New technology adoption will reshape the food-to-go landscape and bring better synergy to the c-store kitchen.
Renee Covino, Convenience Store News
NATIONAL REPORT — The latest advancements in convenience foodservice are working together like never before, but future trends in foodservice equipment and technology are right around the corner, according to industry insiders.
"Technology lessons learned from restaurants are not only helping to streamline back-of-house operations for the channel, but they are also driving customer interactions," Joe Bona, CEO of Bona Design Lab, a global retail design and consulting firm based in New York, told Convenience Store News. "From digital kitchen ordering systems and rapid cooking technology to online ordering, self-checkouts and contactless payments, these elements are all teaming up to create a seamless experience."
Here's what Bona and other industry experts see on deck:
Contactless Payment Systems
From cell phones to other smart devices, contactless payment systems reduce consumers' need for cash and provide a safe and more hygienic method of transacting. This technology is not limited to payment — it has touched foodservice, too. "You can now buy a cup of coffee at the swipe of your phone using automatic bean-to-cup self-serve machines," Bona cited. "Perhaps this technology will eventually find its way into more self-serve foodservice equipment."
This technology has seen a huge increase in adoption in the convenience channel and will continue to be a major driver of expediting the payment process not only for grab-and-go items, but also for prepared foodservice, Bona predicts.
Drive-thrus have seen a significant increase in usage as a direct result of the pandemic, according to Bona, with many quick-service restaurants looking to streamline their menus, use artificial intelligence technology, and increase the use of digital menuboards to help speed up the process and make it more convenient for customers. "As a result, we have seen some chains like Wawa begin testing a drive-thru-only concept, with many others watching and seeing how this develops," he told CSNews.
Integrating POS With Delivery
With more consumers ordering through delivery platforms, more c-stores are signing up for food delivery channels, such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub, etc. Along with these mainstream food delivery channels, other players are running convenience-specific marketplaces, such as Instacart and Cornershop.
"Building a digital offering is going to be the next big challenge for c-stores. It requires time to set up accounts on the food delivery channels — creating the menu, training the staff — but most importantly, it takes a lot of work to manage this day-to-day for a c-store that typically runs foodservice promotions on a weekly or daily basis," explained Zhong Xu, co-founder and CEO of Deliverect, a company that connects point-of-sale providers globally with food ordering platforms.
"If a c-store wants to streamline the process, it should integrate POS with delivery," Xu advised. "With a POS integration, we are able to automatically push online orders to the POS. The only equipment needed is going to be the existing POS."
Xu added that many c-stores will probably want to also have a tablet (Android or iPad) in each store to manage the delivery channels. Once a c-store receives an order from a delivery channel, the staff must pick and pack the items — made easier by a tablet, which can show the full list of ordered items and coordinating images.
Bipolar Ionization (BPI) Technology
Poor indoor air quality can not only impact food quality, but also cause illness among shoppers and employees. BPI technology, which is installed in store HVAC systems, reportedly removes smells and odors; helps eliminate mold, dust, bacteria and the spread of airborne viruses; and reduces airborne particles and germs that bypass normal ventilation and filtration systems.
In a post-pandemic world, "BPI technology is a natural fit for HVAC systems in convenience stores," said Tony Abate, vice president and chief technology officer at Atmos Air Solutions, based in Fairfield, Conn. "The mountain-like purified air will not only keep food and beverages fresher, but if store owners/managers promote it through signage, advertising and social media, it will lessen apprehension for those who shop and work in the store."
Bona envisions ordering systems being connected to a fully digitized kitchen where the order is received and the menu item is prepared through the use of robotics and then placed in "a personal cubby for pickup, activated from a phone to keep your order safe." He acknowledges that this is in the early stages of development, but believes it is not that far-fetched in a retail world where "the cost of adoption may be high, but the cost of falling behind is becoming even higher."