Striking the Right Balance in the Restaurant Industry.

The Fast Food & Café Convention, supported by the Dubai Restaurants Group. Took place on the 23rd of November 2021 at the Conrad in Dubai. FFCC, the food trade show, hosted an illuminating Panel discussion. That focused on the requirement of Tech Upgrades in the F&B sector, at their Dubai trade show.

The Panel, moderated by Fay Economides, Executive MD of M Management Company. The Panel Discussed one of the most crucial issues in the F&B Industry – Technology. The topic – striking the right balance with tech upgrades from this generation in the food and beverage industry.

The Panel consisted of some of the restaurant industry’s biggest names including – Mr. Mohammed Al Madani – Chairman of Al Madani Group, Georgy John – COO at Gastronomica ME, George Kunnappally – Managing Director of Nando’s, Karim Hajjali – CEO of FoodQuest, and Zhong Xu – Co-Founder & CEO of Deliverect. 

In her opening statements for the session Fay Economides talked about:

  • The speed of evolution in the tech space.
  • The difficulties of ascertaining and navigating the landscape and a business’s requirements with all the new and constantly evolving technology.  

Disruptive Tech in F&B

Her first question to Mr. Mohammed Al Madani, Chairman of Al Madani Group focused on Disruptive Technology.

  • “What are some disruptive technologies that have been important in F&B – and how have they impacted your business?
  • What is the concept of Disruptive Tech?”

Mr. Madani started with addressing the second question first. “Any technology or innovation that changes with the consumer or industry; and is capable of evolving with the consumer’s habits, is a disruptive innovation. A good example would be the steam engine in the Industrial revolution. We are currently in the 4th industrial revolution and now we call it the Era of Digital technology.” 

He talked how the F&B industry has always been slow to keep up or implement hi-tech or new tech. And how one of the benefits of the pandemic was its impact on the restaurant industry. Mr. Madani identified some of the technology that the F&B sector was forced to implement amidst the pandemic:

  • Touch-less payment services,
  • E-commerce, &
  • Online delivery structure. 

Additionally, Mr. Al Madani shared his experiences about FDS systems and saying. “During the pandemic the only Businesses that were running, was third-party aggregators. Most importantly, they served all the customers who could not come to restaurants and shopping malls due to the lock-down”. He expressed the import to adapt to the current trends of the millennial generation to flourish in the industry.

Criteria for Identifying and Adopting the Right Tech for Restaurants

Fay set forth a thought-provoking three-pronged set of questions to Mr. Karim Hajjali, CEO of FoodQuest.

  • What is the driving force behind the identification of crucial technologies to adopt in a restaurant?
  • What the criteria of choosing this tech was?
  • Was the only factor profitability or were other factors like kitchen efficiency, operational efficiency in consideration as well? 

Mr. Hajjjali, illuminated the attending audience about the acceleration of tech, in light of the pandemic. He reiterated that having a stress-free and flawless customer experience and a proficient system for workforce optimization were the two main criteria he foresaw in adopting tech like AI and IOT.

Mr. Hajjali added, “AI and IOT services on the software side like predictive algorithms and analytics are used to create a flawless customer experience; and help with productive work staff scheduling. As well as, quality monitoring and calibrating proficient data capture.”

He also added, “Profitability is important but most certainly not the end goal; but rather a by-product of the journey we take to achieve high efficiency and growth.”

When Fay asked him whether technology helped free up human power to allow for creative purposes, he answered, “For sure, yes. Take AI for instance.” he added, “If we can implement robotics to do the monotonous jobs like prep; then we automate processes.”

“Then we can leave the creativity to people. Creativity has always been a human touch. Firstly, it cannot be replaced by any machine. At-least not for the next 3-4 years, after that who can say.” He replied with a slight chuckle. 

Catalysts for Tech in F&B

Fay next addressed, Mr. George Kunnappally, MD of Nando’s. She talked about how digital ordering was now a norm. And asked Mr. Kunnappally to elaborate on whether there were any specific transformational forces from the pandemic that served as a catalyst for tech in the restaurant industry?

Mr. Kunnappally responded saying, “Most operators already had tech projects in the pipeline even prior to the pandemic. The reasons have been different, e.g. – QRS have always been tech heavy. And for casual dining it was more about what the customer wanted. The reasons for expediting those tech projects as soon as the crisis set in was more health and safety-driven. We worried predominantly, by how the infection spreads. What was the medium of transmission? And also, how do we avoid contact with high-risk surfaces to reduce the spread of the virus”.

Mr. Kunnappally, also talked about the digitization of the order taking process. How it was accelerated due to the pandemic. Mentioning how it is employee intensive and that was integral as it allowed restaurants to refocus on hosting their guests. The CX of a restaurant also improved as customers embraced the deployment of tech for safety measures and dining experience. Mr. Kunnappally also said, “QSR is more focused on digitization for speed. We are still very much about the experience. The reality is people are central to ensuring that that experience is superior and unique.”

Customer Needs & Expectations Driving Tech in Restaurants

From catalysts to customers – Fay segued into their next set of questions for Mr. Zhong Xu, Founder, Deliverect. Fay asked, “Does technology follow customer needs? Do customers dictate what technology gets adopted? Does consumer behavior drive technological development and if yes how?”

