Foodservice is one of the last industry bastions that has had the least amount of significant disruption by new technology or business models. Although very little disruption has yet to occur, the industry remains challenged with rising food and labor costs. When delivering drive-thru consistency and speedy service, labor costs can be a potential issue, and customers are also finding issues with service that has slowed over the years and report poor order accuracy. Other industries such as banking have resolved drive-thru speed of service and labor costs by automating the whole process, to the praise of customers who want 24-hour banking from the convenience of their cars. Others such as the automotive and transportation sector are exploring self-driving cars, with the potential impact of disrupting the entire taxi industry.
Many in the industry are asking
Can the entire foodservice drive-thru experience be easily automated to allow for greater efficiencies, accuracy, without human intervention? We believe we are on the cusp of disruptive technologies that will impact the industry significantly by providing “staff-less” drive-thrus, improving the current experience found in the majority of fast food chains. We have listed the technologies below that on their own are potential game changers, and when combined can deliver a uniquely disruptive automated experience:
Robotic food preparation
Where there is a need there is innovation, and this could not be truer for solving the rising wage costs and shrinking staffing pool for the fast food industry. New upstarts such as Momentum Machines have solved this need with machines that can crank out 400 customized burgers an hour. The success of such companies will spur more new companies to explore robotic food preparation. Three-dimensional food printing is another technology providing just-in-time, custom-made food offerings.
The level of sophistication in voice recognition programs has improved significantly to the point that is integral for mobile devices, irrespective of language. No longer will you need to speak to an attendant, and if you utilize hands-free mobile technology in your car, your mobile device will be the conduit to communicate to the automated attendant, reducing the challenges of environmental noise or the hard-to-hear drive-thru attendant.
Mobile wallet and pre-order apps
The prediction is that by 2020 less than five percent of all transactions will be done using cash as the use of mobile wallets takes over completely. Ordering at the drive-thru will be as easy as paying for an Uber ride, with the click of a finger if the car is parked or by voice command if the vehicle is moving. In addition, consumers are becoming comfortable pre-ordering their meals or cappuccino via mobile apps. This learned behaviour is gaining steam and will provide a strong platform for eliminating the steps that lead to incorrect orders being delivered at the drive-thru window.
With the rise of intelligent applications that know your every preference and can predict your needs, and are connected to the internet of everything, we will start seeing not only the elimination of human involvement in the drive-thru process but more importantly an increase in speed of service.
The final enabler that will provide a strong platform in driving “staff-less” drive-thru will be the growth of self-driving cars. No longer will you need to multi-task when driving through a drive-thru – you will be able to order through your app in a comfortable setting. You will also be able to enjoy your meals through a hands-free driving experience, allowing you to get to your destination while having lunch.
The future is nearer than we all think and as various technologies converge they will provide a strong platform for the fast food industry to shift to “staff-less” drive-thru service. The industry thus will keep pace with consumer lifestyle and purchase behaviors, giving consumers what they want – faster, more accurate service with greater choice. How great is that!