How The Internet of Things is Building Smarter Restaurants

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Do you have any idea how much business is lost, say, if an employee forgets to turn on the “open” sign at the beginning of the day? If most of your reservations or orders come in over the phone, how much is lost to each of those dropped calls or busy signals? What if an employee accidentally leaves the walk-in fridge ajar overnight? You probably know the cost of the product that’s been spoiled, but what if you have to shut down for a few hours? Do you know how much business is lost then?

The answer is you don’t — or rather, you can’t. The technology didn’t exist to either measure these things, or to ensure they didn’t happen — until now.

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to basically any object connected to the Internet — be it a sensor, a sign, a juicer, a fridge, a phone or a deep fryer. Like anything else, the functions of these objects and their networks depend on who’s using it, but the applications are nearly endless.

Rob Scheiper is a partner in several Domino’s Pizza franchises in the U.S. and runs the technology operations at 87 stores. In 2014, Scheiper and his colleagues were among the first in the famously tech-savvy pizza giant’s organization to begin using Voice Over IP (VoIP), internet-phone systems that allowed them to sort incoming calls to each store and track analytics related to those calls. It also allowed them to double the number of available lines, create separate lines for drivers or suppliers and gave them capabilities to screen the calls. Scheiper and his managers also get real-time alerts when calls aren’t getting picked up and can listen in if there’s an issue with a customer.

This was one of the first steps in the IoT evolution and, for Scheiper’s stores, it laid the foundation for a system that was also connected to other parts of the store. If the VoIP software addressed errors with the old analog system, some of the new IoT devices are now controlling human error. For example, at approximately eight stores, Scheiper and his team have installed temperature gauges in the more sensitive areas around ovens and fridges. Using those sensors, the software not only adjusts the thermostats automatically, but also alerts the employees — through text message after hours, or on the in-store display during on-hours — when something has gone wrong, such as a fridge left open. It also sets a comfortable lower and upper limit on the internal thermostat — a move Scheiper says has saved many air conditioners from being blown out when employees knock the temperature all the way down in the heat of services.

This technology has existed for a long time, but a few things have recently changed. The most significant is cost. Ray Pasquale, CEO of Unified Office, the partner company that provides the entire suite of IoT services to Scheiper’s stores, says the price of sensors has dropped in the past two years — in some instances to less than $50. That’s significant, considering how in the not-too-distant-past, industrial temperature sensors alone could cost upwards of $150.

The second change is that these services are being offered under one umbrella. The people who predict where your refrigeration might fail are the same people who can help you route calls and provide high-level data on how well you’re handling customers. Though Pasquale says this isn’t necessarily the case for all IoT vendors. For example, there are companies whose sole purpose it is to monitor and change the frying oil in fast-food restaurants.

Pasquale says the next step in automation is sentiment analysis — allowing systems to collect more information about the customers who are calling in and thus, better show restaurant owners and operators how their business is doing. This element of the software will be able to pick up on whether callers are angry, happy or distressed. Typically, this work was done by sorting through hundreds of call recordings manually, but now it’s automated. The more calls this machine-learning software sorts through, the better it will get at detecting exactly what operators are looking for.

None of this technology is about removing the personal touch, Pasquale says, but rather to help them function optimally.

Written by Tristan Bronca

 

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