Mr. Xu, gave his insights on the significance of adopting technology in the restaurant sector. He emphasized the importance of monitoring the customers needs. Because all the technological development in the industry, in this generation is driven by the consumer behavior. He also shared his experiences on how he analysed the demand of the market and founded Deliverect. This was based on wanting to give the restaurants back the control they lost to the aggregators.

Mr.Xu saw that food aggregators took between 10%-30% of a restaurants income. “The world of digitization has been fast tracked due to the pandemic. Normally, I think it takes around eight to ten years what we have now seen in two years. In a short while we will all go completely digital. So, the F&B Industry should focus more on service, customer experience, brand, what the customer wants and quality of food.”

Lastly, Mr. Zhong noted  the benefits of being on multiple platforms. “In this digitized era, restaurant brands should find themselves on all delivery and aggregator platforms. Even the upcoming ones from google and meta for further customer outreach. Customers are more loyal to the restaurant brands themselves. Not the platforms. This will provide you the opportunity to stay in touch with your customers. Because as we know customers are what drives us.” He concluded.

Applications of Tech in F&B

Our last panellist was Mr. Georgy John, COO, Gastronomica ME. Fay had the following questions:

  • Which areas in a business can we apply Technology?
  • And how will that will bring benefits to the business?

Mr. John shared his thoughts on the restaurants adapting to newer technology. “Firstly, we ensure the experience starts at the customer.

It is as vital to implement tech in the front end; just as it is in the back end to enhance the customer experience. I believe to have a great customer experience – 80% of that comes from tech in the back end.” 

He talked about implementing Intelligent data Processing for restaurants. Especially, if they have outfits pan GCC. Connectivity between outfits is important, he said. When it comes to governance, HR and admin, it is important to shift to online options and automate these processes. Mr. John talked about the incorporation of various tech like the ERP system, HRM software, and VR and AR concepts into his business. Which he believes, in the end help you analyse data and make intelligent business decisions. 

He quoted one of this team members. “Today, whatever the human creativity thinks up, can be created at lightning speed, thanks to technology.” 

Lastly, Mr. John responded, where can tech be implemented within a business? “I believe it’s a pan company thing. It can begin from the headquarters all across your support system, to your operations. Not just at the customer level and at the outlet level. Now, to make sure that your total dining experience at the customer level is achieved. We need to ensure a technology-oriented environment is created at the restaurant level. The answer is adapting technology on a pan organization level.”

Session Conclusion

Fay agreed with the assembled pro-tech panel. She had one last question for the assembled panel. To each name or predict a game-changing piece of technology. One that might come up in the next 12 to 18 months?

Quick Opinions – Future Tech Predictions 

George Kunnappally – Nando’s

Nandos UAE

“I think there’s a lot of tech in the market which operators believe could be game changers. For me personally, I think Augmented Reality (AR) takes off where Virtual Reality technology stops. While virtual reality places a user in a digital environment. Conversely AR actually places you in the real-world environment. With information overlays – the possibilities are limitless.

Lets say, you have an app where you could look at a restaurant building. Where you could read all the customer reviews. The only thing you need in AR is nothing more than internet connectivity and a smartphone. So, from that perspective I think AR will have a big role to play in the F&B business going forward.”

Gastronomica

Georgy John – Gastronomica, ME

“Despite where tech is headed in the next 12-24 months, I think governments across the region will emphasize a certain minimum standard irrespective of the segment you’re operating in.

Conversely, most technology these days is in it’s experimental stages, so, it’s probably just too early for us to predict”

Zhong Xu – Deliverect

Deliverect

“I think, where we want to do something is emissions and saving this world as we go. We should look at food wastage and how to reduce that. Most restaurants have 4%-10% food wastage. Albeit, 40% of the food delivered to a home is never completely eaten.

Additionally, the US alone produces about 37 million tons of emissions due to food waste.

So furthermore, if technology can help make small tweaks; it can have a massive impact not just for your profitability but actually, for the good of the world. I think we all have a part to play here.”

Mohammed Al Madani – Al Madani Group

Al Madani Group

“Millennials are going to actually put the pressure on the industry. Yes, the consumer’s voice will be the direction in which the F&B business will run in the future.

Millennials now are very concerned about nutrition; they have reduced their meat consumption and prefer plant-based foods. And so, I believe whatever tech we have for the future, it could even be nano tech – who can tell? It will depend on millennials – they are setting the trends now.”

Karim Hajjali – FoodQuest

Foodquest

“I agree, we cater to millennials. I think from excitement and visualization; and this emotional visualization of seeing food, through the metaverse or some other AR technology. Whereby you wear a headset and you’re actually be in the restaurant; you’re seeing what’s going on and you can actually look at the plate. It does excite you, does it not? I’m not sure, if it will come in 18 to 24 months but, eventually – it’s coming. It’s pretty exciting stuff, that’s going to happen and it’s going to keep us working. I hope we’ll have enough stamina to keep up.”

About the Fast Food & Cafe Convention

The QSR, Fast Casual, and cloud kitchen segments in the Middle East are on a fast evolutionary track. The Fast Food & Café Convention focuses on bringing this vital and on-the-rise community together yet again in 2022! To learn, network and collaborate with its peers and colleagues. And to tackle the ongoing issues and pain points. While we keep one eye fixed on the future of the industry. We hope to see you there!

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