In this article, Brody Sweeney, Founder of Camile Thai Kitchen, speaks to Modern Hospitality about the acceleration of digital adoption as a result of the pandemic.
Challenges arising from the pandemic have already accelerated the use of existing and new technologies and tools as consumers go into and emerge from lockdowns, millions are forced to work from home and digital connectivity takes even more of a hold on everyday habits.
Consumers are now more actively seeking technology-enabled solutions to assist in everyday tasks such as online shopping and online ordering of food. For some, this may be totally new behavior, while for others this may mean increased online usage or the addition of new technology, tools and software.
The companies that win at technology are the ones that find the perfect blend of solutions that optimise operations but also the customer experience. For us, a combination of kitchen robotics, cloud kitchens and drones is a winning formula that makes the most sense in terms of being able to adapt to future customer demand and trends.
Industry-wide, other exciting technologies include artificial intelligence, smart data, blockchain and precision farming – which are all now a lot closer than we may realise. Of course, the idea of automation in the restaurant space wasn’t new pre-Covid. 2020 however brought new challenges related to automation as well as shifting millennial preferences, driving focus and investment particularly in the area of cloud kitchens. Pre-pandemic automation adoption was driven by labour gaps in a then-historically low unemployment environment. Although that environment has quickly changed, rising labour costs have not and gaps remain for weary, cash-strapped operators.
Of course, the big question on everyone’s lips is whether or not automation will ultimately replace human labour – after all, fast food restaurants are major employers worldwide. Many years of discussion have led however to the consensus that humans can never be replaced, rather that labour will shift to other needs around the restaurant, or even bring about the creation of new roles. If you think of any sector since the industrial revolution, automation only ever changes the labour environment, it doesn’t mean less jobs – just increased productivity and the creation of new roles. From the restaurant owners’ point of view, another important consideration is the value that automation and robotics could yield in the context of future lockdowns, where employees are forced to stay home.
Leading in this new decade means working to redefine the intersection between people and technology. In a restaurant kitchen, it’s all about economy of motion on the line – speed is everything – whether that’s chopping an onion or flicking a sauté pan, chefs will always try to make sure that every second counts. Part of this strategy has to do with space, since a commercial kitchen can be sparing with elbow room.
How Camile Thai Kitchen use digital adoption
At Camile Thai Kitchen, we are looking to add robotics to our production line – specifically our wok cookers. If you think of the process of cooking on a wok, it is very repetitive and replicable mechanically. We plan on replacing our manual wok cookers with a semi-automatic version. This consists of a heatable rotating drum which allows the ingredients to cook, a rotating mechanism to dispense the cooked food, and a further rotating mechanism to switch the drum into self cleaning mode.
However, economies in the kitchen are not the only focus. We are looking at all areas of automation to see where it adds value. Players in this competitive space spend huge fortunes every year optimising every aspect, from ordering, delivering or queueing and cleaning up afterwards. One of the most visible examples of fast food automation is the widespread adoption of order kiosks and of course apps. Many restaurants now rely on these to speed up the ordering process, while also enabling more customisation for customers with less fuss.
While online ordering and delivery has become the norm, if you think back to ten years ago, the idea of getting fast food delivered was considered magical. Now the game is no longer about getting food from point A to B, but the entire experience that comes with it, which is the basis of our whole tech strategy – why we developed our own app, why we are investing in drone delivery – it’s all about delivering a more authentic, enjoyable but also sustainable experience.
Ultimately, for us the biggest industry game changers in terms of digital adoption are drones. These are absolute no-brainers from a business point of view and a key investment area for Camile Thai. If you order a meal using our restaurant app, you will soon be able to drop a pin where you would like a drone to deliver your order and within minutes have it arrive on your doorstep.
The benefits? Drones halve delivery costs, customers get their orders more quickly and love the novelty, and it ticks our sustainability box in a major way. It’s a win-win in every sense. Earlier this year, we became the first operator to deliver our food by drone in Europe with our partners, Manna, Europe’s leading drone delivery startup.
We see the future as being wholly tech-centric. This is why we are investing in drones, cloud kitchens and robotics – for us this is the winning combination that will be what delivers the (near) future of at-home dining.