An evolution in staff and customer experience. By Ollie Brand

The food industry is constantly evolving, driven largely by changing consumer preferences, market trends, and the need for more efficient operations. Digitization and the automation of previously admin-heavy processes has been a catalyst for reshaping the way the foodservice sector operates day to day. Despite fears around the impact of technology on future workforces and customer experience, the foodservice industry will never be ‘people free’ nor should it be. Although there may well be a future market for robot servers for instance, it is a niche market – technology and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in this industry is not about replacing people, but it is about working smarter, not harder. Thanks to purposeful catering management technology, people’s roles within the foodservice sector will evolve to become more impactful, removing the emphasis on mundane tasks and freeing up more time for creativity and innovation, both of which are key to growth and success long term. Staff happiness and productivity has been at the forefront of industry news, even prior to the pandemic. But it is important to recognize that job satisfaction and retention are intrinsically linked to work environment and lack of resource – short-staffed, over-stretched teams usually make for unhappy employees. Used in the right way, catering management technology not only boosts efficiency it empowers people at the coal face to excel in the jobs they love. After all, how many chefs went into the profession so they could spend their days stuck at a computer managing stock control, keeping on top of regulatory compliance, or battling recipe admin?

Education around barriers

The current landscape is also making it more challenging for food businesses to thrive. Rising costs, soaring inflation and struggles around staff recruitment and retention have not made it easy for businesses. As a result, technology adoption is no longer an option but is becoming a necessity for the food industry. Of course, this means change, and change is always uncomfortable. It is also the reason why technology has faced its fair share of barriers to adoption over recent years. Interestingly, although technology has evolved significantly, some of the challenges the sector faced 20 years ago around technology implementation are the same today. On that basis, there is an onus on technology firms to educate the industry to ensure that past stigmas around perceived complexity, cost to implement and integration concerns are put to bed.

Right now, the catalyst for adoption of catering management technology is the immediate need to save money and maximize resource. Costs are rocketing and businesses are struggling to find staff, so it is critical they streamline processes, reduce margins, and regain control of their costs. There is also a growing emphasis on sustainability and supply chain traceability. Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency in the sourcing of ingredients, ethical production methods, and reduction in food waste. There is also a rising interest in nutritional trends, healthier food options, with a focus on organic, plant-based, and allergen-free alternatives. More businesses are looking towards advances in technology to help alleviate some of these demands.

As the foodservice industry becomes more complex and competitive, there will continue to be a growing need for technology solutions that are fit for purpose. Technology must support both the vision and values of the business in a way that can enhance efficiency as well as help to improve the customer experience. Catering management technology has gained significant traction here. Many solutions today offer features such as recipe management and menu planning, inventory management, order tracking, supplier relationships, allergens, compliance management and more.

One step back, five steps forward

Onboarding staff is always a key consideration when adopting any new technology and it has certainly been a barrier to adoption in the past, so user-friendly and intuitive technology platforms are becoming a priority in the food sector. The food industry often relies on a diverse workforce and staff will often have varying levels of technical expertise, therefore, solutions that are easy to learn and use will lead to a smoother transition.

However, despite the numerous benefits, there are still barriers to the adoption of technology in the food sector. One significant barrier is the initial cost of implementation. Many businesses, especially smaller firms, are hesitant to invest in technology due to budget constraints and that is understandable in the current climate. But sometimes you must take one step back to take five steps forward. Do your research, speak to technology providers, and ask questions to find out what the best fit for your business is. Most catering technology platforms are cloud-based today, which usually means no upfront costs, no lengthy implementation timelines and no hefty tech teams installing the software because they tend to operate on a SaaS (Software as a Service) model.

In summary, catering management technology is revolutionizing the food industry by offering ways to become more efficient, and with current market trends emphasizing the need for reducing costs, boosting sustainability and the pressures around improving staff retention, it stands to reason that technology can help businesses stay competitive, meet evolving consumer demands and ultimately unlock their full potential to thrive.

Ollie Brand is CEO at catering management technology firm, Zupa, a UK-based technology company, providing best-in-class catering management software. Designed to help customers to know and grow their business, Zupa’s flagship solution, Caternet, is one of the country’s leading catering management platforms and has been used by food service operators across the hospitality, leisure, education and care industry sectors for the last 14 years. From managers and buyers to chefs and catering teams, Caternet has been developed with the end user in mind, helping businesses to boost operational efficiencies and better control their costs.