Targeted remote ordering
Bon Appetiti Mgt. Co.
Remote ordering through either mobile apps or automated kiosk stations has become prevalent in even the most traditional niches of the onsite dining universe, but the cutting edge now is targeted ordering that automatically provides a customer with choices based either on demonstrated preferences or on individual restrictions, such as for food allergies or to accommodate cultural/religious strictures such as halal or kosher. Bon Appetit Management Co.’s recent debut of its Curated app-based on-the-go ordering system for customers with specialized dietary needs is a major advance in this area. It allows users to select from 12 different diets such as plant-based, high-protein/low carb and those without major food allergens and then filters ingredients accordingly.
If customers won’t come to you, can you go to them? This Fanbot mobile vending unit from vendor Cheetah Mobile can autonomously identify and approach potential customers (check out a video here) in complex and high-traffic environments such as shopping malls, retail stores, gyms, theaters, libraries, hotel lobbies and airport terminals. It uses biometric technology to identify potential customers by gender, age range and emotions within a five-meter radius, then actively approaches them to promote products, engage in voice interactions and complete cashless transactions. Each unit can carry up to 66 different items, including beverages and snacks.
Expanded robot delivery
From colleges and hospitals, unmanned delivery units have been finding new markets, such as sports venues. This past NBA season, concessions firm Levy and the Houston Rockets teamed up with vendor Bear Robotics to launch the first-ever robot-assisted F&B service inside a stadium or arena at the team’s Toyota Center home arena. In the latter stages of the 2020-21 season, hospitality team members at Toyota Center’s premium all-inclusive Suite Club were assisted by an autonomous food service robot, which performed some of the more routine and physically demanding tasks such as circulating Suite Club dining spaces carrying pre-packaged food and beverage items for guests to pick from, thus freeing up team members to focus on other aspects of customer service. With labor shortage expected to continue, operators in both onsite and commercial venues are looking at such solutions.
Robotic delivery need not necessarily remain ground-based. A recent experiment in Mobile, Alabama has led to vendor Deuce Drone securing an exclusive contract to deliver lunch at BB&T Financial Centre office complex by drone from the nearby Legacy Village retail center. BB&T is an office complex with multiple tenants and up to 300 hundred people onsite daily while Legacy Village is a multi-tenant retail center hosting local and national brand restaurants and retailers. Following launch of the service, tenants in BB&T Financial Centre will be able to order and pay for lunch through the Deuce Drone website that will then be delivered by one of Deuce Drone’s fleet of small unmanned aerial systems (i.e., drones).
Touchless meal order pickup
Fresh Ideas Food Service Management
Besides robot delivery, another emerging high-tech, touchless way to get food orders to customers is with pickup lockers accessed by individual codes sent to mobile devices. Last school year, a mid-semester experiment by management company Fresh Ideas Food Service saw a 1,000% increase in mobile orders once the pickup option using Pickup Pod lockers from vendor Minnow was introduced at Westminster College. These automated pickup units are especially helpful in facilitating totally contactless ghost kitchen operations.
Automated service outlets
In the wake of the labor crunch, robotic service outlets that produce customized selections in specific menu categories without manned assistance are proliferating. One example is this fully automated boba tea bar from vendor Bobacino, which is equipped with multiple flavor options and fresh and organic ingredients to create customized mixes in a standalone machine. Another is the Kellogg’s Bowl Bot automated serving stations that prepare and dispense customizable bowls of cereal with a range of topping and milk options that debuted this past year at Florida State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Automated retail grows up
Chartwells Higher Ed
With industry trend-setter Amazon’s recent debut of a full-size automated grocery store that carries premium lines like fresh produce, meat, seafood, prepared foods and pastries, the bar has been raised for what’s possible in unmanned retailing. The touchless/cashier-less c-store debuted by Chartwells at the University of Houston last fall already upped the game in onsite environments and it’s not hard to see where that development combined with the kind of AI technology being developed by Amazon and others will lead in automating foodservice and retailing across onsite markets.