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The Role of Technology in Modern Foodservice Is Changing (Forever)

September 15, 2023

There’s been a revolution in foodservice technology in the last two decades. But when we look back, it’s incredible that nearly all of it centered around the front of house.

Olo (2005) Square (2009) and Toast (2011) launched and cemented their places as the innovative Point of Sale systems of tomorrow. DoorDash (2013) opened and gained a whisper of market share against Grubhub (2004). And ezCater (2007) had a nearly uncontested hold on the digital catering channel. 

The front of house has earned most of the attention, the media, and the investment. But the role of technology in the modern foodservice organization is changing, and quickly. The tech landscape maps of last year are outdated, and the ways companies use tech is more complex than it’s ever been. Front of house tech, though still critical, is finally sharing the spotlight with back of house tools and innovations.

And just in the nick of time.

This is part of a series on foodservice tech. Articles in this series:

The Back of House? It’s A Mess Back There

There’s a stunning dichotomy that exists within many food organizations. We’ve seen it firsthand, over and over again.

The front of house experience is polished, user-friendly, and largely automated. Employees can manage their POS easily, sales data integrates into accounting tools, and customers have access to slick loyalty apps. Then, at the same time, cooks in the back race to convert cases of potatoes to gallons of potato soup using literal napkin math. The chef is running between a recipe binder and the pantry, trying to put together tomorrow’s purchase order. And the nutritionist can’t figure out which version of the recipe to put on the nutrition labels.

There is order in the front of house.

The back of house? Unmitigated chaos.

It’s not all that surprising. Chefs and culinary directors don’t typically wake up and think, “I wonder how a computer can make me more efficient”. They are craftspeople and leaders in the kitchen. Tech and efficiency have largely been a matter for the suits, and the business types focused first on areas where they could have a stunning impact: the front of house.

Thankfully, there’s a great alignment happening in our industry. Sky-high staff turnover, supply chain variability, shrinking margins, the ever-growing need to do more with less—the pressures of our modern foodservice industry spare no one. We all, chefs and suits alike, are recognizing the reality now: we’re overdue for a reimagination of nutritionals logging, purchasing, planning, costing, and other back of house processes.

Also Read: What Does Food Data Mastery Look Like In A Modern Food Business?

What Tech-Enabled Foodservice Looks Like Moving Forward

This new focus on the back of house isn’t a monolithic movement, and not everyone is racing toward the same outcomes. There are layers of complexity, with some organizations focused on the more surface-level applications of tech inside their back of house, and others taking the incoming AI revolution as a chance to rethink how everything works from the ground up.

We are seeing most organizations look at tech as a mechanism for improving efficiency through digitization. Common activities include…

  • Digitizing recipes into a central database that all teams and locations can access as-needed
  • Calculating theoretical inventory in real time by counting up expected usage from the day’s sales data to give leaders a sense of gap when they run actual inventory numbers
  • Automatically creating updated nutrition labels when recipes are updated with new ingredients or formulations

These improvements can be hugely impactful to organizations, creating new opportunities to cut out manual data entry and work smarter with food data. Long-term, these improved systems interconnect and add up to something greater than the sum of their parts, especially when we layer on AI. 

I think about it like Google Maps. Maps is more than a digital record of streets and businesses. It’s a fully interwoven system of streets, businesses, real-time traffic data, drive time estimates all working together simultaneously to plan routes that save you time—long before you start driving. And that’s just the start. The core Maps dataset is the foundation for countless innovations that are now possible, like augmented reality wearables and business reviews/discovery.

That’s what is so different about today’s common uses of foodservice tech, and tomorrow’s. Today, our most commonly used tech digitizes and data-ifies the back of house (and it’s exactly what most of us need right now). But the end result is a digital storehouse of food and operational data that still requires manual handling to create useful insights.

Tomorrow, our connected food systems will act as dynamic, intelligent networks. Imagine a kitchen where your purchase orders self-adjust based on real-time inventory, consumer preferences, weather forecasts, and even geopolitical events affecting the supply chain. AI algorithms could evaluate these variables to optimize orders, minimize waste, and create accurate forecasts far into the future (like Google Maps planning your route hours or days before you actually drive it). And just like how Maps’s dataset unlocks new innovations not related to calculating drive times, so too will foodservice datasets.

Also Read: The Grammar of Food: How to AI-ify the Culinary Operation

To the culinary director who has a hard time getting cooks to do something as simple as input tasks into a tablet, this might feel a bit pie-in-the-sky. But the reality is, whole industries already operate this way, most notably manufacturing and logistics. And with commercial kitchens looking more and more like a food manufacturing operation, we’re quickly headed that direction. 

What Happens to Disconnected Tech That’s Siloed Off?

The prerequisite for this evolving future is food systems that can talk to each other. Tools with siloed data won’t be able to connect to the whole, and will eventually lose their value as the gains created by connecting systems accelerate.

That’s why we’ve spent so much time designing Galley to enable a universal language for food, because all foodservice systems—planning, inventory, production, and beyond—need to be able to communicate in real-time via a central location: the culinary operating system.

When all our systems and data are stored centrally, the foodservice movement will evolve from a collection of systems into a virtually singular system that guides leaders forward in new ways that are hard to imagine. We’ll move from paper maps, to digital maps, to the full AI-powered experience of Google Maps, able to create efficient routes toward our business objectives and dreams that take the entire operation into perspective.

The future is not just digital; it's integrated, it's intelligent, and it's inevitable.

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