Automation is playing an increasingly important part in many modern industries – especially, for example, in the construction of cars and other gadgets. This has proved to be highly effective for these industries, so why should it be any different for the food and catering industry? In actual fact, using automation in the food industry is a whole different beast, with a number of new challenges to face.
With rising employment costs and greater competition, it is understandable that businesses in the food industry would try to reduce their outlay, be it through the automation of the front of house or some of the processes in the back of house.
What can automation do for the Catering Industry?
The most common form of automation in the food industry today is in the catering industry, in front of house. Automated ordering systems which can take orders, process payments and even deliver food are becoming increasingly popular. Although we still see staffing in the front of house, this can be drastically reduced, as can money wastage due to human errors.
We are now seeing restaurants allowing people to order via apps, automation improving the communication between the front of house and the kitchen, and robots serving food to valued customers.
In the back of house, however, it is a bit more complicated. Dealing with food and its variances can mean that it can be more difficult for business to put automation into practice.
In addition to the financial benefits of automation in the back of house, there are others too:
- It can ensure that food portions are identical in size
- It can help to maintain optimal hygiene conditions by eliminating human interference
- It can take people out of dangerous situations in the kitchen
- It can help to maintain and monitor food quality control
- It can help to reduce cross contamination from ingredients
- It can minimise waste and get the most out of ingredients
- It can speed up cooking and packaging processes
Some of the challenges to automation in the food industry
There are a number of challenges which catering companies should consider if they are looking to incorporate automation into their processes.
1. The weight, shape and size of ingredients
Unlike in other industries, the weight, shape and size of ingredients are not uniform. This means that it can be difficult to fit into food machinery or be handled by robotic arms whilst keeping them in the condition required. Machines will either need to be able to adapt to unusual shapes and sizes, or catering companies will need to regulate their ingredients.
2. Machines should be easy to clean
Due to the laws about food hygiene, any kitchen machinery must be easy to clean. Some machines can be complicated to take apart, clean and put together again, so this must be taken into account. Some parts of machines are also not suitable to be washed down with water or certain chemicals, making it even more complicated to clean.
3. Made from Stainless Steel
It is important for any kitchen equipment to be made from stainless steel. Kitchen machines which are made from stainless steel can help to improve hygiene conditions – such as be easy to clean and reduce the places where germs can get trapped.
4. Customer selection choice
Many customers would expect to have a degree of food choice, so unless you are running an extremely large operation, machinery will have to be able to adapt to creating different lines. This means that there will inevitably be a significant amount of machinery cleaning to be done.
5. Automation usually means standardisation
Although standardisation isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the catering industry, it does leave you little wriggle room for personalising your products. If you are in a restaurant, it is difficult, for example, to leave out or add particular ingredients if all of your cooking processes are automated. It would be difficult to instil new recipes or processes as well.
Automation in Packaging
One of the areas in the catering industry that could benefit greatly from automation is in the packaging of foods. As the packaging of food is a lot easier to standardise, automation is an option. Whether you are looking to vacuum pack your food, put it into recyclable containers or wrap it up and pack it into boxes for delivery, automation can make this process quick, safe and easy – whilst keeping everything looking and weighing the same and keeping your branding consistent.
Automation can certainly be a benefit for some aspects of the catering industry. Whilst at the moment the front of house seems to be able to benefit from it the most, there are obviously some aspects of the kitchen that can also be helped. It is, of course, likely to be just a matter of time until machines are developed to be able to carry out any function that is needed.