Looking back at the past five years in the foodservice industry, no one factor has had a bigger influence than the rapid evolution of technology in this space. From the way consumers order their meals to the way operators purchase their equipment and supplies, the tentacles of technology continue to affect all aspects of foodservice in new and different ways.

Everyone agrees technology will continue to shape all segments of the industry for the foreseeable future. While everyone shares a similar vision on a macro level, how technology plays out will continue to vary on a business-by-business basis. For example, some still believe adding kiosk service in foodservice operations will lead to less staff, despite ongoing evidence to the contrary. In those instances of successful kiosk integration, the foodservice operators use the same amount of labor but have redeployed staff to those areas where they can be more effective, namely preparing food and serving it to guests. In other words, the savvy adopters of technology will use these solutions to generate a better return on investment from their most valuable assets: their people.

When the conversation turns to technology and automation, robots will naturally come up. Thanks to the Jetsons, most people’s idea of robots takes the form of Rosie, the TV family’s mechanized housekeeper. For those science fiction aficionados, perhaps their version of a robot looks more like the class M3 Model B9 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot from Lost in Space. While these pop culture references do a good job conjuring warm thoughts from our youth, they really look nothing like the robotic solutions making inroads in today’s foodservice world.

Integrating technology into a business is often easier said than done. The same applies to incorporating delivery into a current or new foodservice design. There are plenty of good ideas and solutions out there, but not every option will be good for each situation. Simply put: Technology has to work for the business, and it can’t be the other way around.

The successful operators will be the ones that implement technology to help achieve their goals and objectives, including making more effective and efficient use of existing infrastructure and resources. When applied correctly, the various forms of technology represent tools that can help businesses flourish. Adopting technology for technology’s sake is not the answer. And it explains why some tech-forward foodservice concepts might have struggled.

Trying to make sense of all this can be daunting. That’s where the second installment of FE&S’ 2020 Vision series comes into play. In this edition, industry analyst Warren Solochek takes a closer look at the impact technology continues to have on the foodservice industry and the factors that operators should weigh when implementing these solutions. A byproduct of consumers’ consumption of all things, technology is growing demand for delivery. Contributing editor Tom O’Brien explores how three operators are adapting their strategies to continue to provide the value and convenience customers crave.

Indeed, technology is a tantalizing topic and it will remain that way for quite some time.