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As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country over the past year and a half, customers simply did not feel safe walking into—or eating at—quick-service restaurants (QSRs). And even though QSRs remained open, local regulations often curtailed on-premises dining, and quarantine restrictions disrupted supply chains.

As QSR executives consider ways to rebuild their workforces, restart dine-in operations, and reboot supply chains, more are turning to digital technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, for assistance.

For QSRs, digital transformation encompasses the optimization of management processes through the support of automation, digitization, and other new technologies. With such transformative tech, QSRs—along with related businesses like fast-casual restaurants and coffee shops—can improve their operational efficiency and business agility, increase the quality of food and services, and better engage with customers.

Transformation Necessary for QSRs

Well before COVID-19, of course, restaurant chains already had been taking steps toward digital transformation.

“The pandemic has not really caused any new trends. Instead, it has mostly taken the trends that were already underway and poured gasoline on them,” writes contributor Shashi Jasthi in an article on the quick-service restaurant industry in the Phoenix Business Journal. Jasthi states that digital transformation is no longer “nice to have,” but, in fact, is required if QSRs are to survive in the so-called Next Normal.

Among the hallmarks of this new reality is “contactless” commerce, a reaction to pandemic-induced hyper-vigilance about hygiene and health, observes the consulting firm Deloitte.

Nowhere is this “no-touch” movement more applicable than in quick-service restaurants. In April 2020, 80% of consumers surveyed said they were using drive-through, curbside, carryout, and delivery services at QSR restaurants, rather than risk prolonged exposure to COVID-19 via staff interaction or indoor environments. Industry pundits say such dramatic changes in consumer behavior might be here to stay.

Because QSRs are likely to remain short-staffed for some time, restaurant companies will need to simplify their operations to avoid putting further stress on an already-strained workforce—making more automation both attractive and necessary.

As one of the more powerful technologies of digital transformation, IoT platforms can enhance the business performance of QSRs by leveraging the power of sensors, cloud, analytics, and mobile applications to enhance automation of previously manual functions. An IoT asset management system, for example, can use a variety of network protocols to monitor and track any piece of equipment, analyze the data generated by connected devices and equipment, and help restaurant chains generate valuable insight and visibility into important operational metrics.

Managing More with Less

IoT asset management technology can provide QSRs with the ability to:

  • Predict and prevent equipment failures and malfunctions: When networked through an IoT platform, commercial kitchen appliances can be monitored for performance and diagnosed for malfunctions, helping to streamline decisions about repair and replacement—resulting in lower maintenance costs and fewer unhappy customers.
  • Manage operational costs: IoT platforms can manage equipment warranties and help operators understand and better control the costs of owning and overseeing assets such as freezers, coolers, fryers, and HVAC systems.
  • Store and prepare food safely: Smart, connected appliances can track inventory and expiration dates, and monitor temperature and humidity to prevent food spoilage. In this way, an IoT platform can help restaurants flag potential health issues, remediate non-compliance problems, and avoid spoilage costs.
  • Introduce new products: The ability to use automated over-the-air (OTA) recipe updates from the cloud can speed the availability of new offerings and keep the menu fresh, improving customer satisfaction and driving topline growth.

With or without the pandemic, QSR companies that continue to move toward digital transformation can gain a competitive advantage and realize sustainable growth for the long term.

Are you a QSR store operations executive? Facilities manager? Chief innovation officer? Let us show you why leading food service brands trust Ayla, and how our turnkey IoT platform can help you transform your restaurant business for the Next Normal.