Using technology to build an environmentally (and financially) sustainable business
When you think of restaurant technology, what comes to mind? Are you envisioning a virtual reality-based menu, where a guest explores the origins of their food by perusing the farmer’s field? Perhaps a fully automated “dining experience” where our orders are placed before arrival and delivered to the table by a Roomba-like robot? Many of us would first think about the essentials like POS or reservation management systems, but popular media tends to favour the more grandiose ideas and innovations. Personally, I think it’s more pertinent to focus on the changes we can really make today so that we’re better off tomorrow.
The same can be said of sustainability, which can take many forms and be applied with varying levels of dedication. Do you need to tend your own farm to supply your restaurant, or can you tick the box on environmental sustainability if you’ve installed some LED lightbulbs to save a watt or two (and a few dollars)?
Whichever level-of-change journey you embark on, there’s often a second thought right behind it: what’s this going to cost? How much time and money will it take to create the change I seek? Can I afford to make this change, even if I believe in it?
Sure, if you plan to put a wind turbine on your roof, you may need more financial backers. Otherwise, there are plenty of immediate and trailing benefits of environmental sustainability that will make your plans financially feasible.
Here are some ways technology will support an environmentally and financially sustainable future in food and beverages.
“Know your farmer, know your food”
It used to be that knowing your farmer meant you didn’t have to think about reducing your carbon footprint, because you picked up your vegetables from just down the street. In today’s global economy, it’s taken on a different meaning, where technology helps bring us closer to “the world that was” by increasing transparency. “Know your farmer” means having information at your fingertips to determine exactly where your ingredients are coming from and whether their farming practices are sustainable, so you can make an informed decision when purchasing supplies.
Environmental Considerations: It’s no secret that buying closer to home is eco-friendlier. By avoiding all that travel (and preservatives), you’ll be reducing your restaurant’s carbon footprint.
Financial Considerations: Often, it is assumed that your food costs will rise as you offer your guests meals that are more environmentally sustainable, but technology can minimize this impact. Platforms like ChefHero, a digital marketplace for restaurant supplies, can provide the transparency required to know that you’ll be getting a quality product at a fair price.
It is also important to consider that 73 per cent of global millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable goods and services.
Become a well-oiled machine
Not in a “see the robot, be the robot” type of way! In the same way that Henry Ford used automation (in the form of an assembly line) to accelerate processes and reduce human error, we can now lean on tools like inventory controls, the monitoring of just about everything, and data analytics to streamline our processes, boost our bottom lines, and reduce our environmental impact.
Environmental Considerations: Restaurants are high-paced, large-volume establishments. This means identifying a small change can open the door to a massive result. While you’re busy running a restaurant (or recharging the batteries), you can use technology to keep a keen eye open for these opportunities—try introducing automated controls to dim lights and reduce fridge temperatures during off hours.
Financial Considerations: Many of these services were previously reserved for “the big guys” who could afford the up-front costs of building these systems, and had enough data to populate them. Now, with most tech companies operating on a software-as-a-service model and doing the heavy lifting on integrations and data aggregation, these services are financially accessible to restaurants of almost ALL sizes.
Connect with Your Community
It’s a blessing and a curse some days, but social platforms have enabled us to communicate on an entirely new level. In the case of restaurants who are making sustainable choices, it’s a blessing. Technology allows you to better tell your story, connecting with the customers and community members who share your passion. If your current team members and prospective hires can recognize a common goal, you’ll have an easier time recruiting and retaining a strong roster.
Environmental Considerations: If you’re communicating a message of sustainable eats, and it’s well-received, others will follow in your footsteps. No one restaurant will make or break our future, so we must communicate effectively to further build communities around our values.
Financial Considerations: As paper-quizzes and pinboard notes are replaced with platforms for team communication and training, you’re able to deliver a consistent message to every single employee, at every single store. Engaging your staff around these initiatives will help you reduce turnover, which is a $50 billion problem in our industry. At a cost of over $5,000 per head, what would it mean for your bottom line if you reduced your turnover by just 10 per cent?
As the industry looks to shake old school tendencies and move the needle on margin, the thought of playing the long game can be daunting given the short lifespan of many restaurants. While it is important to keep an eye to the future, I hope that these suggestions for incremental change may plant a seed that bears fruit sooner, rather than later!
About the Author
Chris Snoyer is the founder of Spiffy: a restaurant education app with free modules on beer, wine, spirits, and more. Aside from helping restaurants to reduce the amount of time and money spent on their staff training, he remains connected to the industry by organizing Toronto’s restaurant tech meetup, speaking at industry events, and occasionally hopping behind the wood to make sure he’s still got it!
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