From ordering and inventory to information access and storage, technology is helping foodservice departments run more efficiently, but not without some growing pains and a commitment to learning.
Ninety-two percent of school operators strongly agree that technology has had a positive impact on their foodservice departments, and 78% of schools strongly agree that technology has even made employees’ jobs easier.
Employees now “have tools that increase their efficiencies, whether it’s reporting or tools within the kitchen that are technology advanced so they can produce more,” explains Adam Merlino, director of nutrition services at Cañon City Schools, in Colorado. And since some production technologies, such as smallware equipment, help to reduce an employee’s need to stand in one spot for a long period of time or do repetitive motions, Merlino finds that “oftentimes, some of this technology helps [to increase] their physical longevity.”
Use of technology comes with a learning curve but is worth the effort, Merlino explains. To decrease the anxieties that come with change, “you have to do a combination of training—first you have to learn it yourself so your employees can see an example of how it can be learned to overcome that obstacle of change,” he shares.
For Patti Klos, director of dining and business services at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass., and her staff, “technology gives us the access to information in a way that was more cumbersome before.”
But the use of technology shines a light on employee ability and confidence. It “begins to have some job requirements that weren’t there before … forcing us to develop for areas we hadn’t thought about before but are beneficial,” Klos explains. Klos uses a “buddy approach” so that less comfortable or confident employees can work with a co-worker in an appropriate and respectful way to complete tasks accurately.
When it comes to keeping up with emerging technology, however, 44% of respondents strongly agree it is difficult to do. Several issues factor into staying on top of developments in technology, including customer and corporate influence, time, budgets, infrastructure, rate of change and, for some, age. Sixty percent of respondents older than 60 strongly agree that it is difficult to keep up with emerging technology.
Jack Batten, chef manager at il Creations, a government foodservice contractor based in Maryland, observes that today even his daily sales and purchase reports are submitted directly to the corporate office through the use of technology. “When I went to culinary school they didn’t use computers for anything; now they’re everywhere,” he says.
For Kenneth Smith, director of nutrition and hospitality services at the Regional Medical Center of San Jose, in California, keeping up with emerging technology is a necessary part of the job but finding the time to do so is challenging. “I work for a billion-dollar hospital corporation, and new technology is always being introduced to use,” he explains.
Despite the technology available, food still requires preparation methods that technology won’t ever be able to perform. “We’re a foodservice provider; we’re still going to prepare a piece of chicken in a conventional manner, but communication about that piece of chicken, the ordering process, and the nutrient information and allergen information is easy for various members of the organization to access [through technology],” Klos explains.
We asked operators to rate their level of agreement with several statements regarding technology on a six-point scale, where six was “agree completely” and one was “do not agree at all.” The following percentages are for those who strongly agree with this statement (rated a six or five).
85%: “Technology has had a positiveimpact on my foodservice department.” Operators in schools (92%) and hospitals (89%) were the most likely to strongly agree.
81%: “Technology has made my job easier.” School respondents were the most likely to strongly agree with this statement (89%), while only 75% of college respondents gave it that rating.
62%: “Technology has made the jobs of my employees easier.” Schools were significantly more likely than other segments to strongly agree (78% versus 59%, respectively).
44%: “It is hard to keep up with emerging technology.” Those who are 45 or older (50%) and females (49%) are more likely to strongly agree with this statement than those less than 45 years old (27%) and males (38%).
12%: “I do not understand enough about new technology to take advantage of it in my operation.” Conversely, 61% of operators strongly disagree with this statement (rated two or one) indicating they understand enough about new technology to take advantage of it. This was even more apparent among schools, where significantly more people strongly disagreed with this statement (71%) versus those in all other segments (59%).