There's no question that a lot of work and energy goes into making a kitchen run. As employees become more difficult to find, it's natural to automate where possible. Restaurants are used to delivery apps and online ordering, so why not see what technology can do for kitchen efficiency as well?
Smart technology feels increasingly familiar since restaurants have used it to adapt to the changing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more restaurants are taking what’s working in client services and delivery and seeing if the same kind of tools can make the kitchen run smoother as well.
Here’s what you need to know about the place connected kitchens hold in successful restaurants and how they're likely to evolve in the future.
Connected kitchens are not a cheap investment. To take full advantage of automated technology, you'll likely want to invest in smart equipment for multiple major aspects of your kitchen. Investing in single pieces of automated technology at a time will significantly limit the functionality of each piece until you have built a significantly connected kitchen.
Regardless, many restaurants are choosing to embrace this technology, either all at once or one piece at a time. Why? If you can afford to connect your kitchen, your restaurant may be able to surge ahead of the competition. Here are some of the advantages of smart technology in restaurant kitchens.
According to the US Chamber of Commerce, as of the beginning of 2023 there were three million fewer Americans in the labor force compared to February 2020. At the same time, employers added 3.8 million jobs in 2021.
Many restaurants are finding it impossible to remain fully staffed, having to cut hours or restrict dining room service as a result. Connected kitchens enable restaurants to function smoothly with significantly fewer employees.
Not only does this mean you can relieve yourself of attracting and keeping as many employees, it means that the employees you have will be easier to retain and of a higher caliber. After all, if you don't need to pay as many people, you can likely afford to pay the employees you have higher wages.
The restaurant business can be dangerous. Workers handle sharp knives and other dangerous equipment in a crowded environment with lots of hot surfaces, spitting fryers, and other dangers. Furthermore, the restaurant staff is typically scrambling to get work done as quickly as possible.
Smart kitchens can't eliminate the risks of restaurant work, but they can reduce them. Intelligent sensors and thermometers prevent oil from boiling at too high a temperature and spitting and causing burns. Appliances that can automatically turn off can prevent anything from accidentally being left on at the end of the day, preventing fires.
Furthermore, since connected kitchens allow for the kitchen to function with fewer employees, kitchens are less crowded, which also tends to make injuries less likely.
Restaurants generally have incredibly high rates of food waste. Over 80% of unused food is simply thrown away. This is a problem for a lot of reasons, but one of those problems is overhead cost.
All of that discarded food is wasted money for the restaurant. The faster food spoils, the more difficult it is for restaurants to provide consistent and high quality menu items. Smart refrigerators, humidity control systems, and other intelligent automated technology can go a long way towards reducing food spoilage and keeping everything fresher for longer.
For many restaurant owners and chefs, there's something a little bit strange about the idea of a connected kitchen. After all, doesn't automated cooking take the soul out of making food? It may not be very romantic to allow a machine to do your cooking for you, but for select items, it does work well.
Ovens, grills, and other devices can be preset in order to monitor the cooking process, producing meals consistently at the appropriate doneness. Furthermore, cooks can apply the time they save checking and rechecking staples such as meat and fries to put more effort into sauces, unique side dishes, and other special touches that will make the food truly shine.
Connected kitchens smooth out many of the hiccups that have been inherent to restaurant work in the past. You're likely to find that operating a restaurant feels like less of a scramble when it's equipped with smart technology. The ability to turn equipment on and off remotely, check the status of kitchen devices or be alerted to cooking temperatures and times simply make smart technology an easier operational option for your restaurant.
Pretty much everything that connected kitchens do is designed to make your restaurant operate more efficiently, but some automated technology takes efficiency to the next level. For instance, many Arby's restaurants utilize intelligent ovens that can cook beef overnight while nobody's in the building. Every detail of the cooking is monitored and reported. The system can even catch mistakes such as beef being loaded before it was fully defrosted, resulting in insufficient cooking.
With all of these advantages, you may be wondering why smart technology isn’t in every restaurant in America. Connected kitchens have some real benefits, and are likely to be an important part of the restaurant industry going forward.
However, don't expect to see the old-fashioned way of producing restaurant food go away anytime soon. Here are some of the downsides of automated technology that are likely to keep this technology out of many kitchens in the near future.
The most obvious downside of connected kitchens is also one of the most important. All of this fancy connected equipment isn't cheap. While restaurants can save significantly on labor with the help of smart technology, especially as time goes on, that does nothing to offset the initial purchase cost of the equipment.
Unless you're just starting a restaurant for the first time, you probably have already invested significantly into your kitchen. That investment is discarded when you replace the equipment with smart technology. Sometimes, smart technology can work with the equipment you already have, but often it can't or only does so with minimal effectiveness.
Once you make the investment into a connected kitchen, you depend on the equipment to work correctly and reliably. You're not going to be able to fix an intelligent fryer or refrigerator as easily or affordably as a low-tech model. With higher investment costs, simply replacing a faulty machine isn't as simple.
Another frustrating aspect of investing in emerging technology is that it's bound to be outdated soon. If you want the full advantages of a smart kitchen, you'll surely be drooling over the next invention. Keeping your kitchen as connected as possible can be an expensive endeavor as this emerging technology evolves.
Connected kitchens enable restaurants to function with fewer employees, but they also may demand more of some of those employees. You must have employees on staff who can work with the automated technology, and you must also make sure that no employees cause problems with the equipment because they don't know how to use it properly.
There's often a significant learning curve as restaurant employees figure out how to work with a connected kitchen. It's true that restaurant staff have been quick to adapt to intelligent technology like online ordering and delivery services, but working with intelligent kitchen equipment is very different.
If you're struggling with the labor shortage, like so many restaurants are right now, and wondering whether a connected kitchen could be the solution, you have some questions to ask about your restaurant to decide if this is the right move. If you have the initial capital, connected kitchens can reduce the number of employees required to operate your kitchen while simultaneously enabling better and safer food preparation and much smoother operations across the board.
However, you must be prepared to make a significant initial investment into purchasing the equipment and training employees how to work with it. If you’re on the fence about whether to invest in a connected kitchen, it may be worth looking into aspects of connectivity that would make the biggest difference in your restaurant, such as a kitchen display system that delivers orders directly from the front to the kitchen staff.
Sensors and thermometers allow you to remotely monitor food as it cooks. Smart refrigerators reduce food spoilage. Any aspect of a smart kitchen may be the best investment for you, depending on your needs. If you're happy with the increased control that a device or two gives you, you can look into automating more of the kitchen.
Keep in mind that it can be difficult to put together a connected kitchen one piece at a time, so make sure you invest in technology that can work with whatever you might want to do next.