Over the years tremendous technological advances have changed our way of life, as we know it.
Continuing this trend 2016 looks like the year when automation came into its own. The World Economic Forum has proclaimed that this thrust on automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence) is pushing us into “the fourth industrial revolution” and is definitely going to transform the job markets beyond all recognition compared to even a decade ago.
To maintain its competitiveness all sectors will have to plan and induct strategies and products which will kick start automation of processes. Any company delaying this process will eventually become financially unviable and could even cease to trade as an entity.
The question then many restaurateurs will ask is how does one introduce this concept into such a labour intensive industry, where one needs Chefs to cook food and waiters/waitress to serve the same. It is a tricky question and may involve some amount of retrenchment at the worst or retraining at the best. However, this question must be dealt with sooner rather than later. First mover advantage has usually resulted in financial gain.
Automation has always been at the heart of any restaurant operation and should not be looked at with suspicion or mistrust. Changing over from manual order taking process to the computerised / mobile EPOS systems has resulted in a substantial increase in productivity and reduction in errors.
Moving from paper diaries to computerised / mobile / mobile apps to do the same has resulted in enhanced customer experiences, increased yield and incisive data to manage the myriad challenges a restaurant faces.
Introducing large scale automation in the kitchen
Introducing and managing change in the front of house operation has proven to be far more easy than in the kitchen. Yes several path breaking equipment have been introduced in the kitchen over the years, but they have only been used to enhance the productivity and consistency of the Chef. So primarily been used as a tool to work alongside the Chefs but not replace them.
However conditions have arisen which are ripe for companies who are into creating solutions involving AI and automation.
Wages all over the world have only gone one way – UP, thereby putting a lot of pressure on the bottom-line.
Increased immigration into Europe has resulted in many countries tightening their borders and the immigration policies. This has resulted in scarce availability of qualified and experienced chefs, especially within the ethnic cuisine categories. Many restaurants are therefore reduced into a bidding war over the limited availability of talent in the Chef’s pool, further putting pressure not only on the financial aspects of the business but also on the ability to provide quality products consistently.
Good Chefs have turned into mercenaries moving frequently and to the highest bidder, leaving the managers constantly nervous and stressed. Automation in this sector is almost the need of the hour.
Born out of this desperate requirement is the Frima Vario Cooking Centre. I first saw the demo of this marvellous piece of equipment in the Restaurant Show in 2015 and got a first-hand demo last week. If used correctly it removes the need for an experienced Chef for bulk cooking and puts an average Joe (all that is needed is a rudimentary knowledge of using touch screen tablets and the discipline to follow instructions – even from a machine!!) in charge.
This unit can be likened to a computerised cooking range. To ensure optimum usage, there is a fair bit time the Chef will need to invest initially. Initially the Chef enters a step by step guide for preparing each dish including the weights, measures and time needed for each process. In many cases the machine is intelligent enough to suggest suitable cooking times based on the cooking method.
However once all the leg work is done then the rest is a breeze. Any new person will need an induction of a week, understanding the way the cooker needs to be used and thereafter he or she will just need to select the dish to be cooked and then just follow the prompts as and when they are given. In many processes the Chef need not even be around the unit, freeing up valuable time and increasing productivity.
So an initial investment of money and time will result in complete freedom from depending on an experienced Chef to do all the bulk cooking and allow a technician to perform the same function consistently time and again.
This will also result in lower wage cost, increased productivity and reduce the stress levels of the head Chef and the managers. The machine will pay for itself within a year.
This is just one example of the innovative products born out of necessity. Seeing the success rate of this unit, many other companies will jump into the automation bandwagon resulting in competing products.
Competition only creates better and more innovative solutions. The day may not be far when all the Chef does is press a button and get the desired dish at the other end.
Well on the flip side restaurants making ‘hand cooked’ meals will be then a rarity and will charge a premium for the same dishes!!