The majority of U.S. restaurants have made or plan to make investments in kitchen automation technology in the future, according to new survey data from payments company Square.
The company just released its “Future of Retail” and “Future of Restaurants” reports to offer an overview of what businesses are investing in from a technology standpoint and how processes and operations are changing.
Notable among the many pieces of data: Ninety-one percent of restaurants surveyed will implement some kind of automation technology into their kitchens if they haven’t done so already.
It should be noted that Square has some skin in this game, since the company has some technology in the restaurant back of house. Therefore, automation in this context is more about software that runs in restaurants than it is about articulating robot arms making food.
Why the rush to digitize the back of house? “In order to take advantage of opportunities like multiple revenue streams and creative dining experiences, the back of house needs to be buttoned up,” notes the report. Restaurants certainly grappled with things like multiple order streams (e.g., delivery, takeout, etc.) prior to COVID-19. But few would deny the pandemic accelerated the widespread adoption of these off-premises formats, and up to now restaurant tech has only had time to react to the changes, not get ahead of them.
Hence more investment in back-of-house tech. Bruce Bell, Head of Square for Restaurants, said in the report he sees more of a “hub-and-spoke” model these days, where the kitchen sits at the center of a growing number of sales channels. “One channel might be the dining room, one channel might be first-party delivery, one channel might be meal kits, and so on,” adds Bell. “Having the kitchen run as efficiently as possible extends that efficiency into all of those channels,” he said.
The hub-and-spoke model is already popular with some ghost kitchen setups. For larger restaurant chains, many of which are decreasing the sizes of their dining rooms or eliminating them altogether, this model could become the norm, too.
As far as those formats go, Square’s report found that restaurants plan to offer the following in 2021: curbside pickup (66 percent); drive-thru service (52 percent); drive-in service (48 percent); and drive-through dining (46 percent).
Loyalty programs, digital menus, in-house delivery, and digital ordering and payments are all technologies we can expect to drive these formats as well as the dining room experience in the future.
If you are interested in kitchen automation and robotics, make sure to attend the second food robotics summit on May 18th!