By Francine L. Shaw, Co-founder, My Food Source
Tech innovation and the Internet of Things (IoT) have revolutionized various industries, and the restaurant industry is no exception. The ability to connect devices to collect and analyze real-time data provides tremendous opportunities for restaurants. Brands can use IoT to enhance efficiency, improve food safety, mitigate risks, promote transparency throughout the supply chain, and more. IoT is crucial for restaurants, who must learn to leverage this technology to reap significant benefits.
Some major reasons that restaurants should use IoT include its ability to:
- Enhance food safety. Connected sensors and devices allow real-time tracking and monitoring of food products throughout the supply chain. By leveraging IoT, restaurants can continuously monitor crucial variables like temperature and humidity to ensure optimal storage conditions. This proactive approach significantly reduces the risk of spoilage and contamination, ultimately delivering safe, high-quality food to consumers.
- Improve supply chain transparency and traceability. IoT enables end-to-end visibility and traceability across the supply chain. By employing sensors, RFID tags, and blockchain technology, businesses can track the movement of food products from the point of origin to consumption. This transparency helps identify the origin of any issues or recalls, thereby minimizing the impact on public health and enabling quicker, more efficient responses. The ability to trace the entire journey of food products instills trust among consumers, who can have confidence in the quality and safety of the food they consume. Businesses can also optimize their supply chain operations by identifying bottlenecks, optimizing routes, and reducing inefficiencies.
- Optimize operations. IoT enabled ovens have sensors that automatically turn off if they’re left on after hours. IoT-controlled refrigerators alert staff if they deviate out of a pre-determined temperature range. Connected systems keep tabs on stock, notifying employees when products need to be reordered, so restaurants never run out of necessary ingredients – nor do they experience potentially wasteful overstocks. Smart equipment automatically schedule their own routine maintenance appointments and can even troubleshoot when problems occur. IoT helps boost automation and keep things running smoothly and seamlessly. That means restaurant employees can focus more time and attention on providing exceptional guest experiences.
- Elevate food safety protocols. IoT improves connectivity between restaurant staff, systems, and equipment, which enhances food safety processes and helps mitigate risks. IoT enabled restaurants can remotely monitor all equipment and be alerted of any potential problems, equipment malfunctions, temperature fluctuations, etc. so these issues can be immediately addressed and remedied. This helps prevents potentially devastating issues, such as an overnight power outage causing all the food in the walk-ins to spoil, due to temperatures rising into an unsafe range.
- Identify risks using real-time monitoring and predictive analytics. IoT devices provide real-time data on critical factors such as equipment performance, energy consumption, and production processes. This data can be analyzed using advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to detect patterns and predict potential issues. By identifying potential risks in advance, businesses can proactively address them, prevent downtime, and improve overall operational efficiency. For example, predictive analytics can alert companies when equipment requires maintenance, thus avoiding costly breakdowns and minimizing production disruptions. Real-time monitoring enables businesses to optimize energy consumption, reducing costs and environmental impact.
- Reduce waste and become more sustainable.S. restaurants waste a shocking $57 billion worth of food each year, and IoT can help reduce that. IoT devices can collect data on product conditions such as temperature, humidity, and light exposure. This information is invaluable in optimizing inventory management and reducing waste. By analyzing the data, businesses can ensure that products are sold or consumed before expiration, reducing losses and contributing to sustainability efforts. Consumers also benefit from fresher products, providing a positive experience and reducing the likelihood of foodborne illnesses caused by spoiled or expired food items.
- Elevate customer experiences. IoT can significantly improve the overall customer experience in the restaurant industry. For instance, customers ordering on restaurants’ mobile apps can hyper-personalize their meal, choosing the individual ingredients in their order. Connected devices in restaurants or food delivery services can streamline ordering, improve accuracy, and provide real-time status updates, making the customer journey smoother. By leveraging IoT technology, food businesses can offer tailored experiences, ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Food businesses should leverage IoT to optimize their operations and elevate safety, quality, and efficiency. Here are some important tips to accomplish this:
- Assess your organization’s specific needs. Identify areas of your food business that can benefit from IoT technology. Consider cold chain management, quality control, inventory management, and/or any other aspect that can be optimized. Define specific goals you want to achieve through IoT implementation.
- Use smart, reliable technology. Choose IoT devices and solutions that are reliable, scalable, and aligned with your business requirements. Prioritize factors like data security, interoperability, ease of integration, and ongoing support.
- Devise a robust data management strategy. Your organization will need to properly collect, store, and analyze the vast amounts of data generated by IoT devices. Implement appropriate data storage solutions and leverage analytics tools to derive actionable insights from the data. Use these insights to make informed decisions and optimize various aspects of your operations.
- Work with the right partners. Foster collaborations with technology providers, industry associations, and regulatory bodies to stay updated on emerging standards, best practices, and compliance requirements related to IoT in the food industry. Networking and knowledge-sharing can help you stay ahead of the curve and leverage the full potential of IoT.
- Prioritize data security. Implement robust security measures to protect your IoT devices and the data they collect. Ensure network security, encryption, authentication protocols, and regularly monitor for potential vulnerabilities. Safeguarding data privacy and complying with relevant regulations is crucial to maintain trust with customers and partners.
By embracing IoT, restaurants can drive efficiency, enhance food safety, mitigate risks, boost transparency, and enjoy other benefits throughout the supply chain. It’s wise for restaurants to leverage this innovative solution to enhance their efficiency, optimize operations, and remain competitive.
Francine L. Shaw, food safety specialist, podcaster, and co-founder of My Food Source, is a successful entrepreneur, author, and speaker who spent 20+ years working in the foodservice industry. Her career has included performing services (operating partner, corporate/private trainer, health inspector, 3rd party inspector, adjunct professor) in various sectors of the foodservice industry. She has written hundreds of articles for national trade magazines and appeared on Dr. Oz, the BBC World Series Radio, and iHeart Radio as a food safety expert.