Foodservice by Design

Team members from PROFITALITY discuss how industrial engineering can be applied to the foodservice industry.


Are You Leading Technology or Bleeding Technology?

In my last blog post I considered keeping technological applications simple and ensuring that you consider the users cognitive and physical capabilities when developing them. This does not mean that the technology cannot be leading edge, providing a true differentiating proposition for the supplier and concept alike.

What's the difference between applying leading edge and bleeding edge technology and operating systems? I guarantee that once you have embarked on implementing what was supposed to be a leading technology project, only to find out that you are actually working on a bleeding edge project, you will know the difference and will never need to be reminded of it again.

Unfortunately, mistaking a leading edge project for a bleeding edge one often drains an operation of both financial and human resources. So how do you guard yourself from taking on the wrong technological application? I would like to offer several suggestions as to how a foodservice operator should approach this.

Objectively Understand the Issue

I would start by first considering what issue the technology or system application is trying to resolve. Often foodservice operators go after solutions without first understanding the problem. Make sure that the issues at hand are objectively understood, including the desired outcome. Failure to address either of these aspects may make it difficult to know when you have resolved the matter. Make sure you know what the solution looks like. If you don't you may end up bleeding along the way.

Define Solution Set

Research the possible set of solutions for the problem at hand and seek a variety of possible suppliers that can bring forth these solutions. Use your network of suppliers and peers to help you define the target technologies and potential solutions. Talk to your references about their experiences with the technology provider and find out how flexible and capable they are to evolve the technology to fit your application. You want to look for a supplier that is offering to sell you a solution, instead of a product. Trying to apply an existing product to your issue, without considering changes and adjustments that may be necessary, can lead to spending a long time spinning your wheels.

Find the Right Suppliers

As you talk to the different suppliers a "trust but verify" attitude toward what they are offering and what the technology or systems can do would be appropriate. What is the supplier suggesting their solution brings? What differentiates their proposition from others? Check for references and successes that they may have had with such a technology.

Undertake Robust Testing

Nothing beats undertaking objective and thorough testing of the technology or system. Remember that concepts can be like snowflakes in that no two are exactly the same. So the impact of a particular technology or system application in one concept may differ greatly in another, no matter how similar the two foodservice operations may appear. Do not rush the testing and have a sound and objective evaluation methodology to quantify the impact.

Know When to Stop Iterating

Set out a timeframe and know when to call the test a success or failure. If you set up the appropriate measurements at the start of the process, knowing when to stop should become easier. Sometimes the hope that the current results will change eventually may lead one to want to continue testing. After all, hope is a strong emotion that drives human behavior. Similarly, do not be too hesitant to call the test a success too soon. Set out for the right testing window and stick to it. As the song says, know when to hold them and know when to fold them.

Finally, do not be afraid of being in the front end of applying leading edge technologies and systems. Just apply the right due diligence and processes to make sure that leading technology does not turn into a bleeding one. After all, new technology and system applications can provide the concept with a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

One of the best examples that I can think of in the QSR category is the application of double window drive-thru. While there are many that have benefitted from a robust application that resulted in better drive-thru service, there are others that jumped on the bandwagon more than three decades ago thinking that this was the right leading system and are still bleeding with it, struggling to figure out how to make it work. You know who the former concepts are by the service they deliver. The latter ones are also easy to spot since they use the window as a storage place.

Another perfect example of leading technology application is the implementation of a high speed sandwich press by one notable fast-casual operator. It allowed them the ability to produce a very high quality Panini in a very quick time, resulting in better speed of service and higher product quality for their guests.

Although at times taking a journey into new technology or systems applications seems risky, you should learn to embrace it and figure out a way to make these work for you and provide you an edge over your competition.