echo dot

Domino’s already has a skill (aka app) linked to Amazon’s Alexa system that allows customers to order pizza simply by telling their Echo or Dot device that they’d like to place an order. The voice-controlled virtual assistant, similar to the feature on Google Home, triggers a food order and pays via a pre-set up account. With the devices among the most popular this holiday season, more operators are likely to take advantage in the future. 


voice recognition

Thus far, it’s just been tests and promises of future developments. A Google-supported system in test in a number of restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, combines voice and face recognition. Customers say, “I’ll pay with Google,” without removing their phone from their pocket or handbag, which sets a visual confirmation for the cashier in motion.

Both Starbucks and McDonald’s, too, have said they are looking at voice recognition. The coffee giant plans to update its app this year to include voice ordering for customers to speak their orders into their smartphones, and McD’s is considering the feature for its drive-thru.

Interactions, automated

taco bell tacobot

There are two obvious places chatbots—a typed-out voice and conversation—can impact restaurant operations: ordering and social media. To ease looming labor concerns, operators such as Wingstop, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell have already started using bots to automate the ordering process, oftentimes taking place on social media.

Wingstop, for example, allows Facebook users to simply type “Order” to the brand, which begins real-time automated responses not just to the order itself, but to questions about allergies, nutritional information and other preferences. For operators looking to cut back on customer service as well as online-ordering staff, bots may prove to be a money-saving option as they become more prevalent and kinks get worked out by early adopters.

Back-of-house ordering

woman megaphone

Voice ordering has the potential to completely change how operators order supplies. Already, consumers are getting used to ordering food online, including groceries—and that includes consumers who happen to be foodservice operators. At this point, in fact, a lot of restaurants have their requisition forms online and order from their suppliers via spreadsheets and forms on the web.

But imagine if managers and kitchen staff didn’t have to fill out those spreadsheets, and rather could just say what they need and have it automatically added to the req form and ordered, with it being charged seamlessly to a preset account. In other words: speaking a supply order into an Amazon Echo, and having the item added to a list and automatically charged to an Amazon Prime for Business account. While Prime for Business doesn’t exist quite yet, there’s a big potential for it in the industry.

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