Is technology moving people away from manual and skilled labour jobs?
In many cases the answer is yes, so those who remain in these professions are increasingly sought after, meaning they can get paid more than they used to for doing the same job, and the best can charge whatever they like.
Fo a Chef the relationship with food is too personal to be automated, the passion and love for cooking, and eating, simply can’t be replaced.
So for Chefs it is slightly different, yes you will/are being paid more, but you have less help and the number of diners is only going up, in fact eating out is increasing at a faster rate now than before the financial crisis. You are now working harder for that money and doing more.
Of course you can always blame the restaurants for pushing for more, more seats, bigger menu, faster turning tables. But they are just caught up in the same loop as chefs, just from a different direction.
There are more restaurants opening, so even though more people are eating out, more restaurants mean the upsurge is negated, also more restaurants means more demand for more chefs, making the loop spin quicker.
And margins are tight, chains with increased buying power and super efficient systems and models mean they can charge less, putting pressure on independents, who have to maximise busy times by more seats, faster turnover, bigger menus.
You see where I am going.
Whats the answer? Technology?
Professional kitchens remain in digital darkness, yes we have lots of new cooking equipment and methods, water baths, immersion circulators, smoking guns, printed food, but these only add jobs and further complication to dishes,
OK, water baths can help improve quality and efficiency, but only if used right.
We have internet connected ovens and dishwashers but nobody really knows what to do with them, I recall a chef demo-ing the latest internet connected combi, the only use he could find for the in built USB port was for charging his phone, a £15000 phone charger.
Not since the stand mixer was invented in 1908, and commis no longer needed arms like Popeye, has there been a truly timesaving piece of equipment introduced.
Of course your combi can track cooking times and temperatures, but where does this info go?
You can download recipes but I have yet to meet a chef who uses them.
We can’t replace a chef’s sense of taste, touch or technique, so stop trying, robotic chefs is an interesting idea but it will never happen at a high level, cooking burgers in a fast food chain, maybe, but beyond that…
Real Chef tech solutions will come by replacing the tasks you don’t need chefs doing, which is basically everything except for creating dishes and cooking.
So how can technology help chefs:
- Food Safety Records, these are vital, yet time consuming for kitchen staff, so we have got rid of the paper and we have an app for that (shameless plug)
- Self cleaning ovens.
- Internet connected fridges that automatically record temperatures and alert you when it breaks, or the commis turns it off. (again, another shameless plug)
- Machine learning menu programmes that adjust to your style of menu and suggest dishes taking into account seasonal availability and market prices.
- Big Data POS systems that track what sells, when it sells and with the best margins. And predict when you will be busy and accurately predict how much food you will need, minimising waste.
- Automated marketing, getting better all the time, removing the need to spend hours emailing customers, designing flyers, putting up social media posts.
Mobile Technology allows customers to read the menu, order and pay without having to talk to a waiter, all in the interest of time saving and convenience, but does it really save time?
We still need the waiter to fulfil the drinks order and bring it to the table and we still need the chef to prep cook and serve the food.
The idea of customers having complete control over when to arrive, what to order and when would terrify most sit in restaurants, a waiter’s job is much more than transporting food from kitchen to customer, they are there to manage the flow, act as communication between the kitchen and customer, and ensure customer satisfaction.
I think food is too personal to be automated.
So where do we go?
I think we are now just beginning to explore that question in relation to BOH operations, the questions are difficult, the answers will be more so, but it’s a challenge that we are beginning to address, and for me personally, after 25+ years in professional kitchens, an exciting journey to undertake!