The big data revolution has arrived in the kitchen as IoT (Internet of Things) technology promises to change the game for restaurateurs. By Shane Conroy
How long has it been since you checked the temperature of your fridges? Is it 10 minutes? Perhaps 10 hours? Maybe even 10 days?
Now ask yourself if any of those fridges failed, how long would it take you to notice? Enough time for the food inside to spoil? Or just long enough to risk a food poisoning outbreak?
“Your fridges don’t even need to completely fail to cause a major problem,” says Michael White, chief executive officer of CCP Technologies. “If they fall to between five and 60 degrees Celsius, that’s the danger zone for bacteria multiplying and growing on your food.”
While food safety programs usually recommend manually checking the temperature of your fridges twice per day, the reality is that more pressing issues can often distract restaurant and cafe staff from this task.
“While that may not seem like a big issue, the cost associated with making someone sick is huge,” says White. “It can potentially have an enormous impact on your business.”
The IoT technology solution
This is a problem that new IoT technology is solving for restaurant and cafe owners. IoT essentially refers to a network of internet-connected devices that transmit data to a cloud-based platform. Users access this platform to view the data and draw insights into how various aspects of their business are performing.
CCP Technologies is one company that is applying IoT technology to refrigeration in commercial kitchens. Sensors are placed inside fridges that transmit a range of data to the cloud. Restaurant and cafe owners simply log in to a digital dashboard via their computer, tablet or smart phone to get a real-time picture of how their fridges are performing.
“There is a range of benefits that can be gained from this data,” explains White. “For example, you can ensure the temperate of your fridges is optimised to reduce energy consumption, improve product consistency, extend shelf life, and reduce food wastage.”
Perhaps even more beneficial, however, are the automated alerts that not only inform you when the fridge is failing, but also when maintenance may be required.
“The sensors can pick up changes in the operation of the fridge like increased frequency of defrost cycles that eludes to a potential problem, such as a blocked valve or a failing compressor.
“Having that predictive data means you are able to get the maintenance done before you have a failure. You can even have alerts sent directly to your maintenance contractor so they’ll show up on your doorstep before you even know there’s a problem.”
Unlocking the power of data
This IoT technology is fast becoming a hit with restaurant and cafe owners for its ability to reduce the admin load by eliminating the need for manual fridge checks, and for the protection it offers food businesses against the risk of spoilage. However, fridge sensors are only the beginning for IoT in the kitchen.
“If you’ve got a machine that’s sending you a gazillion bits of data then what do you do with that? On its own, you can’t really make much sense of that data … You need to do some analysis on it so you can gain insights that you couldn’t possibly get in other ways.”—Stuart Corner, IoT Australia editor
White says his company is currently working on expanding its IoT offering with a range of new devices in the works, such as sensors that could be applied to ovens, grills, coffee machines—and just about any other kitchen equipment you can name.
“We see our software as the critical control point for these devices,” White explains. “We have developed a technology backbone that can integrate with partners who are monitoring other things in the kitchen, and then bring that information together on one platform.”
While the devices are impressing early adopters, the real value is in the data—and the insights you can draw from it.
“If you’ve got a machine that’s sending you a gazillion bits of data then what do you do with that?” asks Stuart Corner, editor of IoT Australia website. “On its own, you can’t really make much sense of that data. Each bit of data in itself is meaningless. You need to do some analysis on it so you can gain insights that you couldn’t possibly get in other ways. That’s when you’ll start to see some real benefits.”
To draw value from your data, says Corner, it’s important to understand your key business drivers, and how your collected data applies to these drivers in order to put it to use to achieve your goals.
“At the higher level, IoT technology software will provide you with a visualisation of your whole network. This adds value to the basic data and reveals actionable insights that you can use to make real improvements in your business.”
Real-time restaurant management
Mark Page, director of sales consulting at Oracle, agrees. Oracle’s Hospitality Simphony Cloud Service is built around helping restaurateurs make sense of their collected data.
“Restaurateurs are becoming more and more aware of the need to understand the data that comes out of this technology,” he says.
“Our Simphony solution, for example, is a card-based point-of-sale platform that’s centrally hosted. We have apps that connect to it and give you a real-time data feed, so if your sales are dipping versus what they were last week, you can get straight on the phone to your restaurant manager.”
The app also tracks other metrics such as sales per hour, transactions, discounts as a percentage of sales, and actual sales versus forecast sales. The result is a very clear real-time picture of how your restaurant is performing at any given time.
“It’s all graphical and very simple so you can drill into the detail to find new efficiencies in the kitchen or better engineer your menu,” he says.
“In the old days, you used to have to wait until tomorrow to find out what happened today,” Page adds. “However, it’s too late then. This kind of technology runs on real-time data, which means you don’t have to wait til tomorrow to make decisions for today.”