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Technology Initiatives on the Menu

Automation and artificial intelligence can help foodservice operations, but there are some important considerations.
A robot serving food

In early May, Convenience Store News held its annual in-person meeting of the Convenience Foodservice Alliance, a community solely dedicated to c-store foodservice professionals. Mathew Mandeltort, who has more than 30 years of experience working on the front lines of foodservice operations, kicked off the meeting with a discussion on using robotics in convenience store foodservice programs.  

Why am I writing about a gathering of c-store foodservice leaders? Because it once again drives home the fact that technology can, if not solve challenges in all areas of the store, at least mitigate challenges.

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Mandeltort is the founder of ChefWorthy, an online platform for rating and reviewing foodservice equipment, products and services that enables foodservice professionals to share their experiences with their colleagues and help them make better buying decisions.

According to Mandeltort, bringing automation to your foodservice program offers several benefits. There is the savings aspect, both labor and cost. There is the operational aspect, both greater efficiency and greater throughput. And there is the potential to increase consistency and safety while reducing waste. 

But there are some "harsh realities" to consider, he advised. Namely, the high costs associated with installing and repairing such equipment. He also noted that as artificial intelligence (AI) advances and becomes more embedded in these robotic technologies, there will more be viable opportunities around automation. 

This brings to mind for me a very recent decision by McDonald's to pull back on using AI in its drive-thru business. Its two-year partnership with IBM resulted in some ordering stumbles and unhappy customers. Ice cream topped with bacon, for one. 

Given McDonald's experience and Mandeltort's insights, it is imperative to thoroughly vet any new solution and weigh the pros and cons before introducing a new initiative into your operations. 

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