A decade ago, one of the biggest challenges restaurants faced in adopting connected technology was cost and capability. Implementing connected sensors and equipment to prevent product loss not only cost tens of thousands of dollars but even after the initial investment, legacy systems made it difficult to monitor those systems remotely, which often created as many problems as the technology resolved.
The proliferation of connected sensors and technology today, however, has cut costs and improved the flexibility of these new systems. Further, recent data suggest that restaurant operators are increasingly open to new technology, with four in five operators believing technology helps make their restaurant more productive. But there has been little research on their willingness to engage specifically with connected technology.
With current monitoring capabilities and access to data, foodservice professionals have untapped opportunities to leverage technology for improvements to safety processes. In particular, connected technology has enhanced our capacity to preserve the safety of food products in three critical ways.
1. Monitors systems 24/7. Managers and employees are able to keep an eye on the temperature of the refrigerators while they’re in the kitchen—but the cooling systems run 24/7, and employees can only be there so many hours a week. The services that monitor the temperature of the walk-in coolers, however, never shut off and can send an alert if a refrigeration system shuts down.
In one particular case, we saw a restaurant without monitoring services lose a walk-in cooler the night before Thanksgiving. When they returned after the holiday, the cooler had climbed to 60 degrees and they had lost $20,000 worth of product. Today’s monitoring systems can catch those temperature changes immediately and alert restaurant operators, helping preserve the safety of the food products and the financial health of the restaurant.
2. Provides process and data insight. By installing monitoring services, restaurant operators gain constant access and insight to the data collected, allowing them to identify trends specific to their location. On the back end, they can see if the evaporator was switched off or if the walk-in cooler is exhibiting a concerning fluctuation in temperature. These insights equip restaurant managers and operators with the facts needed to make changes that can preserve the safety of their food products.
If, for example, the data show that the temperature of the walk-in cooler increases at the same time every day, the manager can pay closer attention to what’s going on at that time. Perhaps employees are shutting off the cooler while they load and unload products. Understanding trends, managers can change the process—providing winter coats, for example, as employees work in the cooler—to prevent future temperature changes. These technology capabilities can also identify assets that are underperforming, enabling employees to anticipate and prevent future challenges with those assets.
3. Automates manual tasks. Adopting connected technology in a kitchen also relieves the administrative burden of monitoring, which gives employees more time to think about food safety at a higher level.
For example, one national quick-serve restaurant implemented new solutions to ensure food safety as the chain transitioned to a new cooking system. Their initial process required managers and employees to manually collect data 50 to 70 times per day. Since automating the process, the monitors now record data every minute the oven is on, so employees no longer have to record measurements. There are still individuals who oversee the process to address health and safety issues, but they can do so at a more strategic level.
What were once barriers to adoption—cost and time—have become a benefit to implementing modern technology systems. With monitoring software and data reports, foodservice professionals can cut down on energy and equipment costs, and regain valuable time spent overseeing vital processes for their business. While technology has alleviated many challenges for food safety, industry employees still play an important role, even if that role has shifted.
As we see with the quick-serve restaurant, the human element of these connected services is critical to the success of any monitoring process—but there’s a fine balance between strategic oversight and physically tracking numbers on a clipboard. Since simply installing sensors won’t solve food safety issues, managers and employees should use the data to not only take action on the alerts they see but also set up a system that can maintain the safety of their food products now and into the future.
Jamie Daubenspeck is the director of facility technology and Paul Kuck is the senior energy manager at Ecova.