Back-of-house technologies drive labor efficiencies

Photograph: Shutterstock

Automation has made a splash in front-of-house restaurant applications such as kiosk-based ordering and mobile payments, but new technologies are also streamlining operations and delivering efficiencies in the back of the house.

In an environment in which labor costs have become increasingly difficult to manage, operators are turning to automation and other technologies for a variety of behind-the-scenes tasks, including training, temperature monitoring for food safety and maintenance functions. These tasks can include everything from monitoring refrigeration temperatures and fryer filtration processes to the performance of certain chores that can be prone to human error or even hazardous, such as fryer oil disposal and replenishment and the cleaning of exhaust hoods.

Labor retention and labor costs have been a perennial concern for restaurant operators, and the trend is expected to continue in 2019, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Low levels of unemployment translate into higher wages, which are expected to continue to eat into profit margins this year, Bloomberg reported, citing research from Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst David Tarantino.

Hikes in the minimum wage and operator investments in other employee benefits will exacerbate these cost pressures, Tarantino said.

Automated solutions ease the cost burden

Deploying automated solutions for back-of-house tasks that are physically difficult or hazardous can also take some of the burdens off the human staff, thereby making kitchen jobs more appealing to workers, which could potentially help in labor retention and thus reduce costs associated with onboarding and training.

Research firm TDn2K noted in a recent report that retaining staff is a persistent issue for operators and cited data showing that turnover rates increased in 2018 for both hourly employees and for all levels of management.

An additional benefit of deploying automated technologies in the back of the house is that such solutions can free up labor dollars to invest in areas that drive increased sales such as front-line service positions.

“Customers’ expectations around service are proving to be a differentiator between those brands performing at the top and those that are struggling,” the TDn2K report stated.

A handful of operators have experimented with automated cooking solutions that seek to reduce in-store labor, including Spyce, a restaurant in Boston that uses an automated line of woks that can churn out 150 bowl-based meals per hour, and Flippy, a robot developed by Miso Robotics that cooks hamburgers at a CaliBurger location in Pasadena, Calif.

Although such experiments with robotics are in the early stages of testing, other advanced sensor, database and automation technologies are well-developed and lend themselves to other back-of-the-house operations that can help control labor costs.

In its Restaurant 2025 report on the future of automation in the restaurant industry, technology giant Oracle predicted automation and robotics could play increasingly important roles in back-of-the-house restaurant operations such as cleaning, as opposed to providing front-line service.

“In the future, automation is set to perfect efficiency, optimizing productivity and speed of service,” the report concluded. “But in hospitality, the human touch will remain an essential part of the experience. Robots will tackle repetitive tasks such as cleaning and food prep, but will likely stay clear of meaningful guest encounters.”

Kitchen automation is also used for more mundane tasks such as oil recycling and disposal. Restaurant Technologies offers the automation necessary for proper disposal and recycling of kitchen oil, which not only saves time and money, but also adds safety to the kitchen’s operations.

From robotics to simple ingredient cycling, technology in the back of the house is here to stay.

This post is sponsored by Restaurant Technologies


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