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Food of the Future

Food of the Future

               It’s the year 2017, and although flying cars haven’t been invented yet, three dimensional printers have. These 3D printers, which can fit on a desktop, can form objects from plastics, metals, and even FOOD! Food printing is a more recent frontier that could potentially improve nutritional value of meals, or help solve hunger issues in regions of the world that lack access to fresh, and affordable ingredients.

               First, let’s talk about the basics of 3D food printing. Most 3D food printers are deposition printers, which means they deposit layers of raw material, while a newer category of 3D printers binds together materials with a kind of edible cement. The latest generation of 3D printers is also the most complex, combing nozzles, powdery material, lasers, and robotic arms to create things like sugar sculptures and latticed pastry. Although much more complicated, these newer printers can create food, like pizza, with fresh ingredients loaded into stainless steel capsules, pretty cool if you ask me.

               Now that you have a slight background on 3D printers, how can they actually help? 3D printing can help increase sustainability. The global population is always growing, which means food production is going to have to increase as well. Although 3D printing won’t fully solve all our sustainability problems, it will definitely contribute to the solution. Renewable materials like grass and algae could be used in 3D printing making it easier and more sustainable to feed parts of the ever growing population. Another issue that 3D printers could help with is nutrition. The future of 3D food printers could make processed food healthier. According Hod Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia, “food printing could allow consumers to print food with customized nutritional content, optimized based on biometric and genomic data, so instead of eating a slice of yesterday’s bread from the supermarket, you’d eat something baked just for you on demand. This may be the missing link between nutrition and personal medicine, and the foods that’s on your table.” Sustainability and nutrition only scratches the surface of what 3D food printing could do for our society.

               As exciting as this all is, especially with all the recent advancements in 3D food printing, the industry has many challenges to overcome before making any of these dreams a reality. Currently, most ingredients have to be turned into paste before the printer can work with them plus the printing process takes a very long time. Also, as of now most 3D printers are restricted to dry, shelf-stable ingredients because products like diary and protein have a high risk of spoiling. Even with all the challenges scientists and engineers have to face, 3D food printing could become our future, times change and as Lynette Kucsama, CEO and founder of Natural Machines said, “when people first head about microwaves, they didn’t understand the technology- now 90 percent of households have them.”

Will Travel for Food

Will Travel for Food

If you have kids in school or are a kid in school, you probably know we are in the midst of Spring Break season. This crazy time where college kids hit the beach for multiple nights of drunken debauchery (they still do that, right?) and parents with kids still living at home, try and figure out where to take the family so they don’t kill each other sitting at home all week with nothing to do.

Since I have two young kids, the only natural thing for us to do for spring break this year was embark on an 8 hour drive to Williamsburg, VA. About two hours into our drive I heard a noise that wasn’t the radio; it was my stomach telling me it was almost time to stop for food! As we were driving down the highway looking for a good place to stop, I started thinking about the importance of food as part of the travel equation and how technology, and food & travel TV shows have changed and enhanced the way we eat while on the road. 

First let’s discuss app technology. As we all know there are apps for everything these days, there is even an app called Yo., that’s sole purpose is to send someone a voice-note saying “yo;” so when it comes to food and travel there is no shortage of apps either. Jetzy, the world’s first geo-location based, user-to-user social app connects people with a passion for all things travel, like food. Allowing users to connect with one another and share their favorite restaurant, hotel, or site is one aspect of this app that makes it great for finding the most popular spots at or on your way to a destination. To make Jetzy even more appealing to consumers the app offers “JetPoints” that can be redeemed and used towards things like dining out, or going to the spa. Jetzy’s motto is “Travel like a Local” and it really does allow travelers to get connected to all the best native places. Another great recourse for food and traveling is Citymaps. Similar to Jetzy, Citymaps allows users to mark and share maps of all the places they have traveled. This app is extremely customizable and has endless amounts of data for users to engage in. Both Jetzy and Citymaps aren’t strictly food related apps but they can provide consumers with just as much, or more insight on where to eat while traveling than sites like Yelp.

Travel TV shows are also a great outlet for travelers who are looking for good places to dine on the road. Anthony Bourdain, “bad-boy” chef and best-selling author, starred in the Emmy award winning Travel Channel show called “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” which hit all the culinary hotspots and out-of-the-way gems around the globe. Similarly Andrew Zimmern travels around the world in a quest for the strangest foods he can find in his show, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.” You can even tune into Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” which focuses more on lesser known hot spots around the United States. Although harder to utilize on the road, these shows are great to watch in preparation of travel.

Apps and Travel TV are helping turn the average spring break road trip into a foodie’s dream drive. Also, these resources aren’t only great for consumers, restaurant owners can benefit from them as well. For example, a month after Guy Fieri featured Brick House Café, a small café in Cable, Wisconsin, on his show their sales were up 500%. Being able to easily locate and share stand out destinations has changed the way people view traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I know no one ever complained about going on vacation, but the process of actually getting to your destination can be a drag, with travel apps and shows like the ones discusses above, the once dreaded excursion can actually feel like part of the vacation.

Technology in Restaurants- What does the Future Hold?

Technology in Restaurants- What does the Future Hold?

Recently, our fearless leader Lonny went to a rather popular chain restaurant with his kids and when he arrived at work the next morning, there was only one thought on his mind. This thought wasn’t about the quality of the food (which for the record, wasn’t great), but rather, the fact that the restaurant had tablets built into every table.  This interesting feature opened up a debate in our office about the pros and cons of bringing technology to the dinner table. 

