In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore theorized that technology doubles every 18 months. Over the last 50 years this theory has been backed by plenty of evidence and has become widely agreed upon by economists and tech leaders alike. New technology has been changing the way we eat food since before McDonalds introduced assembly line burger production, and hasn’t slowed down. Today we are seeing tech transform the how, when, and where of eating more rapidly and dramatically than ever. These are some of the ways it’s doing that.
Robot Operated Restaurants
2016 saw the rollout of restaurant robots that are able to execute nearly ever aspect of a restaurant’s operations. KFC introduced a robot waitstaff in their Shanghai restaurants, while Pizza Hut experimented in the same city with their bowtie-wearing droid “Casper” who welcomes and seats guests.
Closer to home, Momentum Machines – a San Francisco startup – has invented an automated burger making operation that is able to prepare burgers from start to finish, including grilling, assembly, and bagging with no human action. Kawasaki also showed off their robotic sushi chef, and the first pizza ATM arrived on the campus of Xavier University allowing students to use a touchscreen to create a customized pizza that pops out through a slot in the machine three minutes later.
The War on Food Waste
It’s reported that a staggering 40% of America’s food is thrown away each year. A variety of startups have gone to work in efforts to reduce that number with the use of social media and new technology. Leloca is one of these. Their app helps restaurants reduce waste by selling leftover food at a price reduction of 30 to 50% within 45 minutes of posting. Olio has also trialled an app that connects individual consumers who are willing to give surplus food to others in their area. A stick-on “leftover label” that changes color has also been developed by Samsung to help people consume the food in their refrigerators before it expires. Green means good to eat, while yellow encourages quicker consumption.
Evolution of Tipping
In October, NYC restaurant titan and trendsetter, Danny Meyer announced he was eliminating all tipping at his restaurants and significantly raising prices to account for the difference. DipJar, a Silicon Valley startup has also moved to change tipping using the invention of a a small piece of hardware with an internal 3G service that allows customers to dip their credit card into a digital “jar” to give an industry-standard set tip. Meyer wrote, “The American system of tipping is awkward for all parties involved.” Foodee has been ahead of the game, instituting a no-tip policy since it did its first office delivery in 2012.
Restaurant operators wanting constructive feedback from diners have had few options on how to find it, and new companies are offering new solutions. Sites like Yelp can be unreliable (and unnecessarily insulting), while traditional mystery shopping services are expensive. A startup called Servy has created a crowd-sourced solution that pays undercover diners to review restaurants while dining. Qualified reviewers receive up to $30 for answering a series of questions on the app, with space to write explanations on their dining experience. Restaurants then receive performance analytics and evaluation based on the feedback of these app users.
Self Service Ordering
Business Insider Intelligence predicts that food orders placed via smartphone will make up over 10% of all quick-service restaurant sales by 2020. Papa John’s is leading the way on that, announcing in its first-quarter 2016 earnings report that 55% of its total sales are made digitally, and 60% of those digital orders are from smart phones. A survey of technology trends conducted by The National Restaurant Association found that 37% of restaurant operators believe the most important technological development in the next 5 years will be customer ordering technology. At Foodee, around half of orders are made online.
A team of engineers at Columbia University has been working with chefs to create a 3D food printing machine for home and restaurant use. Their machine has multiple canisters of ingredients that are combined and then printed in layers. A laser or infrared light cooks foods before they are deposited out of the machine. The technology has potential to shake up the food industry on many levels. Industry leader, ChefJet, teamed up with Hershey’s to print chocolate last year, and even NASA used a 3D printer to produce pizzas. Popular Mechanics wrote last month, “[Printers developed by] 3D Systems print beautiful sugar sculptures, precise geometric shapes that the human hand could never do as perfectly.”