Basic technologies such as POS systems, mobile apps and kiosks have improved efficiencies in many foodservice operations. These are table stakes now, but did early adopters reap more benefits? Or is smarter to wait and see, allowing other operations to work out the kinks before embracing the latest tech?
It all depends on the underlying value of the action, said Ben Anderson, director of business development for food-ordering platform Tapingo, during a session on how tech is reshaping retail at FSD’s MenuDirections conference in March. Frequency of use, convenience and return on investment all come into play, he pointed out. These three operators are finding value in the tech advancements they’re adopting.
1. A new kind of locker at the ballpark
Cincinnati Reds fans can order food from their seats, thanks to the MLB Ballpark mobile app, and their midgame refreshments are delivered to a dedicated locker for pickup. The Reds’ Great American Ball Park was the first to install this automated concession pickup station, dubbed Ballpark Express, and it has since expanded operations within the stadium. Customers are alerted when their food is ready; to retrieve it, they scan their smartphone at the designated locker and the window opens. The convenience of ordering and elimination of concession wait times have boosted sales at the ballpark and eased operations in the back of the house, Anderson said. Pickup lockers also help meet the labor challenge, he added.
2. Sensors debit dining dollars
Facial recognition and fingerprint scans are two technologies taking the place of meal card swipes at colleges. At University of Maryland, for example, students just wave their hand through a biometric reader to gain access to the dining halls. The touchless technology speeds lines and cuts down on the number of POS terminals. But Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., is taking meal card swipes a step further: Instead of a magnetic stripe, all newly issued student ID cards contain a special sensor that can be picked up by a proximity reader. The readers can detect the cards when students enter the space, so no swiping or physical contact is necessary. This provides everyone with faster access to eateries and enables easier entry for disabled students. The ID cards double as meal cards and are loaded with Cardinal Dollars.
3. Alexa pays a hospital visit
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has equipped 100 rooms with Amazon Echos so patients can contact nurses hands-free and control their entertainment. The devices use an Alexa-powered platform known as Aiva, which is designed specifically for hospitals as a patient-centered voice assistant. Requests are then routed to the appropriate caregiver. Alexa will respond directly to perform nonmedical tasks, such as turning on the TV or playing music, freeing up nurses for more essential work. As of now, the Echos are not being used to order meals or relay special dietary needs, but a connection to the foodservice department is not out of the question.