Technology is here. And it is here to stay. But how is it impacting Food Service? How are companies using technology, and what are the views and opinions at the coal face?
These were some of the questions we tackled at our roundtable event in February, organised in collaboration with EP Hospitality. The event, is the first of a series of events, where we invite contract catering professionals from across the sector to join and debate some of the key challenges regarding:‘how technology is impacting foodservice’.
In this first event, we were joined by Julie Ennis CEO Sodexo Corporate Services, who shared interesting insight intoSodexo’s own technology evolution.
So what did we unearth? Here’s my summary of some of the top line theme from this interactive session:
- The challenge of regulation vs creativity. Over time regulations have taken a tighter grip on the sector, impacting flexibility and creativity. Any opportunity for autonomy or to be responsive to customer’s needs on the front line, is challenged if all relevant information is not captured and then relayed back to the customer. Especially as clients and customers need that data to be readily available. There is optimism, however, and there’s a general view that there is a growing ability to regain that creativity, as technology increasingly automates more of the mundane tasks and makes all information more readily available.
- There is a widening technology adoption gap between enterprise vs independent, or smaller, operators. In the face of all the macro environmental factors we’ve encountered over the past few years, whether Brexit, the pandemic or the war in Ukraine, all the larger players have had a larger capacity to make the upfront investment, been better resourced and equipped to respond more proactively. What is being seen now is these companies are getting positive payback from these investments in the form of cumulative time savings and actionable insights. For smaller businesses, the ability to respond has been slower and more difficult to justify and the focus has therefore been on being reactive to daily operations. However, as technology becomes more accessible – easier to implement and cheaper to cost – we are going to see a better ability to respond, which will only benefit the quality of the service provided across the whole sector.
- A growing demand to understand what the tech can actually deliver. Whilst there seemed to be universal agreement on the importance of the role of technology, it was a particularly lively discussion about cases where the implementation of technology has perhaps not quite hit the mark. Further, it was highlighted that some solutions have become cumbersome over time and increasingly difficult to train into a business, counter to the wisdom of technology offering simplicity and ease-of-use. These comments align to our own findings from the survey we commissioned last year (source – https://www.zupa.com/contract-catering/), where just over half (51%) of contract catering professionals agreed that they were looking for a technology that’s easy to understand for everyone in their business.
In circumstances where the technology has become more of a hindrance than a key enabler, it seems businesses face a choice; they either invest to embed the system in further (which is logical provided the technology provider is actively supporting and investing in making the user’s life easier), or opt to move to a whole new system. In this instance, it is critical to weigh up the pros and cons. Are operators, for example, at risk of throwing good money after bad, or does a review of a company’s technology stack pose an opportunity to rethink the business needs in line with business process changes?
Fortunately, software as a service (Saas) can help make this decision easier as needing upfront capital expenditure no longer becomes a barrier to purchase. Instead, the main cost consideration is the time investment to train the technology into your business. Again, our own research findings found that 19% of contract catering professional agreed that they have been burnt by technology providers, and just over half (51%) agreed that there are currently too many systems for each process for them to work cohesively together.
The conclusion of our live debate highlighted that, whichever route you take, the technology has to deliver a fundamental value to the business and offer continuous improvement and progression. Ultimately, there must be a clear purpose (and not change for change’s sake), and it must align to values and culture.
B2B technology experience is catching up with the B2C. Considering the compounding impact of technology it has, fortunately, become increasingly both accepted and accessible, especially as people are more technology savvy as consumers and as we see more digital natives enter the workforce. In addition, with greater technology investment, businesses can now glean data from every aspect of their operation.. And with data, comes greater operational information and insight. In line with this, there seems to be an evolution in mindset, where businesses are spending less time capturing data for data’s sake, and spending more time analysing the information it is giving them. Nevertheless, for this to really have a great business impact, companies now need to put serious consideration into what data they want to collect at the outset to ensure they are able to get the information they need to hep them make better, more insightful business decisions. As a result, conventional roles have the potential to become more impactful and, as technology adoption speeds up the insights, communication and output per person will get stronger, harmonising front of house and back of house.
In summary, technology plays a critical role in helping drive and grow business performance. In fact, it would seem competitive advantage is all but impossible without this. However, selecting and implementing technology must be purpose-led and outcomes driven. Technology alone isn’t the silver bullet; there must be sound logic why a business is implementing it, what technology they need, and what they actually want the system (or systems) to do.
Every business is on their own journey, but adoption is critical. The exciting thing is we’ve barely scratched the surface of the true impact technology can and will make, and how it can truly transform foodservice industry. Primarily, technology helps automate business processes and can therefore transform people’s roles to be more impactful, not replace them. There needs to be a combined effort to educate and evolve technology between the foodservice and technology businesses to realise this.