Last year, in 2022, the National Restaurant Association Show tech pavilion showcased labor-saving robots, including front of the house and back of the house. But as we’ve pulled away from the COVID-19 pandemic, technology trends have shied away from flashy automation and more toward invisible AI. One of the biggest trends we saw on the show floor was Internet of Things. IoT technology — which uses cloud technology to connect “dumb” devices and turn them into smart devices that can communicate with one another — was a crucial feature of many software companies on the show floor, from refrigeration to drive-thru technology.
Like most trending technology, IoT allows restaurant operators to be more efficient, cost-conscious, and to reduce menial labor.
“Data is the way to make great decisions, reduce waste and loss, and actually be efficient so that we can do the most we can,” Michael Garrity, director of marketing for beverage technology company, Brewlogicx, said Monday. “Your staff can actually have time to talk go customers, your ownership isn’t scrambling…IoT is the fuel that will bring us into a more efficient future and the restaurant industry is now getting to see a glimpse of that and realizing that this making our lives better.”
Brewlogicx is a beverage technology solutions company that uses IoT technology and real-time analytics to gain insights into beverage performance, so that bars and breweries can know without guessing whether a specific type of beer is running out and predicts how much the bar will need for the weekend, which products are most expensive or if the bar needs to buy more product. This specific technology was in development for five years before BrewLogicx released it to the public eight months ago.
“The major advantage here because then we can actually pair what's happening in the physical world with what's happening to digital and make a much more accurate prediction,” Garrity said. “Being able to see key financials and success markers instantly to know the health and freshness of your draft program is going to lower your costs, waste, and improve profitability.”
IoT technology was also on display with equipment companies like OneEvent, which uses IoT technology to connect freezers and refrigerators with smart devices and a manager’s phone, that can track fluctuations in temperature, and send notifications if the temperature goes above a certain threshold for a pre-programmed amount of time, which means that someone either needs to close the freezer door or get a mechanic in to repair the equipment before all of the refrigerated food goes bad.
“Our system will alert you no matter where you are,” Wayne Glowack, director of marketing for OneEvent said. “IoT lets us give you the ability to manage your restaurant wherever you are just with this little device.”
Most IoT systems come with small devices that attach to equipment or computers and create an uninterrupted network—giving operators real-time data wherever they are. But besides practical uses like figuring out when your bar is running out of a best-selling IPA or alerting a manager when the fridge is broken, IoT can also improve customer service interactions.
Although most of the drive-thru technology at the NRA Show in 2023 focused on voice AI, restaurant technology startup UKnoMi saw the value in using IoT technology to bring better customer service to the drive-thru lane. As the name implies, UKnowMi is a customer experience platform that uses systems learning technology and IoT to help drive-thru employees recognize and reward regular customers in the drive-thru lane. The visual AI can capture a customer’s digital fingerprint. After a new customer signs up at the register using their name and date of birth, UKnoMi’s technology captures their license plate and knows when they come back again, what their taste preferences are, and if they are eligible for a reward in the loyalty program.
“We use a number of Bluetooth devices [to connect to the IoT system] and let you know, for example exactly where a customer is in the queue, because accuracy is very important,” Johann Van Der Westhuizen, cofounder of UKnoMi said. “You need to know exactly which car is in the queue otherwise [the loyalty aspect] won’t work.”
Although Internet of Things might have a confusing name, the technology is simple: use cloud and/or Bluetooth technology to connect every aspect of your kitchen or drive-thru lane (or more) and improve the capabilities and efficiency of an entire restaurant operation.
Contact Joanna at [email protected]