First, let’s tackle the obvious - how technology is applied in the restaurant space is key.  Meal time is an opportunity to do more than eat; it’s a time for people to get together and actually talk to each other (believe it or not, there are some who still engage in face to face conversations from time to time.) I don’t love the idea of adding a permanent distraction in the middle of the table that gives people even more of a reason to ignore each other.  Who hasn’t walked into a restaurant, stumbled across the following scene (or have even been a part of it) and thought, “Yikes, this is wrong!"

Phones down, eyes up people!  Not a great look, to say the least, but it is safe to say this is not the end result restaurants are looking for.  So let’s take a moment to collectively agree that when we sit down with our friends, families and loved ones for a good meal, we try to actually interact with one another.  Glad we got that out of the way…

Now, this is not to say there isn’t a use for this kind of “table tech.”  In fact, notable chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s have recently partnered with Ziosk, a company specializing in tablets for the diners that actually offer a greater level of engagement with the restaurant itself.  Ziok’s tablets allow diners to view the menu, submit an order, alert their server, pay a bill, etc., all meant to help streamline the dining experience.  To be clear, these are NOT set out to replace your traditional wait staff, but to offer them another way to interact with the customer.  I doubt you’ll find many diners get up in arms over a more efficient dining process…

What I find particularly intriguing here is the “business-to-consumer” application.  Could be the marketer in me, but if there is a tablet (read: easy access consumer touch point) available at every table I immediately think to ways we can tie in third parties.  The possibilities are seemingly endless:  Traditional advertisements, discounts and customer loyalty tracking / awards, promoting branded menu items (i.e.: Friday’s line of Jack Daniels meals), etc.  Simply put these technological integrations offer marketers a fresh, dynamic and cost effective medium to reach consumers; that’s essentially the marketing holy grail!

Moving past the consumer application, some restaurants have taken it a step further and are applying technological solutions in the kitchen.  Imagine this, in real-time restaurants can track orders, keep tabs on inventory, and ensure the entire process happens as efficiently as possible.  That can be a game-changer for some restaurants, many of whom likely don’t know the answer to simple operation questions that fuel their business.  True labor costs, material costs, food costs per-menu item, food waste ratios etc. are critically important to a restaurant’s longevity, but are often difficult to compute.  These sorts of technological integrations could prove to be a saving grace for chefs and restaurateurs across the board. 

The truth is, technology’s vice-like grip on our everyday lives isn’t letting up anytime soon, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

How's your Mobile APPetite?

Mobile apps are nothing new. In fact, according to a 2015 survey, 89 percent of the time people spend on media platforms is through mobile apps. Because of their increasing popularity, it should be no surprise that mobile apps have found their way into the food industry through individual restaurant apps. Here are four reason why restaurants should be creating apps:

1.       Loyalty

Mobile-based loyalty programs are much more personal than those that involve a hard-copy punch card. A 2014 study found that, 65 percent of restaurant customers are willing to download a restaurant’s app if it offers exclusive perks or deals, and a whopping 80 percent of those customers will return to the restaurant to redeem.

Effective rewards programs do not have to be elaborate or difficult. Starbucks, for example, has a very simple rewards feature on its app that gives customers a free coffee after they spend a certain amount of money. Beyond giving out points for purchasing items, loyalty programs are also a great way to incentivize customers to refer friends and family to the restaurant.

2.       Easy Reservations and Online Ordering

Apps that allow customers to make reservations without the stress of calling is a sure-fire way to help fill seats. Reserving a table on your phone appeals to costumers because of its convenience.

Online ordering is another valuable feature for any restaurant’s mobile app. Roast Kitchen in New York City has a mobile app that allows consumers to place their lunch order and select their preferred pick-up time so that they can drop by at their convenience and avoid waiting in long lines during the lunch rush.  In fact, my coworkers and I are much more likely to order lunch from Roast Kitchen than almost anywhere else based purely on the ease and convenience of its mobile app!  

3.       Social Sharing

If you want customers to engage with your brand, you’ve got to make it easy on them, right? Mobile apps give diners a convenient platform on which to write reviews, share feedback, or post photos of their experience. Social media is essentially free marketing for restaurants so encouraging people to post regularly through your mobile app is a great way to grow word-of-mouth awareness. Plus, the easier you can make it for a customer to share a good review, the better.  

4.       Push Notifications

Push notifications notify users of new deals, events, or specials, and they allow restaurants to communicate with customers even when the app is not running. Tacolicious in San Francisco started sending out push notifications for its “Margarita Monday” happy hours and now every Monday their bar is fully crowded with people. Tacolicious owner Joe Hargrave said, “We couldn’t be happier with customer response from the Tacolicious app. Online ordering has increased and our Margarita Monday happy hour push notifications filled the house!”

In addition to alerting consumers to upcoming specials and unique events, push notifications serve to just keep your restaurant top-of-mind so that the next time the user is seeking a good place to eat, they’ll know right where to turn.

In a world where cellphones are attached to their owners 24/7, and those owners are spending the majority of their smartphone time on mobile apps, it makes sense that business see a boost when they create their very own applications. There are countless ways to take advantage of these revenue boosters and attract more customers, so it’s a wonder more business haven’t boarded the mobile app bandwagon. You can be confident it won’t be slowing down anytime soon…